WoW-like MMORPGs are thousands of years old -- at least dating back to the Ancient Greeks. That's the thesis of Classics professor Roger Travis of the University of Connecticut in an article he wrote for The Escapist, called "Achilles Phat Lewtz."
He compared the excitement he experienced when gaining a rare drop in The Lord of the Rings Online to similar instances in Greek poet Homer's epic war story The Iliad. He also located examples of quests, guilds, character classes, grinding and boss fights in Homer's work. Check out the article; it's insightful and entertaining.
Travis also runs his own blog on the subject of relating games and ancient literary epics called "Living Epic: Video Games in the Ancient World." The various posts there are substantial and fascinating. Give it a look-over.