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I was asked to write a piece for a website,, that is no longer with us.  I'd been talking to the site owner about the hugely popular online game, "World of Warcraft", and the fact that coming, as I did, from a background of console gaming, it was something of a culture shock to replace a joypad with a keyboard and mouse and take my first tentative steps into the world of online PC gaming...

Stranger in a strange land



“What are the two essentials for gaming...?” pondered my colleague.  “A keyboard and a mouse.  Obviously.”

I begged to differ.

“The two most important things you need for gaming,” I said, pointing out his error, “are a big TV and a sofa.”

I’ve been playing videogames for nigh on thirty years, and post Commodore 64, it’s been consoles all the way.  But a couple of years ago, I came across a webseries called ‘The Guild’ which, in an entertaining-yet-low-budget fashion, related the tales of a group playing ‘The Game’, which even my dog knew was a thinly veiled reference to World of Warcraft.

And I don’t have a dog.


By the end of series 2, I’d decided to give this MMORPGing thing a spin and because, after a decade, WoW still stands astride the online gaming community like a colossus, Azeroth seemed like the place to go.


Ok, so it was going to be unfamiliar territory.  No joypad.  No big TV.  But it’s gaming!  I’ve been doing that for years!


How hard can it be?


I signed up for an account, installed it and found out exactly how hard it could be.


After - I kid you not - two days of doing background reading on the game, I sat down and created myself a Dranei Shaman, as it sounded like an ideal combination of spellcasting and buttkicking.  I found myself actually apprehensive about starting because this wasn’t going to be a ‘turn it off and on again’ thing if something goes wrong, and this wasn’t going to be subroutines I was interacting with, it would be yer actual people!


I (finally) manned up, clicked on “Enter World’ and found myself in Azeroth.  At this point, I would expect some sort of training level, which would explain the controls and so forth.  

No such luck.


So I bumbled around for a bit.  Occasionally I’d get a pop up window telling me something, but between trying to move with WASD, use a mouse and fumble with the iPad to try and Google some basic instructions, I wasn’t paying much attention.  But I soon figured out how to zap things with a shiny ball of lightning, so having received a quest from someone or other, went off to kill some Volatile Mutations, which looked like squid made out of blancmange, and were about as threatening as kittens.


I dealt blistering death to several of these vile creatures, and realised that I ought to be looting the bodies for the no-doubt copious amounts of stuff they were carrying.


Hovering the mouse over a corpse turned the pointer into a little pouch - obviously some goodies to be had.  

I clicked.


I right clicked.


I clicked really hard in case it hadn’t got the message the first time.

I pressed all the buttons my shiny new mouse had, but nothing was going to get the late Volatile Mutation to give up the massive sword and piles of gold that it was clearly hiding.


Still.  At least I’d got a few experience points.  I killed a few more, all of which refused to spill the goods, and after about a dozen or so, I was suddenly surprised to see that I’d reached level 2!

Check me out!  20 mins in, and level 2 already!  I’m going to be some kind of elite hero by tea time!


Working, as I do, in IT, I am familiar with the acronym RTFM.  It means ‘I see you have a query on a technical matter.  May I ask if you’ve explored all the obvious avenues before coming to see me on this subject?’  Or in other words Read The F&%$ing Manual!


As such, I thought ‘Either all these creatures that I’m dispatching are as poor as church mice, or I’m doing the wrong thing.’  Time to R the F’ing M.


Online we go, and ta-da!  It appears that although the Apple Mouse has not one, not two, not three, not even four but five clickable options on it, none of them are good enough for looting corpses.

No, what I (obviously) needed to be doing was pressing Cmd and then clicking!

Well at least I knew now.


Ok, that was the first hour, and since then I’ve played, on and off, for about 18 months.  The fact that I’m still only at level 27 tells you all you need to know about the ratio of ‘on‘ to ‘off’. And I think the reason I’m making such slow progress, is that the game is utterly, utterly unintuitive.


Don’t get me wrong.  I have managed to figure out some things as I’ve stumbled around, slaughtering the local fauna and dying with a depressing regularity, but the wealth of detail that seems to draw experienced players back, time and time again, is the thing that puts up a wall for us n00bs.


Fortunately I am a long standing member of a gaming forum, and unsurprisingly, many of my fellow gamers are experienced WoW players.  Result!  I have questions - they’ll know the answers!


It is at this point that I start to feel extremely sorry for my parents when I remember them faced with their first video recorder.


I ask what seems to me, a perfectly reasonable WoW question.  The answer I get back makes so many assumptions that it’s almost useless.

And the thing that makes the answers totally useless, is that the respondents are talking a different bl**dy language!


I get that a hobby will have its own terms for the sake of simplicity and clarity.   Do you know what Siteswap notation is?  If you’re a juggler you will - if you’re not, it won’t mean a thing.  But WoW…  my head still spins with the acronyms, the slang.

Let’s take this example that one of my fellow forum members posted in a WoW thread some time ago…


“Frost is honestly the only practical spec to solo with, I've tried the others and they are an assmare by comparison. 

Frost is a walk in the park with normal mobs, I usually only get caught out occasionally by a bad respawn and a rack of cooldowns. and hybrids now seem to bring so much to the table that the pures are for those that like hard(er) mode :(“


What.  The.  Frock?

So I struggle manfully (Dranei-fully?) on, trying to figure out what to do, and largely failing.


Early on, I’d managed to raise myself up a few levels, and - I’m still not sure how - learn a few new spells, one of which was for resurrecting dead people.

(As opposed to live people.)


Out for an evening’s slaughter of small fluffy animals, I encountered another player engaged in battle, and sadly they came off worst and went the way of all flesh.  Calling on strange and powerful deities, I raised the poor soul from the netherworld, and being a grateful sort, they said ‘Thanks.’


At which point I realised I had no idea how to speak to another player.  A couple of  minutes later, when I’d figured it out, I chased after them to explain, which I did at some length.  I didn’t think it was possible for an in-game character to back away nervously and then run, but they managed it! 


Of course when you don’t want to talk, you can’t stop!  Recently I was facing down some savage beastie which, under normal circumstances, I would have turned into dog food with a few swipes of my trusty axe.  But on this particular occasion my avatar simply stood there, being gnawed to death while I hammered the keyboard and screamed obsceneties at my virtual self, along the lines of ‘Please move old chap, this is not going well.’


Of course, as I expired, I noticed my speech box…




There are countless other examples.  Professions for a start.  For reasons which now escape me, I signed up for mining and jewelcrafting.  I’m fairly sure my actual job is less complicated than learning how to dig things up and turn them into other things!


But after some time away, I’ve recently started up again, with an alt, and have joined some of my comrades on a new server, rather than solo’ing again.  In the last 18 months or so, Blizzard clearly heard my cries, for the initial levels now have far more user help than I remember from last time round.


And because I’ve met up with a few more experienced people, I am getting some on-the-job training, as it were.  All of which has made my path to level 10 considerably easier, and a darn sight more fun.

In fact the only thing that’s spoiling the game for me at the moment are all the damn newbies...

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