Indeed, there's a certain pride in surviving on a PvP server, like a rabbit reveling in its luck of returning to the burrow at the end of a long, perilous day. I've been through multiple expansion launches and patch events and been ganked at exotic locales from Hellfire Peninsula to Quel'danas to the Molten Front to Mount Hyjal.
Over time, you learn to subsist from that extra adrenaline. Even if you loathe world PvP, your body feeds off of it. The heightened sense of perception becomes exhilarating. That first terrifying moment when you realize you are under attack and fight or flight instincts kick in -- there's something in that emotional response that resonates with our most primal underpinnings.
And yet, a month ago, I gave it all up. I transferred from a PvP realm to a PvE one -- and immediately, it felt like an alien landscape.
In truth, I felt a little bit like Brooks, the elderly library-running prisoner from the Shawshank Redemption. He spent five decades behind bars and was finally paroled and released back into the world. And he had no idea what to do with himself. The outside world was so very different from everything he had attuned himself to over the last half-century. The rules were completely different now. Adjustment on that scale was insurmountable for poor old Brooks.
One of the first things I did on the new realm was go fishing for some Lavascale Catfish in Uldum, to make some stat food for an upcoming raid. I buffed up, headedg through the portal to Uldum, and flew down to my familiar fishing haunt under some bridge on the outskirts of the Lost City of the Tol'vir, out of sight of anyone who happened to be flying overhead.
As I let loose that first line, I suddenly thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing?" There was no reason to hide. Unless I flagged myself, a rogue wasn't going to appear of nowhere and feebly attempt to die on my shield -- or, you know, something dangerous like a mage. I could freely fish on one of those nice, sunny islands upriver, and no one was going to bother me.
It still didn't feel right.
A reality built on reflex
The mannerisms you develop to avoid conflict persist. Heading to a dungeon for raids, you learn on a PvP realm to not just stand outside of the entrance and wait for an invite. You're just asking for another raid to roll in and bowl you over. Instead, you silently float overhead and wait for the moment you can swoop right through the front door. (I still miss the shooting gallery mayhem that was the hallway leading into ICC.)
After a wipe, if you're one of the first to release and you absentmindedly try to rush back in before the entire raid has been killed off, you'll immediately rez right outside of the front door. Standing there without buffs and at a perilously low percentage of health, you might as well be in nothing but heart-print underwear and a look of utter fear painted on your face.
I had one of those moments that first raid night on my PvE realm. Yet it immediately evaporated as I hastily threw on my self-buffs and the reality set in that I was in no danger.
Certain emotional responses are prevalent among those who persist on PvP realms, especially for those who don't particularly enjoy being there. You constantly have a toe dipped in an endless pool of adrenaline, just waiting to bubble up at the slightest hint of a fear response. There's the constant paranoia of whether you just heard the sound of someone dismounting or a the whoosh of a rogue or druid going into stealth. It's a constant heightened state of consciousness. It sharpens one's edges.
A slower, safer world
Now, in my new elysium, the world feels much less exciting. There are no dangers, and as a result, the senses dull. You go out in the world and it feels less alive, almost like you're in a playground -- and not one of the old-style playgrounds with sand, but one of those new age-y ones with the rubber pads in place of the ground. I suspect this feeling will go away in time, as I settle into this new way of life.
Nonetheless, even with the constant fear, there was a certain satisfaction in persisting on a PvP server -- it felt more authentic. Though perhaps that was the Stockholm syndrome. Not having to look over my shoulder is a nice change of pace, though I must admit, I never thought I'd miss the possibility of being suddenly murdered in a dark alley by a gnome named Bur.