Geek Is: A tribute to Chris Metzen

My first post on this blog was going to be a post explaining the British and Irish Lions rugby team, but then Chris Metzen went and announced overnight that he’s retiring (well, mostly) from Blizzard Entertainment.

Oh to be Young Again

The first time I experienced Chris Metzen was as the voice of Thrall, one of the main protagonists in Warcraft III and World of Warcraft. However, he’d been an influence in my fledgling gaming life from a little earlier.

One of the first games I really got immersed in was Starcraft. You may have heard of it, you may not. It’s basically the national sport of Korea, so no big deal. A friend of mine at school had lent me his copy and within a week I’d gone to the shop to buy my own copy, which helpfully came with Warcraft II and Diablo. I spent hours jetting around the Korpulu Sector, leading armies across Azeroth and Draenor and getting my ass handed to me in the dungeons of a Cathedral that happened to inhabit the embodiment of Terror.

Long story short, I loved Blizzard’s storytelling. And the heart of that is Chris Metzen, who has been the creative driving force behind that storytelling.

While I was pretty into Starcraft and Diablo, it was the Warcraft series that really caught my eye, which made it a good thing that Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos came out when I was 12.

Starting with a prologue explaining who the orcs are and why they want to get the hell out of dodge instead of just straight up slaughtering humans like I’d been used to seeing them do (although there’s a bit of that), in Warcraft III’s campaign you see the rise and fall of heroes and villains who, at the time for me, began to show that it isn’t just a case of “HUMAN GOOD, ORC BAD” like I had read in classic fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings. Thrall, the Warchief of the orcs  was trying to get his people to go back to their roots while trying to find a new home for them. Arthas, the human Prince who just wants what’s best for his people, slaughters an entire town and slowly goes insane and becomes one of Azeroth’s greatest threats. Meanwhile, demonic hordes are due to literally rain in from the sky to take the planet and screw everyone over.

The World, and Mine, Gets Bigger

Fast forward two years and World of Warcraft is released to the world. After having to get my parents to pay the subscription fee and agree that yep, I’m totally going to do all my homework and I definitely won’t stay up late playing, I jumped into the world with friend I’d made online playing Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. We made a guild, we grew closer together, teamed up with other guilds to defeat elemental lords, dragons (lots of dragons) and the armies of the dead.

Expansions rolled out and the world I was living in just got bigger. We went through a giant portal to a shattered world to beat up a guy who had notions about beating Demonic Armies (which as it turns out he might be kinda right about, what with the goings on of the latest expansion), and raced to kill one-armed Troll warlords so we could ride around on great big bloody bears.

There was a lot in WoW that appealed to me, chief among them the story. I was running around interacting with characters that I had grown up with, who I had seen succeed and fail, who I had invested increasing amounts of time with. But probably the more special thing that happened was that I was investing more and more in the people I played with as well. What Metzen & co had created wasn’t just their story, or even just mine. It was millions and millions of people’s stories, for better or worse.

For me personally, I laughed and cried with my guildmates, and they were a great support during a time when I was struggling to find my identity. I don’t know what it’s like now, but for me growing up in school as someone who’s main hobby was “computer games” meant that I struggled to make friends and just generally didn’t enjoy myself until the last couple of years when attitudes to games didn’t matter quite so much anymore and I started to come out of my shell. To a large degree though, I still felt like a bit of a freak, not one of the cool kids who got girlfriends and were popular and on the rugby team. But I had my own thing. I was popular with my friends online, and during tough times they were the ones I turned to for support, which they gladly gave.

You could argue that it was because of my obsession with video games (my choice of words) that I couldn’t be sociable with other kids, and you’re probably right. But on the flip side of that, it was through the friends that I made online that I learned to come out of my shell and start to express myself more and be proud of who I was. I made friends at LAN centres (yep, we had those back in the early noughties) and realised that I wasn’t some freak for being a geek.

I met my first girlfriend through WoW during the first year of my degree, and it contributed to us breaking up. She’s one of the many people I still consider friends from that time though. I could count on one hand the number of friends I made and still keep in touch with from school and uni. Through games? Dozens.

Wait, wasn’t this article meant to be about that Chris dude?

Yeah, I’m getting to that, geez.

So it’s 2010, and I’ve just moved to Dublin for a year on work placement, and I’m still trying to learn who I am. I’ve made some new friends, but I still sometimes feel like something isn’t right. It’s still laborious to explain to someone why I’m into video games and superhero movies and squeal giddily at cinematic trailers and book a week off work to play the latest WoW expansion, or why I’ve bought a virtual ticket to watch Blizzcon, where Blizzard announce new games and do panels about the music and art and design of their existing games.

Then Chris bloody Metzen gets up on stage and gives this talk:

This was huge for me. Never mind that in my eyes Metzen was already the rockstar of Blizzard for creating the lore and the worlds behind their games and voicing one of their most iconic characters, but he was giving voice to what I had struggled for years to express. That being a geek isn’t about just sitting at a computer all day and geeking out over pixels (although that’s a big part of it), it’s about passion. The passion to spend hours on end bashing your head against a dungeon boss because you’re doing it with your friends. The passion to go to conventions where people dress up as elves and orcs and weird space goats and be among friends. The passion to strike up a conversation with someone about the latest episode of that anime. The passion to invite friends to go to a pro wrestling show. The passion to start a blog and use the first post to talk about why computer games were the best part of your social life growing up.

Combined with living in Dublin and getting a crash course in how to hold my drink from my new found friends, I suddenly realised that I could just be me. In my head I’d been creeping towards this, but Metzen’s Geek Is speech is one of the most inspiring things I’ve heard.

Since then I’ve done a lot and experienced it a lot, and like life tends to be, it hasn’t all been good, and I’ve had to re-evaluate a bunch of things and realise where I’ve dropped the ball. For instance, I stopped playing WoW two years ago (I can’t imagine I’ll ever be playing any other game for twelve years) and haven’t looked back since. Unless you count the fact that I’ve visited friends I used to play with and keep in touch with a ton of them through other games as well. That was possible because of the worlds he crafted, and I’m able to be myself because he showed me that it doesn’t matter what you geek out to, but that you just geek out to it in the first place.

So thank you Chris, not just for making those worlds that so many geeks like me enjoy, but for reminding me to own who I am.

Enjoy the retirement.

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