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Diary of a World of Warcrack addict: Part one

The online fantasy game World of Warcraft is legendary for its addictive qualities -- here's one player's harrowing account of a descent into addiction

Everyone's doing it. It's so easily available: only a tenner for the first month's supply. It looks such innocent fun. If I don't like it, I can easily stop. I just want to get out there and see the World... of Warcraft (© South Park, 2006).

These are the things I told myself a week or so ago when I clicked 'buy' on Amazon. The GameSpot UK guys in the office were testing the beta version of the World of Warcraft expansion, Burning Crusade (check out their accounts here and here). I loved the beautiful cartoony graphics and the incredible customisation of the characters. It was all around me. I couldn't escape. I had no choice. But it was no big deal, right?

Well, certainly not to start with. You get this plush package with a thumping great manual and five CDs (hello, Blizzard! Use a DVD!). These take a geological era to install. Then you have to download the patch. Quite why this can't be included on newly produced games, I have no idea. The Blizzard downloader is quite an experience. Several species went extinct while I waited for a relatively small 450MB download. Then there was another one, this time only 3MB or so. But still -- can I ever play? Is this some sort of government-enforced cooling-off period?

Finally I was allowed to input my credit card details. This is the real no-going-back point. Still in some sort of denial about how this was going to destroy my life and turn me into a zombie (or an Undead warlock), I opted for the one-month option. Then there's the user agreement, which is two very long pages of you agreeing to cede all statutory rights to Blizzard and become its bitch. W00t!

This was not fun. Isn't there supposed to be some instant gratification in these things? How do people get hooked when it's so difficult to find the dealer? But then I started to play. I created a Night Elf druid, and got to pick his haircut, facial hair and skin tone. Finding a name proved a bit tricky -- all the witty names I'd come up with (while waiting for the downloader) didn't fit or were already taken. The name of an obscure Irish footballer popped into my head, which seemed right for an Elf with a big stick, and Kilgallon was born.

All the races in the game have their own starting areas, a kind of enormous kindergarten where beginners can get used to the game's concepts. Immediately I noticed how long it took to get to places. Why can't I sprint? I've just come straight from the Battlefield, so this is irritating. Plus the early missions seemed rather dull: kill seven monsters, go back, find something, go back. But immediately I could see how much stuff there was: skills to learn, spells to learn, things to buy, things to sell.

The best part of my first evening playing was entirely unexpected. I was killing some spiders in a cave and another player came up to me and asked me to join a group so we could help each other. He was very patient with my n00b-ness and we got chatting. He was 14 and treated me like I had dementia (I'm 25), but he was very nice and added me to his friends list when he had to go (to bed, I hope: it was 10:30 on a school night). And there's the real hook -- an incredibly easy way to meet like-minded gamers. Quick, call the police... -Nick Hide

Level: 2. Location: Aldrassil. Best new thing: Kilgallon, my green-haired punk druid.

Update: Part two of Diary of a Warcrack addict is now live.