The following post is out of character.
I apologize for never providing a satisfying ending to the story of R. Pebblebottom.
If you still visit this blog from time to time hoping for a new chapter, it's likely you still yearn for the innocence that Pebblebottom embodied. You still long for the times when the game was new and there were secrets yet to be discovered. You still wish that you could go back and experience it all again with fresh eyes just like the first time.
I do too.
I left the World of Warcraft a year and a half ago and I miss it. I still think about it daily. Certain details of certain zones. Specific quests and NPCs. Particular pairs of pants.
Even for months after I posted that last post, I was fine tuning a few more letters, and had brainstormed ideas on how to bring Pebblebottom back for many more adventures. But things changed, and it all didn't seem important anymore.
I can't blame a specific element of gameplay for tainting my experience. I can't even chalk it up to "people change and move on." It was a bit of both. Changes in the game led to changes in the players.
If I had to pinpoint it, the beginning of the end for me was the introduction of heirlooms. I loved them. Everyone who had them loved them. Around that time, they also introduced the dungeon finder. Most people point to the dungeon finder as the end of The Golden Age, but I think heirlooms played a much more sinister part.
New players were grouped with 'loomed players, who rushed through dungeons without using "proper" techniques, and many heirloomed players berated those without gear for being useless. Those new players in turn became accustomed to being carried or rushed through content and learned "gogogogogo" as the norm. The Veruca Salt syndrome… "I want to get to max level now and you're in my way." Leveling and progression was expected to happen quickly. So quickly that there was no time to get to know anyone. Joining a guild wasn't for companionship, it was a means to an end—new shineys, fast and hot. "If one guild can't give me what I want, I'll keep jumping until I find one that can."
It fostered single-player mentality in a multi-player game. Participating in a virtual community and being morally accountable for one's actions quickly vanished, and players without a tight guild or group of in-game friends were left out in the cold.
I've read many stories of people who love/loved their guild. All the memories they made together. All the good times. I never got to experience that, which is the reason I ultimately left the game.
Playing alone is unsatisfying. The dungeon finder—and I'm sure the raid finder that followed—makes grouping easy, but it doesn't satisfy what drew so many people to this game in the first place… adventures with others. The joy of the second 'M' in MMO was reserved for those that had friends in-game.
The closest I came to experiencing such camaraderie was Single Abstract Noun-US. I felt in tune with the members of that guild, and a kinship with other bloggers, (like Anea.) But it was a fleeting few weeks of bliss before most everyone moved back to their real (virtual) worlds. It was glorious while it lasted. Reinvigorated, I brought Pebblebottom out of hibernation. For a while…
My experience with SAN-US, and the sense of loss that followed, helped show me that I was playing for nostalgia, not fun. I was trying to capture the elusive emotions I experienced when I made my first character—and to be with friends. My real life friends. And playing the game was keeping me from doing real life things with real life friends. I was either spending long hours at my job or spending long hours in Azeroth. There was no room for life.
It took over a year to come to that realization, and to finally stop chasing what was impossible to capture.
Two months after I left the game, I lost my closest friend to an awful disease. He was the one that introduced me to WOW. He stopped playing shortly after I was hooked, but I kept playing for years, in hopes that he would return, wishing for more good times. He didn't return, and now he's gone. And instead of spending more time with him after he quit, I spent time being lonely in a virtual world that I still can't stop thinking about.
A lot has happened in the year and a half since I quit. Things that wouldn't have happened if I was still playing. I developed a solid business plan, secured a business loan, left my thankless job, leased a storefront, and am getting married in a few weeks. (Sorry, ladies. This one's taken!) My future wife and I are opening a bakery, and are gambling everything that life will get better living entirely in the real world.
I still miss the world of Warcraft, but I know the version in my mind is better than anything I'll experience if I returned.
Rest assured, Pebblebottom is safe and sound, napping peacefully in a bed in Ironforge, dreaming of pants and elves. And Plops is at his feet snoring little bunny snores.
I know, because that's where I saw them last.
By Magni's Beard.