In late December of 2005, I found myself with little to do on a cold Friday evening. My wife works late, and since it was just a day before Christmas Eve, many of my friends were occupied with holiday obligations. Desiring to be anywhere other than the ice-blasted plains of the Midwest, I searched for solace in the virtual worlds I'd traveled to over the past year. Though it took me most of the evening, I managed to kindle some holiday cheer, receive a few presents and even catch up with a few old friends.
When I sat down at my PC, I merely intended to keep the shadows on the wall at bay. I loaded up World of Warcraft (WoW). Zoning into Iron Forge, I received well wishes from my guildmates, other holiday refugees seeking escape. Grateful for the (albeit digital) human contact, I greeted them and considered what elements of the Winter Veil (WoW's version of Christmas) quest I had left to accomplish. Rather than focusing on character advancement, the Winter Veil quest line rewarded players with snowballs, eggnog, cookies and so on. One quest I hadn't yet completed centered on rescuing Metzen the reindeer from kidnappers.
In exchange for returning him to his rightful owners, I would receive a piece of holly that would turn my horse into a reindeer for a short while. I could hardly think of something more Christmas-y, and decided an evening spent liberating a four-legged fuzzy thing from the forces of evil, with guildmates, was just the thing to cheer me up. Enthused, I queried my guild chat channel to see if anyone else was interested in participating.
Silence. My guild channel was silent. I was used to quick acceptance of any sort of group offering, and the lack of response seemed very much out of character for the guild. Confused about the silence, I opened my social window to see who was online. As I scanned the names in my guild window, I grew even more confused. The guild leader no longer appeared to be a part of the guild. My friends list revealed he was online, and so I asked him what the deal was. I discovered, much to my sorrow, that in the week I'd been offline, the guild had changed directions. Rather than a raiding guild, the guild's focus was now "hardcore RP." The former leader told me he'd been overthrown in a Christmastime coup. I wish I could say I was shocked. After being bounced from guild to guild all year by bad luck, though, I could do little more than remove myself. No one even asked why I'd left.
Unsurprised but a little sad, I set out to save Metzen and win my prize alone. Following the helpful directions of some Christmas-themed goblins, I tracked Metzen's kidnappers to Searing Gorge.
The spawn site for the kidnappers was so overrun with players that they hardly had the chance to take a swing or two before they died. Some sort of impromptu party was going on. Someone had even set up a streaming server to broadcast Christmas-themed dance music, and the call was going out to the rest of the server: PARTY IN SEARING GORGE!
I wanted holiday cheer, but the online version of a Christmas rave wasn't really what I had in mind. Dejected, I rescued Metzen and headed back to Ironforge, but I couldn't shake my holiday blues. Even running around on a horned deer didn't make me feel better. The mood in the air was festive, but having to leave behind yet another guild (my third or fourth for the year) was just too depressing.