Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

World of Warcraft: An Origins Story

Earlier this week, Blizzard Entertainment released the fourth expansion for their hugely-popular World of Warcraft game. Mists of Pandaria adds new levels of gameplay, new race (Panda people!?), a new class, and all kind of other nifty new features. It also marks the first expansion I will not be playing since joining shortly after the release of expansion 1, The Burning Crusade, in 2007.
There are a lot of reasons why I’m no longer playing World of Warcraft, but I come to praise WoW, not to bury it: World of Warcraft played a role in turning me into a writer.
It’s a strange thing to say, in some ways. Video games are not often thought of as being something that would encourage anything other than sitting in front of a computer, mashing buttons. After all, the image we have of gamers is either of pimple-faced teenage boys shut up in their room, taking advantage of internet anonymity to be all kinds of rude, or of forty-something year-old men, shut up in their parents’ basement, pretending that the shapely, scantily-clad elf girl their driving around the screen is a real girl (and knowing, of course, that’s as close as their getting to a real girl). The closest thing to writing we expect from these guys is something in game chat like this, “Ur a n00b lolololol.”

But the truth is quite different. Gamers cut across the spectrum of humanity, and while there is a grain of truth in the two gamer stereotypes mentioned above (and I’ve known both types), the reality is gamers are middle-aged men with families and small businesses; they’re college students; they’re mothers, young and old; they’re 60+ year-old retired Navy MPs. In short, they’re a little bit of everything. And they are surprisingly literary-minded.
I found this out quite by accident. At some point in my WoW playing, I started scouring the web for advice on playing my Paladin. I learned to avoid Blizzard’s official forums: that was the haven of the aforementioned stereotypical teens. They turned the place into a cesspool of blatant trolling or petulant whining, where serious answers to serious questions were as rare as the Time-Lost Proto Drake.
But the searches led me to World of Warcraft bloggers, and here I found a very different world: a world of intelligent people who were passionate and knowledgeable about the game, and enjoyed sharing their knowledge with others. They examined the game in detail, dissected it, and wrote posts that were informative and entertaining. It helped me a lot, and inspired me, too: eventually, my own passion for the game led me to being a very active participant on a forum created specifically for those who play healers in game. I wrote a two-part guest post on Holy Paladins for one of the better-known WoW bloggers around, and even created my own blog (now defunct for a year). I was writing, and I liked it.
WoW blogs led me to NaNoWriMo. In November of 2009, several of the bloggers I followed were talking about it, usually in this vein: “Sorry I haven’t been posting as much. My NaNo is eating my brain.” I’d scratch my head and think, What the Hell is this NaNo thing? Eventually I got curious enough to look it up. The idea intrigued me, but by the time I found out, it was too late to participate. And I wasn’t ready. Yet.
But I was almost ready. In December, 2009, Blizzard prepared to release the last big content patch of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion (and another thing: Lich King was brilliant storytelling, but that may be the subject of another post, no promises): the final assault on Icecrown Citadel, home of the biggest badass in the game at the time, Arthas, aka The Lich King. The world of the World of Warcraft was abuzz with what it would be like, and a funny thing happened to me (and here’s my inner geek, laid open for all to see): my imagination was fired in a way I couldn’t explain. While doing other things (driving, dishes, whatever), I’d ‘see’ in my head a story unfolding, with my paladin at the center of it, preparing to take Icecrown by storm. I saw and heard conversations in my head, imagined how it would go, how he would react…in other words, I was writing a story.
I didn’t commit any of this to paper, but it circled my brain up until the raid was released, I was too busy getting smashed into tiny pixel bits by bosses to dwell on it any further. But the pump was primed. I was blogging regularly, and I was thinking. Stuff was happening in the Back Room. In March I had one of those first ‘Aha!’ moments when sometihng popped out of the Back Room. I didn’t get far with it, but it was a step.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, but in early August (yes, 9 months after the first chunk of Icecrown Citadel was released) of 2010, my guild finally defeated Arthas (we also got our first kill of a new raid-boss released the previous month, who was more related to the upcoming Cataclysm expansion than the winding-down Lich King one). The pressure was off, we had four or so months until Cataclysm. I spent less time in the game world. Is it a coincidence that I began writing fiction in earnest right after that? By then I had false-started two novels in the spring. In September, ideas seemed to grow like weeds. A couple of short stories shoved their way out. A few more ideas kicked around. And then NaNo hit, and I decided, why not? While writing my NaNo, the idea for Parallel Lives appeared, and when my NaNo was done I immersed myself in that.
I didn’t know it then, but it sounded the death knell for World of Warcraft. Ironic, in a way, that the game that helped kick-start my creativity was at least partly killed by it. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe I would have found my way back to writing anyway, eventually. I enjoyed my time in WoW, and I do miss it sometimes, but I’d rather be writing.

3 Responses

  1. Is it sad that I knew all of the words to that song? I love The Guild!

    Speaking of guilds, have you tried Guild Wars 2? Your story is personalized, based on the choices you made at character creation. Interesting stuff!

    Though, like you, I'd rather be writing. These days, games are mostly for blowing off steam. 🙂

  2. That was like reading Greek to me. Short of a few Wii games, I don't play video games. But I do understand the whole concept behind your inspiration. And frankly, I don't care what got you back writing. I'm just glad you are.

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