Many people know me as Chops. My nephew calls me Uncle Chops. One of my oldest friends calls me Chopsicles. But alas, I am not the proud owner of bushy mutton chops, nor do I wield an epic cleaver. So why the nickname?
I created the moniker back in 2007 when I started playing World of Warcraft. I have been a gamer in some fashion for most of my life and my console creds run deep. The earliest gaming memory I have is that of a beat-up Colecovision. I’m old enough to appreciate the Atari 2600 and have loaded my share of floppy discs into a Commodore 64. However, my true love of gaming started with Mario and the NES. I moved that pixelated plumber through pits and pipes for hours on end. Super Mario Bros dominated my childhood as the pinnacle of gaming. But then something magical happened. I witnessed the birth of the Information Age, and with it, an entirely new era of gaming. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the depth and scale of an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). The first time I played WoW, it blew my side-scrolling mind.
But first, a little backstory.
Most people remember 2007 for another reason: the infamous housing bust. My wife and I were living in Seattle at the time and had purchased a townhouse a year before the bust. It was a good deal based on current values, but few realized just how stupidly inflated the real estate prices were. Right before the bubble burst, my wife had the fortunate insight to track real estate trends. The resulting shock kicked us into action and we managed to offload our home right before the crash, and we’re talking days before. The property lost over $200K in value during the next several months, a narrow miss that rocked our preconceptions. We reassessed our life goals, left Seattle, and moved back to North Carolina.
Your brain does a funny thing when everything you know turns out to be fiction. I thought we had done everything right. We established good careers, set up retirement accounts, invested in real estate, the whole nine yards. And yet, it all got turned upside down overnight. One day we were living in our dream home in a city we loved. The next day we were living in a shitty apartment on the other side of the country. It was a jarring transition, to say the least. I was left with a rattled life perspective.
Enter World of Warcraft.
Eager for a distraction, I downloaded a trial version of the game as a harmless curiosity. I had watched the hilarious “Make Love, Not Warcraft” episode of South Park (still makes me laugh to this day), which initially peaked my interest. I logged in, created a warrior character with fabulous mutton chops, and started to explore a brand new world. To say I got hooked would be a massive understatement. Given my state of mind at the time, the idea of moving a digital avatar around a fictional continent was endlessly appealing. I became a regular citizen of Azeroth, devoting most of my free time to the online fantasy world. After all, the real world sucked and I wanted nothing to do with it.
My OG toon, a big dumb Warrior with a big stick
For the next year, WoW served as a giant mental Band-Aid. I worked my job during the day and explored Azeroth during the evenings and weekends. I made a lot of new friends, the faces of whom I never saw. We talked every day through VoIP programs and they called me by my character name: Chops.
I eventually emerged from the mental funk with a fresh perspective and a cool nickname. Looking back, I credit Azeroth for helping me through tough times. But, something weird happened that I hadn’t anticipated. I got really good at the game. So much so that I was conquering end-game content with world-class guilds. At one point, I was ranked as the top Death Knight on a high-pop server. I had become a semi-pro gamer, at least for a time.
Over the next several years, my interest waned as I reintegrated my brain back into society, complete with a refined outlook. I still play the game, albeit casually and for more nostalgic reasons. It’s very much like riding a bike at this point. I take sabbaticals from time to time as real life projects gain momentum. But no matter what the expansion, I can pick the game back up with a minimal learning curve. It’s comforting in a strange way, like having a magical rabbit hole I can climb down whenever I need some escapist entertainment.
WoW remains king of the MMORPGs. It really is the perfectly crafted game (and yes, I know there are other great titles out there). It’s immersive, engaging, and insanely therapeutic. It’s where Chops calls home and I don’t imagine ever leaving, at least not permanently. When life gets me down, stalking boars in Elwynn Forest is all the therapy I need.