Existentialism On Raid Night

(Editor’s note: While digging for a particular game reference in my Google Documents, I found a post I made for my last ill-fated blog attempt. I wrote this in January 2009, and feel it’s one of my better random thoughts. Since I’m closing down my past life, I wanted to replicate it here.)

I never thought that a World of Warcraft character ability could make me sad.

Last night Meghan and I fired up Plax and Shayara again, and I ran out of arrows somewhere in the Howling Fjord, so we went back to Valgarde Port to sail to Menethil so I could hit the auction house and get more materials for my arrow maker boxes. After I dive into the water for Cobalt (something I’ve done about six times so far, including the times I leap off the boat and delay my trip by five minutes so I can get two things of ore), I head back to the dock while she works on some smithing while we wait.

“Let me know when the boat comes so I don’t miss it.”

“I’ll do better than that — I’ll scan for it… from above!”

My favorite Hunter ability is Eagle Eye. It has value, like turning on a tracking ability and scanning for quest NPCs or ore veins, but I mostly use it to see what the world looks like from odd angles. This time, my idea was to see if I could use it to see from the top of Utgarde Keep, right at the tip of one of the spires.

Lo and behold, it works. And I’m speechless.

You can see the fields stretching out on all sides. I’m too far away to see people, so it’s a beautiful landscape shot, as if untouched by human hands. North of me I can see the river break into three small waterfalls, gently carressing a tiny island. To the east is a village built into the side of a cliff, and I imagine what it must have been like before anyone else came here. Below me is the port butting up against the vrykul village, but from here it’s peaceful and quiet. Far to the east I see nothing but green fields, and far to the west I see the edges of the a forest, and I know Westguard Keep is nearby.

The boat pulls into view, and I watch as it lazily drifts into a cave. From my vantage point it’s no bigger than a toy. It is the only movement I see — or at least it almost is, as suddenly to the west I can see something moving in the field. It’s probably a mile away from me.

It’s the Storm Giant.

I watch him walk to the edge of the cliff and look out over the valley, and I wonder what he’s thinking. Is he thinking like I am? Does he remember when this place was pristine, untouched by human hands? Is he reminiscing of peaceful times? Or is he thinking darker thoughts as the Alliance boat arrives? What does he think of the intruders? The invaders? For really, isn’t that what we are here?

I watch him watching the boat for a long time, and then Eagle Eye wears off, and I’m back on the dock, surrounded by soldiers and builders and sailors and travelers and the cacophony of the port.

***

I don’t play The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past anymore because of that feeling. The third Light World crystal takes you to the top of Death Mountain, and I’d battled up there, sword and shield in hand, ready to do battle with Ganon’s minions and save Princess Zelda. And then I came to the bridge.

The view below the bridge was obscured by thick cloud cover, but you could see a forest in the gaps where there were no clouds. And I sat on the bridge for a long time, looking down at the forest. There were little clearings here and there, areas of light green peeking out through the dark green of the expansive forest.

I studied it. It didn’t look like the Lost Woods, not how I knew them. These were different trees, all faint and tiny from this elevation. This was a different forest.

And I would never go there.

It had to be full of creatures, animals both big and small. I imagined villages, kindly shopkeepers, woodcutters, fairies hidden inside tiny coves, chickens bustling about a pen, a thousand little Kakariko Villages down in that great forest.

And I would never see them.

I kept on through the game, but I found myself climbing Death Mountain again and again to look out over that forest and think about what could have been.

A throwaway background graphic in a 16-bit adventure game, and it captivated me.

***

We return to Valgarde after I refilled my quiver, and I use Eagle Eye again, then call Meghan over to see how impressive the view was. I mention my Link to the Past sadness, and she points out that I’d go to all these places — unlike Link to the Past, in Northrend I could go to everywhere that I saw. This is true. Once I get Mayday de-iced for flying in Northrend, I can go everywhere that I see in the game. It’s amazing freedom.

But still I linger at the top of the Keep, watching the peaceful hills, because I know I’ll never see it like this again.

The west has a Forsaken village, where they’re preparing a plague. The east has iron dwarves unearthing dark relics and vrykul waging an all-out war with the invading Alliance. Below me, the port is under constant siege from the Dragonflayer tribe. The north holds Skorn, more vrykul serving the Lich King. Even further west has Westguard Keep, an ever-burning grove of trees, and a mine where the miners have gone mad from forces unknowable.

Everywhere I go, there will be conflict. Everywhere I go, there will be pain, sorrow, suffering, and madness. I’ll see people die that should have lived. I’ll see atrocities committed by every and all races. It will be all around me, surrounding me, overwhelming me, consuming me.

I see the Storm Giant again, far to the west, this time peering south, and I wonder if he’s watching the boats approaching from the mainlands. I wonder what he’s thinking, again. I wonder if he thinks he sees his death coming on those boats.

Later that day we ride past the Storm Giant on our way back from Shield Hill on our way to Westguard Keep. He’s on the western cliff, facing out over the water, looking into the Dragonblight. I slow to a stop and watch him from far away. I don’t know what he’s seeing; I haven’t been into the Dragonblight yet. I know I’ll be there soon, though, and I’m sure I’ll be fighting the whole way. Everywhere he’s seeing now, I’ll go to, undoubtedly righting wrongs and shooting and stabbing and killing and slaying and adding bit by bit to the cacophony that this land has become.

I watch him watching, for another moment, and then I spur my nightsaber on and ride past him, to give him his privacy. He doesn’t turn away from the view, and soon we are out of each other’s sight.

I envy him, I think to myself as I ride off to turn in proof of my deeds putting spirits to rest. He only sees it like I did from the Keep – peaceful, undisturbed, serene. For him, it’ll never change.

I really envy him.

I wish I could see it like that forever.

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