When my dad and older brother started randomly disappearing, emerging from our guest bedroom hours later, cracking their fingers and rubbing bloodshot eyes, I was curious.
But when I caught them whispering about spells and orcs at the dinner table, I was downright suspicious.
The fear of being left out got the best of my 11-year-old sense of injustice and after a brief but fruitful investigation, I learned what was happening behind closed doors: EverQuest. My dad and brother, unbeknownst to me, were deep in the grip of the computer fantasy game — a sort of distant, less popular predecessor to World of Warcraft.
This made sense. We were never really a sports-in-the-front-yard sort of family. Basketball games in the driveway usually ended with a very low score and somebody — me — crying after taking a hard rebound to the face.
So a safe, air-conditioned hobby where the danger was purely digital and Gatorade was swapped for soda? I liked the sound of that.
Luckily it wasn’t hard to convince my dad to help me get started. Despite the fact that he was oddly adept for a middle-age attorney, he was really only playing to spend time with my brother. So bonding with another son at the same time was a two-for-one deal too good to pass up. EverQuest’s small monthly fee was tacked on to my Christmas present quota and the next thing I knew, we were setting up my very own account.
Who do you want to be?
There were 16 different races to choose from. The selection process was a big deal because you couldn’t just up and switch characters after a few months of gameplay. For a kid whose toughest decisions were usually snack-related — Goldfish or Fruit Roll-Ups? — it was a grueling process. With each click, I saw a different life laid out in front of me, a unique destiny begging to be fulfilled. This notion, that you could so easily choose the person you wanted to be, was a thrilling concept for me.
We were never really a sports in the front yard sort of family.
I went straight for the tantalizing choices: the warrior, the wizard, anything with big biceps or fangs. There was something called a Beastlord and I could see it already, my army of dragons and wolves trampling through the EverQuest realm like Napoleon and his army. Oh, they’d bow before me and my sword, which would poke through the clouds and have an awesome name, like Firesmash or Headchopper.
But with each new life I so eagerly adopted, my dad did something that I found discouraging at the time. He dissected each one, pointing out the flaws and gaping holes in their attributes. Want to be a warrior? Fine — have fun being a professional punching bag, and good luck doing anything without the help of a caster. Sure, the Wizard might sound cool now but, trust him, it’s a life of watching things happen from the sideline. And don’t even get him started on the Necromancers, those nocturnal creeps.
I was just about ready to dive into a box of Goldfish and try my luck back in the real world. But then my dad, who up until this point was showing impressive promise for a future career in Middle Earth risk management, got a look in his eye. “Now, let me show you the Druid,” he said with a muted excitement.
Efficiency over showmanship
It was not love at first sight. While the other characters were physical specimens, hulking beasts of war, the Druid looked more like a primitive ancestor of Danny DeVito. The Druid was short, chubby, and had shoe-less feet that looked more like two fat bricks of bologna with an icing of goat hair. The Druid looked less like an escape from reality and more like a sad embrace of it. I had never seen a half-cat/half-man walking down the street before, but I was sure I’d seen dozens of Druids trudging through the isles of Walmart.
But dad, as he so often did, convinced me, through reason and logic, that there was simply no better choice. The Druid was perhaps the most balanced of all the classes, possessing a skill set that allowed it to thrive both on its own and in a group of other players. My father, at his core, was a Druid — always opting for efficiency over showmanship. And though he’d already lost one son to the Rogue class, I think he saw the Druid within me too.
And so, maybe against my inner sense of adventure, I succumbed to his rationale. A couple more clicks and — boom — Darius (I, for some reason, decided to name my Druid after Darius Miles, small forward for the Los Angeles Clippers) was born. My dad and I played side-by-side on our two computers, though we never did interact much in the actual game.
I leveled up quickly, able to enjoy the independence that came with a Druid’s life. I accrued fancy armor and even completed a quest that earned me the ultimate weapon a Druid could possess, a short scimitar that farted out green smoke. This was not the EverQuest life I imagined for myself while scrolling through those initial 16 characters, but I was happy with the path I had chosen — even happier to be sharing it with my dad. Every once and a while I’d feel a twinge of jealousy after seeing some hunky axe-wielding elf man strut by my pot-bellied little Darius, but I learned over time to stop comparing the little guy to other creatures.
Once a Druid, always a Druid
My family’s EverQuest obsession eventually weaned away, weeks between sessions turning to months, then years. Darius is now eating some type of meat pie in EverQuest purgatory. It was our last venture into online gaming as a family unit. And though it wasn’t a traditional father-son hobby, our time online feels as formative as anything that ever happened to me on a soccer field or baseball diamond.
With each click, I saw a different life laid out in front of me.
I’d spend much of the ensuing years making Druid-like decisions, thought-out and reasonable choices with long-term consequences in mind (my feet got hairier at some point too). I had friends who did the opposite, who dove into scenarios like a Warrior with little regard for their own flesh and blood. I learned quickly that wasn’t for me.
I tried to play football in high school. On the first play of the game I was leveled so many times I lost count, hit by what felt like every player on the other team, their bench, coaching staff, and parents included. That was the last time I strapped on a helmet.
Long after I earned my driver’s license, I drove with two hands on the wheel, positioned at the correct ten and two spots. When my friends accused me of looking elderly, I reverted to the cooler one-hand technique. When I jumped a curb and nearly plowed into a Blockbuster a couple weeks later, I switched back to two hands — efficiency over showmanship.
The Druid was known for its stealth, able to sneak around enemies without detection. My childhood, too, was one spent tip-toeing under the radar. I literally never received a detention. Even at my peak rabble rousing, it was always a friend or accomplice on the receiving end of the blame, as if some spell clouded only the air around me. The downside of this was that half the school didn’t know I existed. But, hey, no character is perfect.
My dad guiding me into Druid-ness was one of those lessons that doesn’t sink in until years later, the subtly and significance of it. Looking back, I know it was the right character for me. I don’t dwell as much anymore on whether I chose it or it was chosen for me, I just embrace it and play on.