I am sure that readers of earlier entries on this journal already know this, but I will repeat it for the benefit of those who came in late. I play the MMORPG known as World Of Warcraft. I play it a lot. When I was a child, I read about things referred to in computer magazines called Multi-User Dungeons, or MUDs. And with some qualifications, MMORPGs are sort of what I imagined when I read those articles.
But I was all set to quit the game earlier this year. One reason was that I just felt it was taking up too much of my time that I could put to better and more interesting pursuits, such as journal writing or photography. Another reason was that performing the same repetitive tasks over and over again just makes a game boring, and World Of Warcraft has that in spades. But one thing that allows World Of Warcraft to keep me coming back in spite of things that piss me off even more than the so-called Quicktime events in recent Resident Evil games is the interaction with other players.
Philosophers in the past have written that hell is other people. That is true. But variety of other people, and a sense of synchronicity as well as community with other people, can be a wonderful thing. It is interesting to note how much wider our circle of communication has grown over the past thirty-plus years in fact. When I was a child, and even during the majority of my adolescence, the idea of being able to get on the telephone and exchange words with a person more than fifty kilometres away had a certain varying level of novelty to it. Given that data could not be transmitted through copper wire at speeds of more than 2400 bits per second without proportional increases in the risk of premature disconnection, the concept of role-playing games with dozens, never mind hundreds, of participants connected via modem was very much a fantasy.
When I first made tentative steps into the World Of Warcraft, it was somewhat akin to being placed in a small wooden boat and sent drifting in a large ocean with no paddle. Players today moan endlessly that the game is “dumbed down” to people who do not know their butt from their ear about gameplay mechanics. This is partly true. But prior iterations of the game had the exact opposite problem. That is, the gameplay’s mechanics were so literally impenetrable that unless a player was lucky enough to find an existing player willing to help them learn, their chances of satisfactorially figuring things out were very small.
I think that World Of Warcraft hit its happy medium in terms of balance between expecting the player to develop some skill at the game and accessibility during the Wrath Of The Lich King period. Wrath Of The Lich King was the second major expansion pack for the game, and one “content patch” during the cycle also included some dramatic changes to the manners in which equipment, character levelling, and groups progressed. The changes were numerous and dramatic in a lot of cases, but probably the one that had the biggest impact was the ability to go into a queue for a dungeon group and be assigned to a group with up to four other players. Of course, there were some teething problems at first, but the change dramatically sped up progression amongst players of all walks. Especially players like my good self who are more concerned about enjoying themselves, staying in-character (more on this anon), and accomplishing tasks than making out with the bottom openings of other players.
Earlier this year, I was more or less entirely ready to stop playing the game once again. I ceased playing for approximately a year during the era in which The Burning Crusade expansion pack was still current, and only came back when I learned that Wrath Of The Lich King would be released in November 2008. I think I returned a few months before Wrath went live. What I remember most about the time of my return is that I made a bit of a learning curve leap. That is, I figured out things like how to use the game’s auction house to profit, how to level up characters in an efficient (but not necessarily fast) manner, and that I was extremely sick of IBuM “compatible” computers.
I have seen many games, trends, and paradigms come and go over the years. I know that makes me sound like an old poge, but it is the simple truth. And compared to many of the idiots rushing around telling us this “new” thing is so brilliant and original, I guess I really am. Trust me, I get that today’s eighteen to twenty-five year olds might be angry at the elders who tell them that wisdom comes with age. I understand that perfectly because I can tell you something that has come to me through the unpleasant process of aging: they have only read part of the sentence, and thus lost all of the meaning.
The full text should read something along the lines of age, experience, reflection, and contemplation can bring about wisdom. But that is too complicated for the Alf Stewart (Ray Meagher) crowd. (People who know who I am talking about will also agree with my disappointment that his sister, Morag Bellingham (Cornelia Frances), not telling him that he is the weakest link during one departure is a major, major failing of Please Go Away’s screenwriters.) If I could write up a PhD. thesis about this over the next six to twelve months and get it enshrined as academic literature, however, I would. As we age, things happen to us. We get diagnosed with terrible illnesses that flip our lives upside down. We meet people whose previous experience of the world that we think we know everything about is totally alien to ours. We see, hear, and read things that people in control of us during previous points in our lives did not want us to experience (anyone who knows what the title Wonder Showzen refers to already knows this). And what happens next depends on how much reflecting as well as contemplating we are able to do.
Some may get the impression from reading this journal that I consider myself a saint who should determine what is fair treatment to all types that I am aware of. Nothing could be further from the case. I have been a bad person at prior stages of my life. I have hurt people or things who were weaker than me simply because they got in the way when the overloads I did not understand well enough at the time exploded. I have to be honest about all of these things. The majority of them, I wish I could take back. Or redirect upon a person who is far more deserving (if your name is Buttsworth or Shuster, and you have set foot in an area called Holroyd, chances are this means you). But one of the wisest philosophies espoused by Robert Heinlein in his writings is that rather than pay things back, one should “pay it forward”. That is, go out there, find some cat who really needs the proceeds of your payback, and give it to them. But the thing is, learning all of this was not an instant, flash of the moment thing for me. I had to earn it. Hence, when I see people like those represented by the Alf Stewart crowd proclaiming their word is sacrosanct about anything that they care to name, it motivates me to snarl and bark like a dog at them.
But to get back to what I was on about in the rest of this text, I am struggling to recall anything that is new, innovative, or worthy of praise about the way videogames have been made during the last twenty or so years. Games like Cave Of The Word Wizard brought an interesting possibility to our approach to education (one that we have suffered mightily for ignoring). Games like Impossible Mission demonstrated a unique manner of using audio-visual information to appraise us of our goals and how to prosecute them. But one thing from Back To The Future Part II that remains pertinent in spite of how dated the film has become is a scene in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) demonstrates for a couple of children hanging around Cafe ’80s how one plays one of the videogames in there. “You mean you have to use your hands?” one of the boys asks with undisguised contempt.
One of the input methods we use with what is today known as the computer is based on a concept so old that not even any of my great grandfathers were around when it came into being. And whilst other input devices such as the trackball are an improvement in this respect, the end result is that current information technology has at least one or two sandbags tied to its legs that restrict its ability to improve compared to previous iterations.
World Of Warcraft provides an interesting example of this (as does Diablo III to an even greater extent). Simply put, the interface through which the user controls their character is a fukking mess. The game itself, to an extent, attempts to recreate the fast-paced fight feel that was endemic to videogames of the 1980s and 1990s where fights with large groups of computer-generated enemies were the main focus (Final Fight, for example). But it tries to mesh in one of the central parts of fantasy and role-playing games that it is also trying to appeal to the market of. That is, a variety of actions and interactions with other characters, player-driven or computer-controlled. In one “tree” of the Priest spellbook, for instance, there are ten distinct spells, all of which do things that the player might find useful at various points in the game. But with the limited amount of mouse buttons, keys, and other manual inputs, not to mention physical limitations on the parts of players, what we end up with is simply a lot of “spells” that never get used, confusion about what spells are needed or optimal for a situation (thus defeating the purpose a good game designer would have for having a variety of them), or simply a lot of people getting frustrated with the whole thing and giving up.
There have been two occasions where the last of those possibilities was the case for me. But then, just as I was about to stop playing on a “permanent” basis for the second time in my life, something funny happened. I used the random dungeon group function and got allocated to a group that happened to contain one person who, rather than being frightened away by, or mocking of, the stronger expressions of my communication quirks (in this instance, having a macro that issues a generic action in which I put walnuts up the bottoms of whichever character I currently have targetted (usually an enemy)), actually continued to talk to me and even add me to their friends list. My getting to know them better, and vice versa, in the months since has not only caused me to continue playing the game in spite of what I often end up thinking about it, it has also motivated the creation of stories like Kronisk’s Mirror. No, I am not kidding.
People write that online culture or games, things like Fudgebook that connect us with people halfway around the world, and so on, are bad. They write that these things are bad on the basis of the fact that whilst we talk to people who live in places we often have only heard the names of countries that contain them, we do not meet a lot of these people face to face. That is true to an extent. Meetings between people of different lands is very rare compared to conversations between said people in this day and age. But compared to the situation of the mid-1990s or prior, where even conversations with people who have seen lands beyond our city were unusual, it is an improvement.
And that is the biggest piece of wisdom I have learned after spending the lion’s share of a decade in a state and later a city thereof that I can stand about as much as genital lice (no, I have never had that, go look for the AC/DC song). When your intellect is comparable in raw terms to about three percent of the population, and you have a lot of childhood experience in seeing things that are unusual but promise great things for the species’ future, nothing can be considered more abusive or harmful than setting severe limits upon the variety of persons you interact with. People go on at length about how closed-minded and arrogant Americans can be, but let me tell you something. Compared to every single person in the 51st State that lives outside (or in some cases in the outskirts of) Sydney or Melbourne, Americans may as well be ambassadors to everything in the universe. And that is the reason why I am still playing World Of Warcraft after all of this time and discontent with the game. Because when the “real” world around you offers up only people who are happy that they are finally all the same, just the prospect of conversation with people who are sufficiently different can be a godsend.
Now, a final note here, because I did promise it earlier. Because I got to enjoy the company of this other player to the degree that I do, I ended up changing servers again and going to one of the most populated (gee, wonder why, male parental unit) and most “notorious” of the servers on World Of Warcraft. Players or people who have read about it know what I mean. I am now a naturalised citizen of Moon Guard. Yes, the server where people whom even others on the server believe must have sad, sad lives gather in Goldshire and make like they are on the Caligula set. And you know what? Because the people there behave in weird, different, and frequently interesting ways, I am enjoying the game more now than at any other point in the time I have been playing it. Go and fukking figure again, normalists.
Oh, and as a parting gift from this writing, I offer the following YouChoob link that shows another reason why I am grateful I did all of my growing up in Western Sydney rather than some anus of a place like the one I like to spit the word “cuntborough” in reference to. My classrooms when I was a boy were, after a fashion, just as mixed in nature as this one.