Growing Up in WoW: One-third of a lifetime shared with Azeroth

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Growing Up in WoW: One-third of a lifetime shared with Azeroth
A few months ago, I received an email from the kind of player who sets off all sorts of bells and whistles for a feature writer like me -- a WoW fan who's integrated the game into a balanced, engaged, lively lifestyle. If you've ever found yourself shaking your fist and snarling at teenaged players as a group -- Get off my lawn! -- then you've probably never met a young player who's got his stuff together quite so well as Zukkai of Area 52 (US).

I'm 18, I'm a raid leader for one of the 10man teams in our guild, and I've been playing since I was 12. In December, I can claim that I've played WoW for a third of my life. Along the way I've been in school full time, and will be attending university in the fall. When I first started playing, my parents regulated my play time. Once I started controlling my play time, I had to learn about my own time management and how to balance WoW with RL priorities. I've also learned how to deal with the social stigmas of playing WoW through high school, including how to explain to your friends that you might not be able to go somewhere because you have to raid.

I've managed to grow up right along side the game, and I think playing it for so long has taught me a couple of valuable lessons along the way. I've had stretches where I'd be playing 4-5 hours a day and I've had stretches where I've toyed with quitting, but I've kept going for 6 years. I've never had massive amounts of time to play, but I've managed to put together my Insane title and collect a large sum of pets and mounts, as well as raid at the heroic level.

Fixated on gaming? Hiding away from life? Not in the least. Our conversation with Zukkai reveals a player for whom World of Warcraft is just another pastime -- albeit one that's filled a full one-third of his lifetime. Moving in and out of WoW with the rest of life's rhythms is as natural as breathing, as Zukkai demonstrates in this look at life for one of the many players today who are growing up in Azeroth.
Main character Zukkai, troll destruction warlock
Guild VEX
Realm Area 52 (US)

WoW Insider: "I've played WoW a third of my life" - that's a pretty eye-popping statement. How did you get started playing WoW? You were, what, 12 years old?

Zukkai: Haha, yeah, it is fairly wild to think about. I was indeed 12 when I started. I can't tell you the exact date, but I know it was around Brewfest six years ago, because I can remember my brand new warlock running to Silvermoon from the starting area, listening to that awful music as I went. It's forever ingrained in my head.

I got started because I had watched my dad play for a while -- he himself got started because of colleague -- and enjoyed getting to just sit and watch him play. It was nice to have him around to help me get a grasp on the game as I got started, as well as giving me a guild home to go to right from the beginning. I still play with a few of the people who were around right when I started.

Did your parents put any brakes on your playtime and involvement? What were their rules?

Oh, did they ever. I knew my username but they controlled my password, so I couldn't just log on whenever I wanted. At first, they limited me to an hour per week. This changed eventually, but they still controlled my password for a number of years.
How did you react under those rules? Do you think you would have gone overboard without their guidance at that time?

I was too excited to realize this when they first told me I could get my own account, so I distinctly remember flipping out when I realized it was an hour per week, not an hour per day. It's fairly difficult, especially as a new player in the BC era who was as overwhelmed like I was, to do much of anything in an hour. I know I would've played a lot more than I was allowed had I had my own account from the beginning.

An hour a week isn't that hard to manage to fit in around a middle school schedule, but it made it so that I was fitting WoW in around my homework and sports, as opposed to the other way around. That's a key difference, and it's one I've carried throughout my playing career.

How did your playtime and rules evolve over the years? How did that affect your playstyle - what sort of activities did you enjoy at various ages and stages?

My playtime got bumped up incrementally -- two hours a week, then extra time on weekends, things like that. Eventually though, I did get my own password and was able to control my own account.

Because of the restricted playtime (due both to parental restrictions and simply having a large workload through school and other activities), I've always thought about having time for 1.5 characters. I have enough time to read, research, gear, and raid at a high level on Zuk, who will always be my main and have raided with since Naxx 2.0. Then I can either spend that extra .5 on Zuk doing more "trivial" things, such as achievements or pet battles, or working on other alts just to enjoy playing other classes. I have four other level 90s, none of whom are even LFR-geared, and every other class at one level or another.
Let's talk about some of the time management techniques you've used successfully.

The first one is one that gets said a lot, but it really rings true: real life truly does come first. It helps having an accepting guild/raid leader, but once people got past the sticker shock of raiding with a 14-/15-/16-year-old, they were always completely understanding when I had to step away for a couple of days (or even weeks) when I had a performance or exams that I had to deal with. If it was long enough, I knew I ran the risk of getting benched, and I was OK with that. When I was able to come back, I could sub for a while as necessary before trying to win my spot back.

The big thing was the ability to have the willpower to not log in for a week (or two or three) if I was swamped with work. Letting real life dictate my play time was important.

The second one is to realize that any goal you might have in the game can be accomplished over a longer stretch of time than you might want to try to do it in.

My proudest personal achievement is my Insane title, which I compiled over the span of three years. I spent one spring break farming the Bloodsail rep and then had to wait 'til next year's spring break to farm the Steamwheedle Cartel rep back up. I couldn't go to any of the goblin cities in that year, but there was no way I had the time to work on it. Because of the way I started playing, I'm not prone to long, 8- to 12-hour playing splurges. Anything you want to do in game will come with time.

The last one is to use raids (or anything you schedule with other people online) as a motivator to finish anything you need to. Odd as this might seem, I actually preferred school-week raid days to weekend raid days because I knew that if my raid was from 9-12 ST, I'd better have my work done by 8:15 or 8:30. I rationalized it like a sports practice -- instead of a two-hour practice every day after school and then coming home to do work, I'd make sure to come home and do work, especially on the three nights I had to raid. I didn't look at them as eating up time I could be studying but as a reward at the end of the night.
And now you're at college! Have you declared a major?

I am, and I have! I am a criminal justice major with some sort of psychology -- either a combined major or a minor -- to come later. Possibly a theatre minor as well. So many options, so little time.

How did moving away to college affect your play?

Due to a few factors -- the team I was leading breaking apart, patch 5.4 dropping, [my] getting used to new surroundings -- my play time bottomed out for a bit at the beginning of the semester. Once I was used to classes, work, and practice, I started to play a bit more again.

What was the most surprising change?

I think the biggest change would be when I actually had time to play. In high school, you go to school, then do homework, and then log on in the evening. In college, often times you go to class or do homework, have a good amount of free time to play midday, and then go to clubs, sports, work, or hang out with friends at night once the school day is over.

Due to suddenly unpredictable evenings, it became a lot harder for me to get myself back into raiding. I didn't have the time to commit to my guild's three heroic groups, and I was unable to form a group that was less time-intensive. It never went far due to lack of interest and the simple fact that I couldn't devote as much time as I needed to, and that's probably my biggest disappointment.
Unless I PuG it (which still won't feel the same), this will be the first end boss I fail to kill in the patch it was released since Yogg.
So taking a longer view of this time of your life, would you say that WoW still is and is likely to continue being a part of your lifestyle?

Despite getting distracted by Diablo (due to the RoS announcement), Hearthstone, and then taking an extended break due to exams and holiday break, WoW is still in the cards going forward. With the start of a fresh semester, I'll be jumping back in once I get a handle on my classes.

I've put aside the idea of raiding SoO at the normal level right now, so I'll probably be trying to play catch-up on the Timeless Isle (barely touched it), pet battles (haven't collected anything since 5.0), mount collecting (I'm just short of 200), and my alt stable (hoping to get up to eight 90s before WoD). I want to raid again -- I'd rather put my green fire to use on bosses than the mob that might just have my last drop for my daily quest -- so I'm going to jump into WoD when it comes out. It looks amazing so far.
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) or a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to
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