I have a love/hate relationship with Cathedral Street.
Cathedral Street begins just up the road from Queen Street station and then runs through the city centre’s University district, along towards – no, seriously – Glasgow Cathedral. (This is presumably why it is called “Cathedral Street”. I’m just sayin’.) The street is lined almost exclusively with campus and buildings for various educational institutions. Towards the end of its length the street briefly passes a bank and a couple of rows of what I assume is student accommodation (which I further presume are converted tenements – shows how little I know about this place!) before terminating at the Cathedral, which is right next door to the old Royal Infirmary on a road named Castle Street.
(Don’t just take my word for it – you can actually virtually walk down the street using Google Maps.)
Glasgow is a city with a fair bit of history, as most cities in the UK are. The eponymous cathedral is a 15th century building on a site that’s housed a Christian church since AD500 or so, apparently, and the hospital was built in the late 18th century. Most of the university buildings seem to date from the mid 20th century – either boring 80s brick or whacky 60s designs – and are mingled in with older Victorian edifices in various states of repair. And as it’s a working city, walking up or down the street will bring you shoulder to shoulder with various normal contemporary people going about their business – though mostly students or faculty staff.
And if you did take a google maps tour of the street you may notice that just about every picture has totally different lighting and weather conditions. The weather in Scotland is notoriously variable, and Cathedral Street sort of epitomises this. I’ve experienced at least as many extremes of weather on Cathedral Street as I have sailing, hiking, travelling long distances or otherwise doing things during which one would expect to encounter “weather”. The Street is, in fact, a sort of umbrella graveyard. When it gets even slightly breezy the wind seems to just RUSH down the street and, for pedestrians using umbrellas coming from other more sheltered streets, arriving on Cathedral Street tends to result in the following series of noises:
Argh, my umbrella!
I’m totally not kidding, the street is permanently lined with broken and discarded umbrellas.
It is, really, a thoroughly interesting street which is rendered thoroughly mundane by the fact that I require to traverse, on foot, a significant portion of its length on a regular basis.
I love walking along Cathedral Street, except when I don’t.
It is, as we have established, a most stimulating environment full of fascinating people and buildings and meteorological conditions and so forth. It’s a nice, straight, flat street with conveniently located pedestrian crossings and a not unpleasant amount of traffic. There are several nooks and crannies along the way where one can detour through campus grounds to get away from the road itself.
But I still have to walk along the street to get to where I’m going.
Sometimes – most of the time – I really enjoy it. There’s a simple sort of pleasure from walking and another simple sort of pleasure to be walking somewhere specifically, especially when that somewhere is a happy place full of friends and stimulating topics to study. I’d hate to just step out my front door and arrive at Uni, really. It’d be horribly boring. And the journey – a mile to the train station, into town on the express, along Cathedral Street and finally up the stairs into the cloakroom – is as much mental and emotional as physical. It prepares me for where I am going to end up, and to some extent conditions my attitude when I arrive.
Of course sometimes I don’t like the journey. It can be tiring or freakin’ freezing or far too hot or unpleasantly wet (as distinct from pleasantly wet) or uncomfortably dry and sometimes I spend most of the time just trying not to get soaked by lorries going through large puddles.
And sometimes I’m in such a hurry that all I can do is sort of run-jog-run along the entire length of the route and arrive in a sweaty wheezy mess. But sometimes there’ll be a pure burst of joyous speed as I dart through an opening in the traffic or catch up to a friend I’ve seen ahead or whatever.
In fact for a good while in the past year or so the journey became the most difficult part of the whole endeavour, and the principal challenge to be overcome in order to make progress.
Life is, as I’m sure we have all heard said, a journey, and is best enjoyed when we can embrace the fact that we are perpetually “en route” rather than trying to hoard “destinations”. To some extent I do feel this is true. Journeys, like my walks (and sometimes puffy runs) along Cathedral Street, can be at least as interesting and fulfilling as destinations… but of course they can also be pretty rubbish! …just like some destinations.
(I don’t actually like this binary way of looking at things as “journey” vs “destination”, but that is a whole other discussion and I shall simply note here that I am using deliberately simple terms.)
Meanwhile back in Warcraft
Yes, you see, there is – depressingly – a point to be made here about World of Warcraft. My Death Knight alt has got me thinking about this a bit more recently. Because she’s adrift of my accumulated wealth and support networks she has taken to fishing to provide an income. Now fishing is one of those things that I have sometimes loved to bits in WoW, and other times just have no patience for; while I’m not exactly loving it to bits on Chaiah, I am at very least prepared to tolerate and perhaps even enjoy it – maybe because I’ve got a good reason to do it, but definitely because it allows me to play my character in a slightly unconventional way.
The other thing which is a bit unconventional for my alts is the fact that, with no heirlooms or Cold Weather Flying, she’s being fairly completest about questing. I painstakingly worked through every single quest in Borean Tundra and I very much enjoyed it in a way that I haven’t since I first took Chayah (my shaman) through back at the start of WotLK. And I’m now working through the Horde Dragonblight quest chains for the first time – my Paladin simply ignored them and got on with his LFD-powered powerlevelling, but it’s crucial to my Death Knight’s ongoing development as a story-character that she experiences it all for herself.
I am, you see, very much enjoying the journey.
Which is very very strange because the last several times I’ve levelled through Northrend I’ve basically hated it and wanted to get finished as fast as possible… at least, without stooping to the depths of pure grinding or totally ignoring quests altogether.
Part of me wonders if this is because, with no end-game to look forward to for my DK – no cushy swathes of BoE epics and heirloom arcanums or epic gems and expensive enchants, and with no guild of generous, reliable, highly competent friends to group with* – I’m enjoying the “journey” part of the game simply because I know it’s might be the main thing I’ll ever enjoy about the character. Rushing to 80 would be foolish if I didn’t enjoy getting there and then had nothing to do when I arrived, wouldn’t it?
(*This is not to say there are no such people in SAN, just that SAN is not a relatively hardcore raiding guild full of people I’ve known and trusted for years so it would be unfair to expect things from SANers when my presumably undergeared alt happens to reach level 80.)
The same is true of a lot of things in WoW. Take raiding! The first time you kill a particularly hard boss is often an epic achievement which has been worked up to through weeks of planning and practice. Getting the boss “on farm” can be fun too, especially if you’re salivating over the loot table waiting for that special item. And blowing through content that you have no trouble with, accompanied by good friends and good music, can be a blast too.
But what about when the item you want just won’t drop and the fight has become trivial and you’re really just doing the instance for the “destination” – getting your gear upgraded and reaching the boss you’re really interested in further on? Or, perhaps worse, when you get stuck on encounters you’ve beaten before and just wish the boss would roll over and die so you can move on?
Through the queue
Another example of this is the Looking for Dungeon queue. I’m doing at least one a day on my Death Knight so that she’ll earn her precious pre-80 Emblems of Triumph. This is a “goal” or, if you like, a “destination”. Whereas on my level 80s I simply chat with the guild or alt-tab and read blogs while queuing – just killing time, in other words – on my levelling characters I tend to get on with questing which is still just about enjoyable (though doing so every day is at risk of becoming tedious). When the dungeon is ready, I enjoy each pull as I get a chance to tank or DPS in a group setting, and sometimes I get some very decent groups of people to spend time with too. And when we reach the end and my “goal” of 2xEoT is realised… I almost feel a little sad, because the dungeon is over and I’ve got my emblems and have no real reason to do any more that day.
I do find it sad that, if you enjoy dungeoneering itself while levelling, the game sort of doesn’t really encourage it. LFD is wonderful, and EoT before reaching level 80 are fantastic. But especially if you’re a tank or healer, each EoT you earn before reaching level 80 is incredibly precious, because the moment you hit level 80 you’re judged by a whole other set of standards, and the PUGs you use to try and meet those standards – such as achieving a full set of tier 9 or achievements for the easy raid bosses or whatever – will often be very painful and difficult as people give you a hard time for being “undergeared” or “inexperienced”. So if you want to maximise your time in the perhaps slightly friendlier and potentially more satisfyingly challenging levelling dungeons, you actually want to minimise your XP gain outwith those crucial first random dungeons per day.
Of course, those two Emblems of Triumph are a part of a greater journey as well as a “destination” in themselves – because as we just discussed, they pave the road towards “acceptable” gear levels and facilitate access to more of the endgame.
My mage has finished as much of that journey as I was prepared to go on, and as a result I hardly play her anymore. I do occasional random heroics and the Jewelcrafting quest, but that’s mostly an excuse to hang out with my friends and annoy tanks with my reckless AoE. Because I’m not willing to pour time and energy into dubious raid PUGs, she simply has nowhere else to go.
Now in some ways this is probably healthy, as it allows my WoW time to proceed in cycles that can broadly correspond with period of low busyness + more WoW time / period of high busyness + less WoW time. In other ways I almost feel guilty about not playing her – like somehow I’ve geared her up and abandoned her. Which is actually really stupid because the whole point of gearing her up was to have fun while doing it, and the whole point of having her geared up is to have another character to use as a resource for when I do want to spend time with friends, do alt raids with them, or just blow off some steam in a random heroic on something I don’t normally play.
Love it or hate it
The really really curious thing, though, is that so many of us – and yes, I include myself here – will play a game in a way that we don’t enjoy to achieve a goal that will maybe provide a brief final moment of satisfaction and then be forgotten about.
Think about that for a moment. If you don’t like levelling but you blow through all 80 levels worth of XP because it’s the only way to get to level 80, then you grit your teeth and grind through unpleasant heroics and PUG raids to gear up, and then spend all your time after that farming for consumables and struggling to earn enough DKP to obtain your next piece of ilevel 277 tier 10 in a guild consisting of 3 people you kind of like and 30 people you’d rather never speak to again… what does that mean?
This is, for me, one of the great conundrums of WoW and of computer gaming in general. And it’s not something I look down my nose at and wonder why those silly people do it – it’s something I’ve experienced first hand and still do to some extent. Because despite making a concious decision to cut down on the parts of the game that I don’t enjoy, and despite limiting myself to only raiding with my bestest and most trusted friends within the game in a way that is as enjoyable as possible, I still do stuff that I don’t really want to. Random daily heroics for example – sometimes I enjoy them, but they’re increasingly a chore. Daily quests for another – I did them for a long time more than I enjoyed them, though I don’t any more. And going further back, the painful and unpleasant process of levelling my druid and priest from 70 to 80, something which was “necessary” but which I absolutely resented.
Of course each of those examples has, for me, had the advantage of giving me an excuse to spend time with friends – chatting or playing alongside them – or at very least, a chance to listen to some music and practice my character in a non-raid environment or unusual role (I’ve taken to healing in heroics again after purely joining as DPS for a few weeks).
I guess even when I have to run down Cathedral Street through the pelting rain with a bag full of library books to catch my train in time, at least I’m getting some exercise. And hey, running through the rain – it’s not like I’d do that by choice, right? So the experience must be good for something. And I have to get home somehow – perhaps that “destination” supplies a legitimacy to my forays onto Cathedral Street that makes both the enjoyable and the less pleasant experiences in some sense worthwhile.
What I wonder is, is the same true for playing World of Warcraft? If so, what does that mean for how we think about the game in the first place – is it more important than we are prepared to admit? And if not, what does that imply for those of us who perform the WoW equivalent of chasing down the paving brushing cold raindrops out of our eyes and wishing we were somewhere else… only without the satisfaction of finally ending up curled up on the sofa with a hot mug of sweet tea?