I had only played World of Warcraft Classic for about 10 minutes before a friend who I haven't spoken with since high school messaged me in-game. "What's up, dude?" He wrote, exactly like he used to greet me when we'd play together over a decade ago. Graduating high school had, as with so many of my old friends, pulled us apart. Getting that message felt surreal. Suddenly I was 15 again, exploring Azeroth while chatting with a pal. Forget World of Warcraft's punishing grind or long, lonely treks through massive zones—the real nostalgia is in its uncanny ability to bring people back together.
I was initially cynical of Classic, choosing to side with Blizzard CEO J. Allen Brack when he famously said that players don't actually want to play 2006-era World of Warcraft as much as they think they do. But now I'm starting to see the magic, relishing the chance to play World of Warcraft for the first time—again. I even went full circle and recreated my first-ever character, a dwarf hunter.
While retracing my first steps through the chilly foothills of Dun Morogh has been a lot of fun so far (my review should be out early next week), seeing my Battle.net friends list full of names that haven't been online in years is what really makes my happy. I can't even remember the last time I had a conversation in modern World of Warcraft—its solo-friendly quests and automated group-finding tools make it far too easy to forget that the avatars that surround me are real people.
As I've grown older and my friend circle has naturally dwindled as responsibilities eat away at increasingly larger chunks of my spare time, these moments where I can revisit old friendships are meaningful to me. It's always fun to reminisce and look back at how each of us has changed and grown: where we're living and working, and who else we still hang out with.
After I caught up with my old friend for a bit, we stopped messaging as we both focused on grinding quests and staying alive. Since we're not on the same server (or even in the same faction), I doubt we'll have a chance to play together unless one of us is willing to start a fresh character. But it's strangely comforting to know that he's out there, grinding away just like I am.
Fortunately, that wasn't my only encounter with long-lost friends. Early yesterday, a different pal that I hadn't spoken to in years messaged me to poke fun at the two of us both playing Classic so early in the morning. Normally I hate the idea of awkwardly bumping into old friends—I refused to attend my high school reunion because of it—but there's something comforting about reconnecting in Azeroth, the place where we once spent so many hours. Part of this, I suspect, is that reconnecting isn't the focus of the experience of playing. We're not standing in a bar with nothing else to do but tick off conversation topics. Unlike my first bud, this one actually lives in the same city as me, and we've already agreed to get a beer next week and properly catch up.
These re-connections have become the experiences that I didn't know I wanted from World of Warcraft Classic, and I'm logging in each day now hoping to see other friends playing—if only for the weird satisfaction of knowing that we're all getting sucked back into this enormous, frustrating game together. It's like Stephen King's novel "It": After making a weird blood-pact we've all felt this inexorable pull to return. It's also a reminder of just how pervasive World of Warcraft was originally and, surprisingly, still is.