• Day 150 – Free(dom)?

    Leaving school’s a weird experience.

    After four years of college, and assuming all’s gone well along the way, you feel a bit like you’re leaving home. Your friends have become like family, you’ve slowly cultivated your favorite spots – for coffee, dinner, post-hangover brunches – around campus, and you’ve probably learned a few tricks for sneaking into places that the administration forgot about a long while back.

    Whether you’re moving or staying in the same place, there’s a definite break: You feel like you’re finally becoming an adult. No more teachers, no more books, you know?

    Now, try taking that feeling and doubling it. Instead of four years, think eight – or, hell, twelve. If you’ve seen Groundhog Day, pretend you’re Bill Murray, but with more books. The end result is roughly the same.

    When you’ve lived and breathed something for so long, the thought of leaving it is borderline terrifying. And not in the Texas Chainsaw sense, but more like that jolt you get when you’re falling asleep and think you’ve missed a step on the stairs. Your brain recognizes the danger, but it’s not fully processing it yet.

    That’s leaving grad school.

    But, gradually, you start to realize that your body’s tricked you. The danger’s not real – or, at the very least, it’s overblown. You’re fine.

    Maybe you don’t find a job at first, but once you learn that your skills actually are transferable, it doesn’t take long. You also realize that you have more free time than you have in years. In the process, you reconnect with old friends or family. And, sure, the dreams of missing deadlines keep up for a while, but they gradually become less frequent.

    In effect, you realize that you’ve survived and you’re free.

    One thing sticks with you, though: Money. After eight, ten, twelve years of higher education, you’re used to living on a pittance. Tuition waivers are nice, but it’s all imaginary money at the end of the day; stipends are the real key to your survival, but survival is a deceptively broad term. There’s a reason everyone still jokes about college kids and ramen.

    With that in mind, you continue to scrimp and save as you wait for the other shoe to drop. Although you know you haven’t had it nearly as bad as so many other people, you figure it’s better to be cautious for the foreseeable future.

    And, yet, there are strange knock-on effects to this attitude. Not necessarily bad ones, but things that you wouldn’t expect — like guilt over extraneous purchases. When you’ve tracked every penny you’ve spent for the better part of a decade, you know when you’re pushing the limit of “reasonable expense.”

    Of course, Warcraft rarely felt like a reasonable expense.

    A subscription was always hard to justify, especially in light of some of the weaknesses I’ve talked about previously. Limited free time in grad school made it even more difficult: The grind is already bad enough without having to stretch it between a few spare hours every couple of days. Even when I re-upped for nostalgia’s sake, my wallet still felt the pain – and that’s a hard feeling to shake.

    An in-game pop-up prompting players to upgrade their free trial accounts with a subscription plan.

    So, when I picked Warcraft back up for this series, I went with the free trial for the same reason.

    It was a semi-rational choice, or so I told myself at the time. I figured I’d power through to the cap (i.e., Level 20), delay payment for a few weeks, and then restart a normal subscription at some point over the summer. I was always slow with the first few levels anyway. Why rush into it and potentially waste the money?

    That was five months ago, and I’m still running the free version.

    But now there’s no reason for it. I’m more financially stable than I’ve ever been in my life, and subscription services are the least of my concerns. I’m not gaining experience, I’m unable to use the Auction House, I can’t receive mail (or gold) from my other characters; in fact, the trial caps your wallet at 1000g, so I don’t even have the option to build up my reserves.

    The thing is: Now I’m committed. All of my characters are locked except for this one, and something about that makes it special. The minute I re-subscribe and gain another level, it’ll be locked, too. I’ll have to start the experiment over and, in doing so, “lose” the progress I’ve made over the past few months.

    Like my love for Elwynn, it’s absurd.

    But while I first made the call because of lingering worries about money, it’s gradually become something else. I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of pride — I’ve since learned that there are quite a few folks in the free-to-play community, so it’s not like I’m unique in this regard. I also remember the heyday of the PvP “Twink,” which was more or less a variation on the same theme (i.e., not leveling beyond a certain point).

    Nevertheless, the entire experience has transformed into something else. It’s certainly a product of my curiosity, plus maybe a test of my stubbornness, as well. And I’d honestly be lying if I said it wasn’t fun: I think there’s something to be said about pushing boundaries set by the creators themselves.

    I know it won’t be possible forever, but I doubt I’d be upset even if it ended tomorrow. Five months really isn’t too bad of a free run.