The thing which always kept me engaged in World of Warcraft, as with many other games and beyond, was the allure of the unexplored. I miss being a noob, cowering before the mighty, unknown and dangerous zones of Azeroth, shrouded in mystery and inaccessibility. They were the lands of the elite, lands of the higher echelons of players who had invested enough hours in their characters to be able to travel wherever they pleased. World of Warcraft was exciting, new - I died and got lost, saw new towns and met new people, was disappointed by some areas and pleasantly surprised by others, but through and through, I enjoyed it all. I found that often, I attached particular emotions and memories to certain areas; my mind wove place and experience together in some arcane data structure of the brain.
I progressed, in pursuit of the wonderfully numerical, precise, and pointed experience and levels. I loved to stay up late, talking with guildmates in the desert of Silithus, exploring the declivities and hills of the inferno-scorched Hellfire Peninsula, listening to Wilco's Summerteeth for the first time on the sheer and gorgeous cliffs of the Howling Fjords. I reached the maximum level and mastered the continents once, then twice, and thrice, as the expansions were released - and then they stopped. I plateaued then - everything was explored, down to every nook and cranny of the towns of both factions, from the jagged and beautiful peaks of Northrend to the lush, jungled Un'Goro Crater, lying beneath the level of the ocean. I found couldn't make new memories attached to the landscape, I could only replay the old ones - and the community which had once seemed fun and filled with likeable people now seemed execrable to me. The guildmates and friends of old had moved on from World of Warcraft, and their replacements seemed to get progressively more irksome.
Whether it was change in myself or my situation, change in the community, or the lapse in the steady stream of expansions, I found that I, too, was ready to leave - to give up on trying to eke more enjoyment out of the mapped and charted world, to let all the time and energy I had put into my characters go idle. It was harder after quitting to recall all the good things I loved about World of Warcraft instead of thinking about the days and weeks I spent moving numbers around in a server somewhere, exploring an imaginary, manufactured world - but once in a while I'll look around in my screenshots, the photo album of my character's life, or log on to a private server and bum around my old favourite spots - the good memories return. The memories of the people I met, befriended, and lost, of the enjoyable things I've done, of landscapes unexplored and dangerous, and vistas filled with and connected to emotions and music. It seems in moments like those, where the landscape, color, sound, the texture of keyboard and pressure of headphones resonate with memory, that all the time I put into an activity of which many people are so critical and suspicious is more worth it than they could imagine, and more rewarding than I often grant myself.