I was finding less and less to keep me entertained between my 80th level warrior and death knight on the US server. I had levelled brand new characters up to the level cap, abandoning a rogue in Zangarmarsh along the way, got the Northrend Dungeonmaster achievement for both of them and participated in enough PvP to be awarded the Wintergrasp veteran achievement on my death knight. Both have epic flying mounts, my death knight has the best PvP gear for her efforts, complementing it with self-crafted items. My warrior hasn't quite managed to peak in either jewelcrafting or enchanting, but has over fifty pets, along with Stinky the skunk, and completing the Argent Tournament with aplomb.
In the end I was finding excuses to log on, but without actually doing anything. It was time to move on. My choice of progression could be seen as a step backwards as I return to my old EU server to level up my 70th level warrior alongside a friend's druid, adventuring in Wrath of the Lich King as a new experience again. I even roll up a new alt mage to satisfy my urge for quick progress without endangering the primary aim of keeping the two 70th level characters synchronised.
I have made a similar move before, when going from the EU server over to the US. I left behind my epic warlock and the superior warrior, with all their gear and professions, for a completely new start. It is a cleansing process, one that helps to remove the irrational attachment to virtual items with incredibly narrow significance, and knowing this I don't even log in to empty the postboxes of my characters before letting my account lapse. The items left in the postbox will get deleted automatically within a month, but they have no intrinsic value and can either be replaced or will be forgotten. It is good accept this. However, there is a real loss involved with moving servers, and games, and that is leaving people behind.
One of the defining characteristics and attractions of the MMORPG genre is the 'massively multiplayer' aspect, where many of the inhabitants with whom you can interact are other players. Whether you are looking for a casual hobby, hardcore progressive gaming, or a primarily social experience, that the games are 'massively' multiplayer almost ensures that there are like-minded people to engage with, it's only a matter of finding them. The problem is that once you find some friendly players with whom you can share good times, fun experiences, and interesting challenges, it can be difficult to say goodbye.
If it weren't for my friends on the US World of Warcraft server I likely would have quit my characters there a while back. If it weren't for teaming up with a friend on the EU server I might not be playing World of Warcraft at all for now. And it is true for all the games in the MMORPG genre I've played. As long as I have friends in the game I enjoy playing and socialising with them. If the people leave, my fascination in the game dwindles significantly, and if I decide to leave I always have qualms about leaving behind the people whose company I have enjoyed sharing.
That most games are split over continents, and servers within continents, doesn't help. In the nascent age of borderless relations, where distance between people can almost be ignored, if it is even realised, dividing players in to arbitrary groups seems almost anachronistic. Rather than being able to pick a game and know that I can play with any of my friends I also have to make sure I am on the right cluster of servers, as well as the specific server, or I am locked out of the group. As social groups expand it soon becomes impossible to be able to play with all of my friends in the same game without either extremely good luck in previous server choice, far too much forward planning than should be required, or a system architecture that is considered more novel than it ought for a world-spanning game.
But to place the blame on multiple geographically split servers is to ignore the real issue of game choice affecting relationships. I am not only moving from one World of Warcraft server to another, I am continuing to play EVE Online. Yet even with EVE Online's single server architecture, apparently solving the issue of server choice, I am leaving behind my US friends in World of Warcraft. Likewise, should the time come when I stop playing EVE Online the friends I make there will be left behind, and the converse holds true for other players who leave EVE Online whilst I continue to play. In each case I will feel a personal loss.
I understand that there are plenty of options for communicating outside of the games themselves, with many versions of instant messaging, journals, blogs, and other internet communication channels, but despite this it seems that the friendships do not endure outside of the game. This could be because the player moves on to a new game and forms new friendships, which can hardly be condemned, or there is not much basis to the friendship outside of the context of the game. I imagine my own problem is the latter, as I have considerable trouble relating to other people, whether this effect is real or imagined. I suppose this is why I tend to roleplay a character, so that I can hide behind the character and use that as an excuse as to why any friendships do not last beyond any one game. Leeching off my friends' expanding gaming circles hints that perhaps I am a little delinquent in this respect.
Never the less, changing games or servers always gives me pangs of angst as I know that as much as I would like to sustain at least some of the relationships I have been lucky to become involved with I am just as likely to find the connection severed, as if the game server is the only feasible line of communication. Perhaps I just need to work on my social skills more, to develop more meaningful contact with the players I meet, but I continue to struggle to achieve this. For now, I never look forwards to leaving a game or server behind me, as it inevitably means losing contact with people I like to call my friends.