Spoiler alert: You are going to die. It's inescapable. Maybe you fall off a cliff. Maybe you grow old and fade peacefully into the nether. Maybe hawk-wolves pick the lock on your front door and attack while you're frying eggs and trying to remember what you had planned for the day. Maybe you sneeze on the subway and your head literally explodes, ruining the morning commute of dozens of office drones.
Whatever the cause and time, death is the inevitable conclusion to the story of your life. It can be neat, it can be messy, it can be expected, it can be a surprise, but it always comes. And no matter who you are, I'm willing to bet one thing about that cacophonous moment in which the world slows and you stare death in the face:
You will not wish you had spent more time raiding.
Video games are incredible. If you're reading these words, you already know that. The fact that you're here right now demonstrates that you and I have an immensely powerful and unique connection that exists as the result of our shared love for slaying pretend dragons and saving pretend maidens/dudes. We don't know each other and might never get along in the real world, but video games have created a streak of common ground over which we can shake hands, high five, and occasionally play supporting roles in each other's stories.
Games, and MMOs in particular, give many of us a safe place to meet new people and experience new things. It's no secret that quite a few of gaming's most ardent enthusiasts aren't exactly champions of the social scene, and plenty of us have crippling anxieties that make socializing and hanging out in real life scenarios more stress than it's seemingly worth. With games, though, we're all equals, all united, all friends (even when we're enemies). In RIFT, Aion, Guild Wars 2, or World of Warcraft, we are what we wish the world would see in us.
"It's critical to remember that life is brief and the world is vast."
These fantasy worlds provide us with an outlet, an escape, and a sanctuary. They give us hundreds of temporary joys, whether through conquering an opponent, forging a new friendship, or accomplishing a particularly challenging in-game task. They even provide us with memories that feel as authentic as our real life adventures. When I think of running around Azeroth in my underwear taunting the Horde or cruising around New Eden hunting for space rocks, I'm not imagining myself sitting at a keyboard.
But for all the good that games do us and all the wonderful experiences they create, it's critical to remember that this life is brief and the world is vast. We couldn't experience even a tenth of the happiness, sorrow, and beauty present on Earth if we tried, and we can experience almost none of it from our office chairs.
The real world is a frightening place. It is violent, it is hard, and it is generally slower to reward than our beloved games. But it offers experiences that are simply unmatched by staring into a television or computer monitor. The raw brushstrokes of a blazing sunset, the sudden chill of an afternoon swim, the aching muscles that follow a hike, a run, or a bike ride -- these are things our high-end gaming PCs and cutting-edge peripherals cannot give us. It is our responsibility as expiring humans to hunt these moments, to spear them, to capture them.
There is no game that can replace the feeling of sitting on a porch with friends and grilling enormous piles of meat (or veggies, if that's your thing). Maxing out your blacksmithing profession in the hundredth fantasy land you've entered isn't going to deliver the same punch as making eye contact with that guy or girl across the room and feeling your universe tilt off its axis. And no achievement in any game even remotely compares to the feeling of facing something impossible in your real life and carving it into an accomplishment.
"Volunteer somewhere. Build a canoe. Earn some scars."
This isn't a lecture. I'm not suggesting we stop playing games or dismissing the enjoyment we get from playing them. After all, it is my job (that I love with all my heart) to play and talk about these digital bubbles of beauty. What I'm trying to say is that there is much, much more to life than our gear scores, our gold tallies, and the number of pixels in our extra-special expanded inventories. We have a finite number of days to walk this planet, and I'm a firm believer that we should, you know, spend some of that time actually walking.
Your mileage may vary. I like to camp and climb, and maybe the thought of spending a week in the woods feels to you like the worst kind of torture imaginable. That's fine. We don't have to like the same things. One of my friends runs marathons, and I'd just as soon shoot off my own foot than find myself packed into a runner's corral at 5:45 in the morning waiting to crawl 20 some-odd miles to a distant finish line. No one thing works for every person.
All that matters is that we work to find some non-gaming passions and spend a little time chasing those passions down, even when they're difficult. Volunteer somewhere. Build a canoe. Earn some scars. Let's agree that gaming is a hobby and not a replacement for a life well-lived. Let's challenge ourselves to step out of the friendly confines of our computer room and into the harsh glare of reality, even if only for brief moments. And most of all, let's find the courage to do a few things that terrify us before the inevitable shuffling off of this mortal coil.
If, someday, you have grandchildren, they'll want to hear about your adventures, good and bad. I'm guessing that being the server-first Lich King kill won't be the first thing you tell them.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!