Welcome to the World of Warcraft, or how roleplaying made me a better writer.

Seriously.  I’ll explain it here, and more in later blog posts.  Right now I’m trying to catch up to where I am sitting currently, which means I have some ground to cover.

I came into this world with a pretty solid geek foundation.  My father is a genius of the incomprehensible and mathematical kind.   I grew up knowing he fixed airplanes (in fact, he was an avionics chief on the F-111 and F-16 jets.)  As a complete mathematical imbecile, I just took his word for most of it, especially when he tried to help me with my math homework.   What my Dad did grasp, and did his best to instill in me, was that computers were the wave of the future.   I had the first Atari of anyone I knew.  And yes, we had the first PC of any one I knew as well.   I played games on both, but was honestly more interested in horses than computers.

My mother’s interests were much more concrete to me.   An amazing equestrienne, she taught me to ride and handle horses.  (This comes in handy in so many books, I am still stunned that I use this knowledge in my writing on a nearly daily basis.)  But her real gift was the authors she, without thought, introduced me to.   Heinlein.  McCaffery. Lovecraft.   When I was in fourth grade, she bought me a book for my birthday… “Dreamsnake”  by Vonda McIntyre.   This was an extremely high quality piece of work, it won both the Nebula and Hugo awards that year, and I left it on my desk as I went out to recess.  My teacher picked it up, skimmed it, promptly confiscated it, and called my mother to report that I was reading ‘lewd trash’.   An hour later, I had the book back in my hands, and my teacher pointedly ignored it.

So, when I met my full bore geek husband, I had the underpinnings that he could build a real geek upon.  He and his friends taught me tabletop roleplaying, the most common being Dungeons and Dragons, and a good run of the strategic board game Battletech.  I was stepping into waters inhabited by an unbalanced proportion of younger males, but that didn’t really slow me down.   I could play as well as any young male, and it was good.

Eventually I became comfortable enough to start game mastering, and realized that starting a game is just like starting a book.  I made a world.  I made a history for it.  I filled it with a few people, and I waited for other voices to come and help it come alive.   As it grew, it became more and more obvious that the storylines popping up had the seeds to become more than games, they could become novels, and setting them down with my best friend was truly a collaborative work.

What I wasn’t, however, was a computer gamer.   I married one.  I spawned two.  My best friend/collaborator was one, but it eluded me.   And the husband and friend tried, gently, to work the ‘make Melissa a gamer’ magic that they had managed earlier.  I watched them, but was turned off by the limited and linear game play.  (So, I just go where the game makes me?   Where’s the fun in that?) The lack of character customization.   (Er… I don’t want to play a muscle bound shirtless guy, just not feeling that, sorry.)  The strobe lighting (migraine!) and endless rat mazes to seek and shoot just more bad guys/aliens.   I tried a couple, and gave up within fifteen minutes.  I didn’t have the twitch response time, and I just really wasn’t interested in pixelated death and destruction.

The massively multiplayer online roleplaying game World of Warcraft was still pretty new when my younger son begged for it.   We got it, and paid for an account, and let him go play it.   My best friend asked me to give it a try, he felt it had what I was looking for, and my husband agreed.  I finally sat down in December of 2005 and tried, yet again, to be a computer gamer, with the odd advice “Play one of the cows, Melissa.   You’ll see.”  ringing in my ears.

Cows?  Yes, actually the game did offer me the chance to play a large, anthromorphic, female and customizable cow (Don’t laugh.  Female was a big selling point, games at that point were just beginning to realize that not everybody wanted to be that shirtless muscle bound male avatar) .   I painstakingly created cow, named cow Damaris, and well, the other (coughimportantcough) stuff about her creation I just breezed over because I wasn’t going to play this for long.

And, in a word, I was hooked.   I had found an outlet for the same well of escapism that caused me to write in the first place.   It was a movie, but a movie I was living.   And it had people.   Company.  Unfortunately… they weren’t going to help my writing….

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