A long time ago (like five months ago!), I wrote about World of Warcraft for City Pages. At the time, I couldn’t decide if I was playing the game to facilitate writing an article or writing an article as an excuse to play the game. All questions are answered over time, though, and while my CP article is a distant memory and my editor has run off to Hollywood, WoW remains a constant presence in my life. Even though it’s rife with annoyances ranging from the minor (constant, soul-wearying lag in front of Auction Houses) to the major (why doesn’t crafting involve any actual craft?), I just can’t seem to get enough of it.

Recently, I started up an alternate character — a beefy, religious Tauren Shaman, as different as can be from my petite, wicked Gnome Warlock — and started taking her through areas that I didn’t get to explore my first time around. Exploring new regions is fun, but it’s even better to go back to areas I spent a ton of time in back in March and April and let the memories flood back into my mind. In video games, you can go home again!

When I first started playing WoW, I approached it as a tourist approaches a new country, constantly rubbernecking and trying to see as many of the sights as possible. Nowadays, though, I’m a jaded, long-time resident, mulling over the best route from Booty Bay to Gadgetzan as if I was trying to figure out how to get to Dale/Selby from Uptown. There’s nothing I love more in a game than when it really achieves a sense of place: when its towns and caverns aren’t just dungeons to be traversed or stages for performances, but are instead people’s homes and playgrounds and battlefields, you begin to leave the “virtual” off of “virtual world” and just treat the imaginary place as if it were real — not in a freaky obsessive way (although considering the number of hours I’ve spent playing, you could make an argument for that), but in a comforting, familiar way.

Now if only they’d incorporate some form of real estate into the game, we could really have some fun…