I play World of Warcraft. There, I said it. I’m an adult woman and I play World of Warcraft. Hello, my name is Melinda and I play an MMORPG. If you don’t know what that is, then congratulations, you are not a geek. And yes, I realize that makes me…the opposite. And that’s ok. If we all liked the same things, what a dull world this would be.

My love for video games started a long time ago (I won’t say how long exactly), with Pac Man. I played an old Pac Man machine for hours at a time. I memorized all the patterns, so that I could play the early levels with my eyes closed (literally). I’m not sure what good this skill is doing me now, but back then it meant I was entertained for hours on a single quarter. Of course, eventually I left that behind. After all, it never changed. It never challenged. It never grew. And I was alone, utterly alone. Just me and little colored dots on a black background. What, doesn’t that sound like fun?

Fast forward a few years and I’d left the arcade games behind for a PC game. The game began with me, the player, stumbling across a book that describes a strange world called Myst. I placed my hand on a page of the book, and the book sucked me in and transported me to Myst. When I arrived, I discovered a huge world completely devoid of human inhabitants but full of steampunk machines and lush landscapes. Something horrible must have happened while everyone was having dinner. They were just…gone. I wandered this world, trying to figure out what happened and put it right. What’s not to love about a cinematic version of what is essentially an interactive book? Once again, however, I was alone. Just me and little videos of the people guiding me along my journey. Absorbing, but lonely.

About the same time I found Ultima Online. It was the first time I dipped my toe into an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). It was confusing, the graphics were horrible by today’s standards, and I died. A lot. And then random strangers would come and loot my body. They’d steal anything I was carrying, much like I imagine highway robbers used to do in the bad old days. I couldn’t figure out how to do anything except mine for ore and build a house, but with those two skills I built an empire. However, the entire point of playing an MMORPG is the multiple-player aspect. The social outlet, in other words. The point was to get to know other people and play with them, or fight them. Not shut myself in a corner in my house and sell rocks.

And then I found Star Wars Galaxies. The world was expansive, the graphics were absolutely stunning, and there were people…hundreds of thousands of people. During my first week of playing that game, I sat in one of the cities trying to figure out how to level a skill. A complete stranger walked up to me and offered to help. He invited me to his house, where he introduced me to an entire guild of friends. They taught me how to play and showed me an added dimension to gaming by having me download Ventrillo, a handy piece of software that lets you talk to the actual players behind the avatars. It’s like being on a conference call with people all over the world. For the first time, I wasn’t alone. For the first time, when I was getting killed in the game I had friends who would back me up.

I’ve met several of my online friends now. In the flesh. As in, face-to-face-real-world-shake-hands-hi-how-are-ya contact. Not one of them is a scary 50 year old fat man living in their mother’s basement. They are, like me, living normal lives out there in the real world while also enjoying a virtual one. They have family, friends, jobs, hobbies, passions (other than gaming), and yes, even social skills. They might be your neighbor, or your friend who won’t tell you why they can’t go out on Wednesday night (it’s raid night in the game), or your co-worker who won’t work late on Friday because they have a “meeting” (with friends in the game).

In these games we’ve learned to work as a team, to solve problems, to let each person excel at their specific role, to encourage, to mentor, to teach, and to be friends across thousands of miles and several oceans and across cultures of all sorts. Does it replace going outside and seeing the sun? No. But it’s a nice addition to it. It’s a modern hobby; a new version of board game, with ever changing players and challenges a board game could never hope to provide.

This past weekend Blizzard announced a new expansion for World of Warcraft. I’ll be able to make a new character – a Pandarian. Yes, a panda. I can’t wait! And I’m excited that I have friends to share it with, from all over the world. Let the geek-fest begin!