Coming home to Azeroth

For a number of months, I knew my computer was dying, but it was the release of patch 5.4 that finally did it in. With a seven-year-old motherboard, processor, and a paltry two gigabytes of RAM, even just opening an internet browser was eating up a significant portion of its memory. Running WoW was definitely out of the question. So I began the process of upgrading my machine--new motherboard, new CPU, new RAM, new operating system--and along the way my monitor died too, so I got a new one of those as well. There were some wrenches thrown into the machinery, but at last I found myself once more logging into the familiar World of Warcraft.

I've played WoW for six of its nine years in existence, and I sometimes struggle to explain what keeps me going. Though changes and tweaks have been made through the years, at its core the game remains the same. It's the same night elf druid that greets me on the login screen each time I load the client, the same familiar landmarks that guide my travels across Azeroth. After a two-month forced absence, however, I think I understand better what the game represents to me: it's home.

That probably sounds incredibly corny, but it's important for me to acknowledge, because "home" is a concept I've always struggled with--I've moved on average about every two to three years of my life. I've lived in three countries, five US states, and a dozen cities. When people ask me the question, "Where are you from?" I noticeably hesitate before answering. In fact, those six years I've spent in Azeroth represent the longest I've ever been in one place in my life. I suppose some people might find it sad that that place exists only in pixels, but it's good enough for me.

Home is such a fundamental and elusive concept. Is it the place you were born? The place you grew up? The place you live now? The place your family or ancestors lived? Is it a dwelling or a city or a region or a country, or something else entirely? Over the years WoW has provided me with many of the same things one might expect from a place they call home: a circle of friends I love and trust, a sense of belonging, stories to tell, even work to help pay the bills. It's endlessly fascinating to me that I found this sense in the place I did, in a digital fantasy land full of dragons and magic. My sixteen-year-old self wouldn't have believed it (even though she would have been delighted), I'm sure. Whatever form home takes, I'm grateful that it's there, offering familiarity and comfort whenever I need or want it--at least, whenever the state of my electronics allow me to access it!

What is Azeroth to you? Does it provide any of this same sense of home and stability that it does me, or not at all? Is WoW something you do simply for fun or escape, or does your attachment run deeper? What has your time in Azeroth given you? What keeps you coming back? There are seven million of us playing this game, what have we invested into it, and what have we taken away?

This article was originally published on WoW Insider.