[Originally in issue #5 of Ctrl+Alt+Defeat magazine, March 2012.]
I’m in Menethil Harbour. I’m fishing. It’s many hours past sundown, the dusky blue sky reflecting on the ocean, reflecting the shadows outside my bedroom window. The cataclysm is yet to rend this quiet harbour town, plunging its inhabitants and half its buildings beneath water. No one here knows their fate. I am yet to know mine.
I am a pretty night elf with a trademark bob of teal hair. I’m a rogue, a sneaky little slip of a thing with a mean temper.
And I’m standing on the docks, fishing.
I’m not sure why; I hate fishing, and I don’t think this harbour provides any of the kind of fish I particularly need at this time. Ships with full, golden sails arrive occasionally at the far pier, collecting or depositing passengers before they leave once again. I stand here, plucking fish off my line every now and then, for about fifteen minutes before another boat comes in from the city of Stormwind, dropping off a lone occupant.
Unlike the other travellers, he does not instantly summon a mount and race out of town. This little dwarf warrior, in the mid level 20s, is dressed in the drab kind of gear that signifies he’s new, if not to this game then at least to this realm. He’s American, I presume, given that most Australians like myself are asleep at this time. He doesn’t seem to own a mount yet; he jogs over to me on foot.
But before he even approaches I know what he’s going to ask. I sigh inwardly.
“hey” he says to me out loud, his imagined voice the only text in my otherwise empty chat box, the only sound in this town save the occasional bell of an arriving ship.
“Hi,” I venture, monosyllabically and noncommittally, waiting for him to make his request.
It takes a few seconds; I imagine him stabbing at his keyboard with two index fingers. “do u know how to get to arathi?”
“Leave this town, stick to the path, and follow it left when it forks,” I reply promptly. I reel in another fish, and I hope that the dwarf doesn’t need further explanation.
“k thanks” he says.
He’s about to leave, but I know he’s not done yet. And I’m right. He has another request.
“can u take me there?”
I feel myself physically bristling at this. I’m at the level cap, dressed in sleek, colourful gear attained from the current raid instances, and I am busy fishing, dammit. At this time, I’m one of the few people in the realm to own a two-seater motorbike, but I only allow friends to sit in its side-carriage. Not anyone like this lowbie. What makes him think I am going to make the time to ferry a stranger across half the continent? Why do lowbies, with their poor typing skills and irritating abbreviations, always feel entitled to ask favours of high-levelled players? I gave him directions – was that not enough?
So I simply say, “No.” And to prove how busy I am, I cast another line into the sea.
“k” he says passively, turning to leave.
He’s not far when he seems to change his mind yet again. I brace myself for another inane question, another unwarranted request for a favour.
But after hovering at my side a moment, instead of saying another word, he drops a small wooden chest, out of which springs a mirror ball that sways to and fro, casting small spinning shards of reflected light across the pier’s haphazard wooden planks. The night sky lights up in a kaleidoscope of colour; fast-paced music featuring the laughter of gnomes plays, and in a wondrous daze, I click on the ball to see what will happen. My rogue abandons her fishing rod and begins to dance.
And with that, the dwarf is off, out of sight and running out of town.
I later learn that what he has deployed is a D.I.S.C.O. Ball, a rare item presumably used to raise the spirits of jaded, impatient, high-level raiders.
As I find myself grinning at the absurdity of this mirror ball, I feel something in myself soften. It’s just me and the mirror ball here on this dock, and though it’s the middle of the night in both of my existences, my world is alight. I feel awful.
Thinking of that little dwarf navigating the Wetlands outside town by himself, I remember the first time I came to this harbour as a baby rogue. My brother, a rogue far more competent than I at the time, had been the one to protect me from the Wetlands’ crocodiles. I might have quit without his help, given up. Though the game has been nerfed and gone through numerous changes since, I wonder if I have just sent this little dwarf to his death.
Quickly, I type his name into my chatbox. “Wait,” I whisper to him desperately. “Do you still need me?”
“nahh” he says. “i’ll figure it out.”
“Well…” I say finally. “Let me know if you ever do need help.”
The following morning, unable to stop thinking of the dwarf or his mirror ball, I add him to my contact list. The next time I see him online I message him immediately to ask how he’s doing, and to offer him a hand if it needs it.
He is as short with me and I was with him upon our first meeting. He politely declines my offers of help. We stop talking. I instead observe him through my contact list as he levels over the next few weeks, making it to the 60s before he stops logging on altogether. I never see him again after that.
He was right. He didn’t need me.
The game didn’t need people like me.