I purchased StarCraft a week after it was released with no intention of ever playing it. At the time, I was enthralled by Blizzard’s highly successful Diablo. Diablo had introduced the world to Battle.net (b.net), and was the first experience with IRC-type chat channels for many, including myself. It was these channels that prompted me to shell out 50 bucks for something I didn’t really need or want.
Diablo‘s online play was hacked to hell and back, meaning no one could legitimately defeat another person in a PvP battle. So, most of the PvP/PK guilds had resorted to IRC channel wars to exert their will over their enemies. Channel “bots,” unmanned secondary accounts, were widely used to defend a guild’s channel by keeping the channel’s operator position in friendly hands, but getting two connections to Battle.net during the days of dial-up was often an exercise in futility. Until StarCraft came out. Using the StarCraft client to login a bot account allowed the player to still use his Diablo client to play. And so, I did just that, day after day, until something happened that would change my gaming habits forever: Battle.net was taken down for extended maintenance.
Left without a reason to be online, and having already killed the Lord of Terror on every difficulty level with every character class repeatedly, I double-clicked StarCraft‘s little spaceship icon, this time willing to give the game a chance and play through the single-player campaign. Twenty-seven hours later, with my right hand tightening up from mouseclaw, I finally shut down the game. I was addicted. It was the first game that not only completely overtook my will to do anything else; it also made me feel emotions that no other game had. I was truly enraged when Kerrigan was abandoned to her fate of being captured by the zerg. I felt a deep sense of loss, like a friend had been taken from me. The fact that this was caused by an RTS title, a game genre I had previously thought shallow, truly surprised me.
Over the next few weeks, my addiction became an obsession. I rarely logged into b.net using Diablo, and eventually stopped playing altogether. I was too enthralled with terrans, the protoss and the zerg. I gave names to my individual units. I found the recipe for Chinese Lemon Chicken hidden in the game. I played Ladder Matches on b.net constantly, keeping a close eye on my win/loss ratio, striving to get the 5-star chat icon.
It was during this time that I began to notice a trend in my losses. Asian players were defeating me with an alarming frequency. I tried new strategies, set up elaborately designed defenses, and used a number of different unit type groups, all to no avail.
I was no stranger to the highly competitive nature and competence of gamers from the Far East, having cut my hardcore MMOG teeth in Lineage‘s Korean beta, but some of these guys were taking it to a new level. Getting swarmed with a couple hundred Zerglings, or hearing “Nuclear launch detected” within the first five or 10 minutes of a match was becoming the extent of my experience on b.net, and it was frustrating; so much so that I considered using some of the cheat programs that were becoming more and more prevalent. I resisted, but eventually, the constant struggle to keep up my ever-dwindling win ratio wore me down to the point of dreading to play online. I spent most of my time playing against AI opponents and finally moved on completely.
Then StarCraft: Brood War (singular, no “S,” newbie!) was released. It brought back all my old habits, and reunited me with my old friend who I thought was lost forever. But she was no longer the same, having been crowned the Queen of Blades. I’m saddened to admit this, but the expansion just didn’t instill that same sense of connection I had with the original game. Maybe being manipulated by Sarah Kerrigan rather than fighting alongside her contributed to that feeling. I didn’t agree with Blizzard’s decision to re-use the same terran units from the original game, adding some disappointment with the game as well. The ending itself lacked any real finality to several situations, leaving too many loose ends, too many questions unanswered.
Because of my experience with StarCraft on b.net, it was no surprise to me to discover a few years later that the game had become a cultural phenomenon in Korea. Televised games drawing millions of viewers and professional StarCraft players making six-figure salaries; it could only happen in a country where online gaming is taken so seriously, players have killed each other over in-game transgressions. StarCraft is to Korea as baseball is to the United States. It is a national pastime, and becoming more popular everyday. The difference in cultures is evident when you consider that gamers in America are vilified and treated as pariahs by those who are chosen to represent the populace in the government. In Korea, they give their favorite gamers the adoration and respect that is usually reserved for celebrities and sports heroes in the West.
When I think about the fact that a large population of people on the other side of the planet have been consumed by the same obsession I first felt in my living room almost 10 years ago, I feel closer to them. I can relate to them when I read stories like the one about the young man who died after playing StarCraft for 49 hours without a break. I was only 22 hours from equaling that and possibly sharing his fate. Then, I remember that these are the same people that were kicking my ass all over the game map, and I want to log in again and lay the smack down. As if I could.
Currently, StarCraft is still one of the best-selling PC titles, with the StarCraft Battlechest collection breaking into the Top 20 sales list every so often, largely in part to being stocked at every Wal-Mart in existence. Fans of the game eagerly await any scrap of information concerning a sequel. Rumors and speculation about the announcement of StarCraft II at this year’s E3 were laid to rest when Blizzard unveiled another blue-skinned race in a different “Craft” universe. But the last official news concerning StarCraft was not something that many wanted to hear. Ghost, the console-only game based on the franchise, was placed on “indefinite hold” in March of this year.
For now, millions of players worldwide are still content with the game, despite its age. As for me, over the years, I have bought four more copies of the game I never intended to play in the first place, one of which was to replace the copy that was taken by the ex-wife as part of our divorce settlement. What can I say? My life for Aiur!
JR Sutich is a Contributing Editor for The Escapist and is rumored to have been banned from an online game during its initial design stage.