The raid to destroy Ragnaros started after dark. It was 10 p.m. on the East Coast, and behind his keyboard, Drakenwulf knew his role. He was a warlock, one of four in the raiding party. The group had been planning all week. If they failed, they’d have to wait another week to try again; it wasn’t easy to get 40 players online at once to make a run at the Molten Core. The entire group had to work as a unit. Hunters — masters of beast and bow — used mighty wolves and boars to lure fearsome enemies into traps set by the main group. Drakenwulf kept other foes at bay with spells meant to instill fear. When they finally reached Ragnaros, the strongest warriors in the party took turns absorbing blow after blow from the elemental lord of fire while Drakenwulf and the core of sorcerers and rogues rained down damage upon him.
It was one of the most memorable experiences Jack Labout — known as Drakenwulf online — has ever had, and he’s had a lot. A programmer who has done stints at NASA and Tandem Computers, Labout is one of the true old guard online, a group of players who remember far beyond Ragnaros, one of the original bosses of Blizzard’s pivotal World of Warcraft game.
He’s also 79, retired, and lives alone near Dallas. He’s at an age when social interaction often wanes, and that can have devastating health effects. A 2011 study, for instance, found that the rate of cognitive decline was decreased by 70 percent in older adults who were socially active.
Labout doesn’t have many family members or close friends nearby. So every day, he goes online and plays games. He’s particularly active in the Old Timers Guild, a loosely organized group of some 10,000 gamers who want to take a more mature approach to gaming. He plays with a small core of friends, bouncing around between a variety of games. And for Labout and other OTG members, these relationships are just as real as any made offline.
“You spend 20 or 30 hours a week gaming with the same people, night after night, year after year,” says David Board, one of the administrators of the Old Timers Guild. “They become your friends. You may not meet them in person, but they’re…