28 April 2007

Under the influence

Good morning, readers.

Ever have those mornings that you lie in bed, your mind racing?

Consider this, if you will:

Let's say you're involved with someone who enjoys drinking. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of drinks, recipes, what drink goes with what, what glass to use with what sort of drink, etc. They spend hours researching the newest and most interesting drinks, trying out new recipes. Drinking is a social thing to them, they have a large group of people that they meet daily somewhere you enjoy too.

Now, you enjoy a good drink - after all, it was you who got this person to appreciate the nuances of of alcohol in the first place. Your loved one knew about alcohol but really didn't show that much interest before - so you got them to join you as you thought it would be yet another thing that you could share with them. But you weren't expecting your loved one to get so involved so quickly.

Your loved one and her friends enjoy drinking so much they form a private club within the place you hang out at.

This starts to put a strain on your relationship, which was having problems before. Now, you've known and been in a relationship with your loved one for years. You've had your ups and downs, gone through various crises but always emerged together. Lately, things had gotten distant. You two were comfortable but the passion had cooled a bit.

Now, you found that your loved one is far more into drinking than you ever were, spending vast amounts of time with her friends in her private club and less time with you, ending up in fights and long uncomfortable quiet moments on the telephone.
All the while, you become worried - where is this going? Am I losing my loved one to drinking and their private club? You rarely get to spend much time with your loved one, having always to wait until they're done with their "responsibilities" and they have a bit of time with you.

Things come to a head when planned outings are delayed or forgotten altogether because of commitments your loved one made to her drinking buddies in the private club. Mind you, your loved one has now become treasurer, chief organizer, and helps run the club with someone else, whom they always speak highly of.

So you tell them you need time to yourself. That you're tired of being lowest priority. The two of you split up.

4 months pass.

You still go to the same hangout, spend time with a couple of people you know there and leave. Your loved one, however is always there with her friends in their private club. They are there when you walk in, they're still there when you leave.

You have a few awkward conversations with your loved one in those months, mostly about their private club. They tell you how much responsibility they have, how so many people rely on them, how important they are to the club, and how your loved one is now becoming far more interested in concentrating on the competitive drinkers within her club. They now consider themselves among the elite of the competitive drinkers, often complaining that the others in her club aren't as good as they are.

On the wall of the place you and your loved one enjoy hanging out, there are dozens of pictures of your loved one, surrounded by her friends, showing that they've won yet another round of competitive drinking.

You have a life-changing event that makes you stop and take stock in what's important to you. You realize that although you and your loved one drifted apart, that they are someone you see yourself building a life with. Growing old with. Sharing everything you have with them.

You make the effort and contact your loved one. Long distraught conversations ensue. You laugh together, you cry together, you realize that you two had so much shared that it was painful to be apart. And so you two promise to make things work.

And then you learn that your loved one was involved with the co-founder of her private club in during those months you two weren't together.

(Yes, dear readers - typing this out suddenly makes it astoundingly obvious that I should have seen THAT one coming...the signs were all there but I wasn't even looking for them...)

Despite that, your loved one tells you they were uncomfortable with how the club's co-founder was pushing for marriage, moving in, frequent and vocal outpourings of affection...in short, the things you weren't doing in those years past. Your loved one takes time ending things with the co-founder, saying that they didn't want to hurt the co-founder, that this individual was there for them when you two split up. And that they would never want to hurt them.

While you wait, in limbo, for your loved one to decide where they want to go in their life.

Your loved one says that they can't wait to build a life with you. So you begin months of intense courting again, taking care to make sure you do all the things they said you didn't do in the past, making sure to call, text, send emails, do all the silly things you always wanted to.

Ah, but there's still that private club and all those friends at the hangout you two share, remember?

When your loved one spends time with you and you two share a drink or two, you're in heaven. But we get back to the fact that they still hold their private club and their friends in high regard. And of course, let's not forget that they spend a large amount of time with the club's co-founder, who still carries a torch for your loved one.

Isn't this fun, Gentle Readers? Who said blogs can't have all the ingredients of a bad afternoon soap?

So you keep coming back to your mutual hangout to spend time with your loved one when she's not doing things with her private club. And woe onto you if you should ask your loved one to cut back. Cold, stony silences interspersed with angry words reward you if you should dare suggest such a thing.

So I suppose my question is this: Does this make me an enabler? Someone who always meets at the hangout you two share and encourages the use of alcohol?

Does this make me an optimist, hoping that my loved one with wean themselves from this lifestyle on their own?

Or am I simply not seeing the bigger picture again; that my loved one is addicted and has no interest in changing how they are?

More to think about, I suppose.

27 April 2007

Is it a crime to enjoy single player in a multi-player world? UPDATE

I came across some interesting links in my meanderings on the 'net recently...
One of which talks about the endless treadmill one seems to be on in MMOs - the good and bad of it, I suppose.
Here's the link:

Personally, I find that in WoW if you want powerful items/armour/enchants to said items/armour you need to "farm" or engage in a gathering behaviour repeatedly in a tightly-defined geographic location and repeat doing so until you have the raw materials you need.
Um. Yeah. Great way to keep someone in-game and busy, I suppose but I don't ever recall hearing amazing tales of how the Brave Knight stayed in the Forest of Evil, killing hundreds upon hundreds of evil critters just to collect their spleens or what-have-you (which have a drop rate in the low 1-6% region) and then take his prizes to the local enchanter to have his Sword of Cleaving blessed with a bonus.

Nor do the epic fantasy stories I remember have such a plot device that boils down to "And so, our band of adventurers spent the next 10 days in the Valley of Being Uncomfortably Warm, fighting Fire Elementals until they gathered enough of the life essences from these evil creatures to craft their Enchanted Armour Of Not Dying As Quickly As The Others."

Gathering components for a potion, enchant or armour can be so insanely annoying (not to mention time-consuming) that people end up going to the in-game Auction House (or AH) to just out and out buy what they need. This creates an-in game economy of supply and demand that many have put to good use, gathering the items and selling them on the AH to those who want then and don't have the time/inclination/ability to suspend boredom to do so.

Of course, that requires the in-game coin of the realm. And in WoW, it's gold. Gold that you earn killing things and/or selling things. Of course, where there's money, there's always a way to get more. Which leads to this next link I found. Now I know if you've played an MMORPG you've been spammed at one point or another by companies selling gold. And many people have strong opinions about that. Here's the link:

S and I talked a bit more and even managed to play together last night for hours. We had a great time and I really enjoyed gaming. It was one of those things that happens infrequently and I am hopeful that it happens a lot more often.

I found a link that talked about the gaming habits of MMO players and the comments left by readers were illuminating. Here's the link: http://www.dailytech.com/Nick+Yee+Uncovering+the+Truth+Behind+Video+Gamer+Habits/article6278.htm

I never did put that much thought into the seemingly impossible act of getting everyone in a guild to do exactly what they're supposed to do when you tell them to and be able to work together to complete a common objective, like going through a raid or instance. In fact, playing with her last night I asked for her help in finishing a quest - it took us a few tries but I could see how you'd have to have lots of hours of gaming experience in a group to make things go smoothly. As some of you might have noticed me point out in an earlier post, I've spend a majority of my time playing solo.

Oddly enough with a Level 70 character, that means I've put at least (in my case) a month of real-time into leveling - that's total hours logged in and playing. That's a lot of hours for me.
If you're in WoW and really want to know how much of your life went into your character, type "/played" and be prepare to feel surprised/guilty/relieved, depending on what the result is.

I know, there are people who fly through what I did in a matter of days, or perhaps a week or two at most, but I took my time.

The comments on that last link make me think more and more about the vast difference in experiences people have online - and what that means to people in relationships.
I'll have to reflect on this a bit more. Puts the part S's life that is tied into her guild and the dizzying amount of daily effort she pours into it in a slightly different light.

26 April 2007

Cue flashback...

"Sherman?" "Yes, Mr. Peabody?" "Set the WABAC to 1991"
Back in the days before the World Wide Web, proprietary online services were the way to go.
Back in the '80s, it was the BBS, or Bulletin Boards that I roamed, searching for Apple ][ software to share/exchange - I remember being in 10th grade and having a classmate named Wilfredo bringing a whole shoebox full of pirated Apple ][ games to share. When IBM PCs became easily available by other manufacturers, it became affordable to buy one. So playing one afternoon and looking for patches from the Sierra On-Line BBS, I noticed a note for something called "The Sierra Network", offering gaming with other people and the ability to chat and hang out. Of course, back then CompuServe was available and so was America online, in one version or another. But this was a graphical version and allowed you to create an online persona. Sounded good to me.
And so I signed up, had the starter package sent to me and installed the software.

Thus began my online journey.

TSN was great. Back then, you had the ability to create a cartoon bust of yourself, hang out in a chatroom, play a simplified flight sim called "Red Baron" against others, play card games, and pass mail to each other in a proprietary email system that stayed only within the TSN system.
Text only, of course. passing along pics of things, people, etc required a real-world address and a diskette or Polaroid via snail-mail.
Upgrades to TSN included a more adult-ish version based on Sierra On-line's "Leisure Suit Larry" world, with a casino where you could play things like blackjack, roulette, and slots.

Time marched on. America Online was the 800lb gorilla in online services, CompuServe was rapidly becoming something that while comprehensive, only something really serious users were on. AOL grew and grew. Eventually, the market share of TSN, which was never big to begin with forced it to be sold off, first to AT&T who changed the name from "The Sierra Network" to "The ImagiNation Network" or INN, and eventually it was sold off to...you guessed it, AOL.

AOL took the gaming technologies that TSN used, gutted it for it's intellectual property and then shut it down. Most of TSN/INN's users migrated to AOL, as there was really no other choice.

At first, I didn't like AOL. It was huge. There was a lot you could do, certainly but where was everyone I knew? I started looking in chatrooms. And eventually settled on a few I visited on a regular basis. And began to recognize some of the usual users. Soon that led to becoming a fixture in some of the chatrooms. But those were usually in the evenings, after college and work.

In 1996, I had back surgery for a ruptured disc. This put me at home, recuperating from surgery and having a lot of time on my hands. So I spent a lot of time on AOL in chat when I wasn't walking or getting rehab for my back.

That time I spent while recuperating from surgery on AOL changed how I looked at online services. Soon I was fit enough to go back to work and school, but I kept logging on to AOL each night.

AOL became something of a social outlet as well; most of us would meet IRL, or In Real Life at restaurants or clubs, hanging out and having fun seeing what we're like in person. Of course, this led to some awkward meetings when people with names like "SexyBunny321" end up being someone squat, shapeless and anything but sexy. But that added to the entertainment value. "Say, did you see what 'BuffGuy75' looked like? He looked like he couldn't lift a folding chair, much less all those weights he kept bragging about..." By the way, the previous names were pseudonyms - While I met many people who were exactly what they said they were, there were those who weren't...and I'm not going to use their names here.

So I kept my "AOL friends" separate from my other friends and led what you would call a double life.

And then back in 2000, I was minding my own business, hanging out online with people I'd come to know for several years...and along comes S.

More later.

1st Reader, 1st critique.

Good morning, gentle readers.
I had a nice chat last night with someone I'll call S.
S, you see is someone I hold in high regard. I happen to love her like crazy and she tells me she loves me too. When we're in each other's arms I couldn't be happier. We've talked about a future together and we are optimistic it'll happen.

But S is also deeply involved with another. That "other" is World of Warcraft.

And so the things I said about WoW she took as an attack. "I don't see why you play WoW if it causes you so much pain..." she said. I told her that I honestly enjoy playing with her and that's the reason I WoW to begin with. She was nonplussed. She and I have had long conversations about the role of WoW in each other's lives. When we're away from it, things work fine. However, bring WoW into the equation and things start to get difficult. You see, gentle readers, this is where our back story begins to take on a more substantial role.
Needless to say, I'm going to have to start filling you in soon.

Here's a bit to tide you until my next post: She and I both belong to a guild.

Different guilds.

Now I've played with S's guild a couple of times. They're really nice people. The guild I'm in are nice too, but they're not on as often at night in numbers when I'm on. S's guild seems to be always on. Maybe it's just that so many people come and go that it seems she's always got her core of people she always plays with on whenever she is.

A bit of background is in order.

S started gaming with a guild when I wasn't on (being at work will do that for you) and enjoyed it so much she initially invited me. I wasn't terribly interested at the time, as I enjoyed the single-player aspect of the game (see previous post that got S so upset).

When we started, she and I picked different classes of characters to play. As things turned out, the class she picked out was extremely resilient, didn't die very often and advanced quickly.
Needless to say, the class I picked was the opposite. I was continually dying. This was an exercise in frustration. We'd be in game somewhere and I would die in the blink of an eye (to my estimation) and S couldn't understand why. I took my frustrations out on S.

This did not go well.

After much discussion, we found that she was progressing faster on her own, playing when I wasn't on. She'd still offer to play but at the time I was becoming increasingly frustrated as to how she was flying through the levels while I was plodding along.

You see, gentle readers - I really didn't have the proper grasp of the game at the time and it took a long time for me to realise that the difference in classes (and the amount of time played/experience gained by playing more AND the research S put into becoming the best in her class, getting the best equipment, finding the easiest quests with the best rewards, etc) made a lot of difference. Of course, that wasn't immediately recognizable to me at the time. But I learned much later.

So, while I was frustrated with my character, frustrated with dying so often, frustrated with S flying through the levels and becoming really powerful - we played with each other less often. S didn't enjoy playing with me and I wasn't having a good time partly because I wasn't good at it yet and partly because S didn't want to play with me anymore.

So S joined a guild. And became fast friends with everyone she played with.
Her new found friends became a reason to play more often. Initially that was a plus - She'd be on whenever I was on and I thought that was great. But we had problems and issues outside the game, in *real life*...in addition to those we'd had in game with my slow-progressing character...and those led to us being more distant in-game. Eventually she and another of her new found friends, someone I'll call FB formed their own guild and took many players from the guild they were in. All this time S and I were not getting along as well as we could have.

And then something interesting happened.

25 April 2007

Is it a crime to enjoy single player in a multi-player world?

Consider this, gentle readers - in our modern gamer culture of Fragfests, LAN parties, Xbox Live bragging, MMORPGs, Sims and SecondLife happenings-on, why is it that people treat the single player of any game as the "training mode" or skip it completely?

Is it the thrill of comparing your skills against other real players instead of the canned AI 'bots that the game comes with? The ability to know you bested another player who enjoys the experience as much as you do? The camaraderie of belonging to a clan or guild of like-minded individuals who go off to impale/shoot/blast/magick the opposition each time?

Or is it just being able to hang out with people who you've gotten to know by playing, talking and sharing things while engaging in a common experience?

It certainly isn't for the grief of players (teen, adult, child, child-minded adults, etc) who yell profanities into headsets, bouncing around like a crack-addled pogo-stick riders, thus completely blowing whatever illusion there was of a futuristic warrior/elite counter-terrorist soldier/ancient warrior/or insert-genre-here. I'm sure we all know and have seen prime examples of this sub-species of gamer.

Or perhaps you've ran into another fine example of a common sub-species...the coat-tail rider. You know, someone who joins a group/guild/clan and gets to the Big Kahuna Boss, puts as little effort into downing it, and then grabs the goodies/gold/experience at the end and takes off.
Go Team Spirit :)

Of course, our list wouldn't be complete without the Comparison Gamer, another fine example of a sub-species. We've all seen the one who complains that "such-and-such a game" did (feature X or Y or Z) much better than the one you're currently playing. Or that his last clan/guild/team/loosely-organized group of oatmeal-brained primates he was playing with were so much better/stronger/fairer/more L337 than you and your friends are.

Or maybe it's because you have to rush and hold the hands of the other common sub-species, the Toddler Gamer; the one who now feels that since he's joined your clan/guild/group that you should only do what HE says, WHEN he says it and HOW he says it. If you decide otherwise, he complains loudly and often that "no one ever helps him" and "he's always being left out on (insert an important feature of team-play which features an objective & reward here) and so he feels you're all doody-heads". A more dangerous version of this sub-species is the Important Class Toddler Gamer, who plays a class of character you desperately need, like an engineer, medic, healer, demolitions or maybe he has a talent to make something you or your friends really need. Then everyone has to play by HIS rules. Which suits the Toddler Gamer just fine.

MMORPGs make this situation much, much worse by insisting that the really "good" things that make a character powerful are only available when you join a clan/guild/group and go fight something you cannot possibly take down by yourself. Yay.

I say give the single player the chance to do these things without having to join up with 5, 10, 20, even 40 people to do this. Yes, some will argue..."well, why play a MMORPG in the first place?" "It teaches teamwork" "It's part of playing these games, deal with it" "4 out of 5 Dentists Recommend it"
To all this I say that I learned all about teamwork back in grade school. I don't need an online refresher taught by annoying teens, bossy adults or people who believe they can make everything in the (outside) world better if they run their clan/guild/group with an Iron Fist. There's a video on YouTube of some wingnut yelling at the top of his voice at other people in his guild to do EXACTLY as he says or they'll lose the ability to get any sort of reward.

Really makes you want to run to the nearest store and buy one of these fine games just to have someone like that take a giant poop on your gaming experience, doesn't it?

MMORPGs work just fine doing the solo stuff, just make the rest of the material available without having to get THIRTY-NINE OTHER FREAKIN' PEOPLE involved.

Some readers out there might have the sense that I've a bone to pick with MMORPGs...and that's not entirely true. I do have a bone to pick with some aspects of a particular game, World of Warcraft (WoW) and some of its game mechanics.

But more on this later.

Here's the thing...

Hello there to those happening to wander by...
For the longest time I've thought that it might be fun to have a blog and talk about whatever ends up spilling out of my ears from time to time, but never really got around to it.
After much teeth gnashing and pacing about regarding the various and sundry things I've gone through as a result of the infulence of games and games-culture in my life I figured I'd sit down and actually write about it. Of course, some would say "under the influence of games" in regards to the previous statement, but that's a post for another time.

There are some things that I'm going to get to eventually that are the crux of my troubles, but it'll take some time for me to write the backstory to it, if you will. And yes, dear readers, it involves a woman, love, and (because this was a naive time in my life)...America Online.