With my wife due home shortly, I made my goodbyes. I was tired, exhausted really, by the memories my tour had dredged up. I'd done what you're not supposed to be able to do: I'd gone home again.
I promised to try to come back more often, but even as I said it, I knew I was lying. What I loved about Star Wars Galaxies had long since been removed. As a parting gift, I set off a fireworks show I'd had riding around in my pack for about a year, lighting up the sky above their city for something like two full minutes. I couldn't just log out, either. For some reason, I physically had to get on my speeder and drive away, to distance myself from these people and their place, before I could really leave the game.
When I finally did log off, my Mon Cal was sitting proudly in his home again, his back straight in the old couch he'd made himself. When I dropped back to the desktop for one last time, I knew it was time to call it a night. I sat back in my chair to collect my thoughts, and heard the jingle of keys outside my apartment door. My wife was home.
For most of the year, we take our virtual worlds for granted. We never reflect on the spaces we inhabit, or truly realize how much those virtual spaces inhabit us. For better or worse, the "reality" of the massive games we play extends beyond the PC, Ventrilo server and guild forum. Games in this genre have the ability to change the way we think, the way we feel and most tellingly, the way we interact with others. During the holidays, when the games themselves change to reflect the season, it's a great chance to reconnect with what makes them fun to play. It's not the raiding, and it's certainly not the epic loot. The reason we play World of Warcraft or Star Wars Galaxies is the same reason we travel home for the holidays: We need to connect with people that can make a difference in our lives.
Michael "Zonk" Zenke is Editor of Slashdot Games, a subsite of the technology community Slashdot.org. He comments regularly on massive games at the sites MMOG Nation and GameSetWatch. He lives in Madison, WI (the best city in the world) with his wife Katharine. Michael is not a game journalist.