The Good Ending

I have an addictive personality, and in my 34 years I’ve submitted to and subsequently conquered tobacco, alcohol and caffeine with much less emotional scarring and social awkwardness than you might expect. My nature is such that if it tickles the happy parts of my brain, then you can be damn sure I will latch onto it like a lamprey with a grudge, and then painfully tear myself off just before I burst. So earlier this year upon realizing I had a new addiction to break, I was less than enthusiastic.

There was no intervention, no moment of truth when the wife said, “It’s either me or Azeroth,” which, coincidentally, would have been silly, since I spend most of my time in Outland. There was no missed deadline, forgotten kid waiting at the rain-soaked soccer field while I finished up a fruitful Karazhan raid or crucial responsibility traded for a world of AoE farming and power leveling. I simply calculated how much of my life I’d spent in this artificial world.

The staggering tally was just over 1,000 hours, or biblically speaking, 40 days and 40 nights. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve lost countless hours to videogaming before, but there was something offensive about losing such a huge chunk of time to a single game. Worse still, I was looking at another 1,000 hours of endgame to keep up with my friends. Futility, thy name is grinding.

So, I vowed to quit, and I would do so in such a melodramatic way that I convinced my editors here at The Escapist that the results would be worth documenting. I wouldn’t simply do as so many before me had, click the uninstall button and privately put the whole ordeal behind me.

I would kill my characters.

As I made the offer and felt vague panic at the reality of the proposition, I realized offing my anthropomorphic cow and his pet cat Sniffer was curiously intimidating. And it got worse when I thought of what would happen to my rare and epic accoutrements, items for which I had traded countless heartbeats from my personal, finite countdown. Suddenly flashing before my eyes were the 70 levels through which I had groomed my Tauren Hunter, who had plumbed the depths of Molten Core, fought gods in Ahn’Qiraj and crossed the gulf of space to take the fight against the Burning Legion on its own ground.

Had I been too hasty? When my hand was finally poised above the delete key, could I muster the same fortitude that had allowed me to crumple up my last pack of smokes and never touch the stuff again?

I stepped from the safe confines of my office and announced to my wife that I had made the decision to end my World of Warcraft addiction. She seemed more curious than pleased.

“Really? Don’t you like the game anymore?”

Anyone who’s ever been really invested in an MMOG might understand how that’s a difficult question to answer. The game had become the bedrock of my pastime. I wasn’t sure anymore whether I was playing out of a sense of fun or artificial necessity. Ask the alcoholic if he enjoys drinking or the smoker if his cigarettes taste good, and, if he’s at that fine precipice between control and chaos, the answer is equal parts yes and no. Maybe it’s just inertia that keeps an addict going, the comfort zone in which we operate in familiar terms with familiar people. So I dodged the question and pointed out that it would give me more time to spend with her and our son.

“Honey, you do whatever you want,” she said. That’s not as passive-aggressive as it sounds. That’s just my wife’s way of saying, “That’s nice of you to say, but you’ll probably just play a different game, and that’s OK.”

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My brother is an avid World of Warcraft player, but the kind that spends as much time day-trading in the auction house as he does questing in the wilderness. Being a virtual entrepreneur, he obviously suggested I sell my character. He cursed at me when I told him I was just going to delete it.

Undaunted, I set a death date, circled it on the calendar and decided to try and get some closure. I began operating from a death wish list, finishing off the things I’d always wanted to try, like a dying man with time enough to finally take that skydiving trip.

At first, the kill date loomed on the calendar, and I knew a great many things would have to go undone. Then, an interesting thing started to happen. The closer I came to this end date and the more I met my finite goals, the more I began to feel like I was finishing the game. By creating some sense of an impending closure, like any single-player game, I was creating the narrative of my character’s life and death. With a timer on the clock instead of an endless treadmill, I was coming to terms with the game ending. I wasn’t killing off my character. I was finishing World of Warcraft, just like I might finish Halo 3 or BioShock.

On the last day of my character’s life he did a great many stupid things. He flew his epic mount high above the Hellfire Peninsula and then leapt off to see how long it’d take to fall. He tried to see how long he could solo a Fel Reaver. He rode his epic mount into Stormwind to see how far he could get before being slaughtered at the feet of some rather startled Alliance characters. He jumped into the lava near the entrance to the Molten Core just because it was there. I’d like to tell you I’ve never had more fun playing the game, but then I’d be lying. Mostly, I was just stalling.

Finally, I traveled to Thunder Bluff, a grim homecoming, and began unceremoniously destroying armor I had come to prize. I could have simply deleted the character to the same effect, but I felt like I needed a clean break both within the world as well as without, and seeing the prompts come up, which may as well have said, “Are you crazy?!” infused the moment with the sense of finality I was seeking. Here went 40 hours of dungeon crawling, there went the fruits of countless hours of PvP, these artificial items I had coveted were a This is Your Life of wasted days. The reality of the time I spent in-game settled on me with less weight than I had thought it would. I gave my stashes of cloth, money, leather and elemental motes to guild mates, who thought I was nuts.

Then, when everything that once had meaning was gone, I bid farewell, logged out and set to the task of deleting the character.

This was the moment when I knew I could have my cake and eat it, too. I could save the character and write this article, knowing now, after stripping it naked and casting all its possessions to the void, how it would feel to actually go through with this murderous deed. I hesitated as the prompt begged my confirmation. I could leave the character, disappear for a few weeks, write this article and then go back to begin amassing my wealth anew. Certainly I had done enough by deleting all my gear. It seemed plausible, even desirable to throw everything away to see if I could gather it all back. I typed the delete confirmation, and paused again. This was the equivalent of stashing the cigarettes in a plastic bag in the toilet bowl, just in case; hiding a half-full bottle of whiskey in a shoebox at the back of the closet, just in case. And, as ridiculous as it sounds, that sensation was no easier to overcome than it was when I quit my other vices. All I had to do was press the Enter key.

Sean Sands is a freelance writer, one of the co-founder of and runs a small graphic design business with his wife near Minneapolis. When not writing about gaming, he can often be found playing video games and pretending to call it work.

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