22 December 2006

first a note: i am not a computer video game geek. im actually a super cool artist type who "doesnt watch tv" etc. thats what makes this post funny. cuz:

two nights ago i cancelled my subscription to world of warcraft, leaving my level 60 human warlock, vistilio (along with a bunch of alts still in their teens, liltuvi, a gnome rogue, ohbabybaby, a night elf druid, and my favorite towards the end, a hot hot undead warrior named zabbitz) leaving him abandoned with a bank full of unused mooncloth and just one quest shy of his already paid for epic mount, the dreadsteed.

now, ive had some serious problems with video game addiction in my past. atari's river raid, kaboom and megamania, nintendos super mario (of course), tetris, simons quest and zelda 1 and 2. zelda in particular really grabbed me, there was just so much beauty and love in the design, i really cared, you know? freshman year dorm in college there was mortal kombat everywhere, i favored baraka and his fierce blades. then there was a really bad marathon of playing the star wars trilogy for SNES; this is when i actually played straight for 24+ hours, beating one game and moving on to the next, all not even in my room, jg being patient and understanding, sleeping, waking, going off to journalism class while i oblivious to him died yet again at the hands of the mechanical eye outside of jabba's palace. (which wtf, he certainly wasnt that tough in the movie!)

after that i tried to stay away, not get near the ubersystems that started coming out around 97-98, playstation and xbox. my college housemates and i did have an atari which we enjoyed, but in a casual, kitschy way (m*a*s*h was a surprising favorite, you actually performed surgery). and, we had the ultra fast ms pac man machine in the basement of the student center, the only ms pac man machine i have ever found, ever, (to this day ever!) where both ms pac man and the ghosts were reprogrammed to be scary fast. making getting to the banana board a fucking real achievement, and scores over 80000 near impossible (as opposed to the ubiquitous fast ms/slow ghost consoles in which 6 digit scores are laughably easy). we played this a lot, jem jgl and i, and my god it was really fun. the camaraderie was the best, the vocabulary we developed, the total sharing of experience as we watched each other get through a particularily tight run. this is important...it was the friendship that was great. i played alone a lot, sure, but even then i could go home and tell stories, new high scores, "oh my god i went right through pinky today!" i can still remember jem excitedly telling us about the existence of a fourth board, just about blew our fucking minds. also fun (and related to i guess what happens in the olympics etc all the time) is how once one of us passed some high hurdle (ie a new board, a new high score) the other two would follow quicky in stride...three weeks of trying to top 70000, and then all of us do it on the same day, that kind of thing. cause all the sudden getting 70000 was out there in the world, in the collective experience, so we all had access. weird and lovely.

anyway, the summer after college i tested my relationship with jj while playing the SNES zelda game, her roommate had left the system lying around. then i went to grad school and hated it so went out and bought a N64 just to play zelda's ocarina of time; in fact played it so much that i started neglecting my test grading duties, and when called out on it i actually told the professor that i had graded the papers quickly/sloppily because of zelda. man, that was a really great conversation.

id also like to point out here that the scene in that game where link leaves his home village, and he and his childhood friend, a cute girl named saria, say goodbye to each other, not kissing but so clearly in love, made me cry.

there was some serious pinball playing going on around this time too, but i put that in a different category. oh man lost in the zone!

upon moving to sf i decided enough, this will not be my life, the jocks playing madden ugh, and i have lived without a system ever since. there have been a few small lapses on the pc, including some weird game where you shot these heads onto the celing? cgk? and then a week nursing a lovesick heart over halo 2 at tenredhen's house, whoo. but mostly ive been clean for 8 years.

now: several of my friends here in sf started playing world of warcraft (wow) in the last year...about 5 of my oldest sf friends, the group ive had the most intense history with, my burning man crew, etc. it got to the point where in hanging out with them, they would just talk about wow and id be left on the outside. and they were always tempting me, and i always said no, cause i know ive got problems. then one of them went and sent me a 10 day free trial, right after i finished up two shows and had a bunch of free time. and so bam. i hit level 20 in about four days, found out that the free trial didnt let you go past 20, logged off and pulled out my credit card. and i was done for.

leveling through the game is really, really fun. i mean the world is just fucking huge and so damn well designed; theres always something new, every two levels you get wicked new spells, there are long and intricate quests with neato rewards (as a warlock the biggest things for me were acquiring my new demons every 10 levels: a fire throwing imp, a heavy damage taking giant blue thing called the voidwalker, a sexy succubus decked out in full bondage gear with the power to seduce humanoids into a lovesick paralysis, and an odd magic eating creature known as the felhunter) and you are playing online with real people, real friends. tb and i have similar (ie near nonexistent) work schedules, so we were staying up til 5-6am every night, he in sf, me in berkeley, miles apart yet running wild through this vast fantasy world together, making jokes in the odd language of chat, rofl-ing while running through forests with dozens of plagues bears chasing us. there some pretty hilarious stuff you can do. and its really weirdly wonderful, to see a friend translated into this virtual form...the way tb would move his character was so him, the fidgets and odd emotes, the sudden slaying of an innocent lvl 1 rabbit, the total lapses and unexplained afk's (away from keyboard). early on i spent a beautiful beautiful night running through unknown lands with tb and his wife, an ex of mine; its been years since ive felt that close to either of them, running madly up and down the beach of the zoram strand, a giant moon in the sky, slaying naga. the art design is stunning, yeah. and just so many other moments of being really nice connected with these friends that i dont really see that often...being led through gnomeregan by a seasoned jk, getting pieces of cloth in the mail from mieshra so i could up my first aid skill. once tb sent me some rum (a completley unfunctional item in the game) after we had finally defeated a team of hard to kill orcs in stonewatch keep. and oh endless stranglethorn vale! good times, ah good times. and there was personal, alone joy too, beating giraffes with my fists in the barrens, stumbling across the goblin mirage raceway for the first time at 5am...

and i cant even begin to talk about the bizarre role playing aspect of the whole thing; like am i controlling vistilio, or am i vistilio? a suspicously buddhist question! watching the watcher...but this aspect makes the art really visceral, man you are in it, this is art is happening to you in a far more direct way than any other art form i can think of. thats right, art. fuck you.

anyway, thats not the point. though i think you can see how amazingly geeky and insular this can get. the point is, about two weeks ago i finally hit level 60, the highest level you can reach in the game, late one night killing stealthed tigers in winterspring. leveling is so fun and so addictive, cause theres that real sense of accomplishment every time you level up...a big shiny aura comes down on you, theres a cool sound, all your stats go up, and people nearby say "grats". its called "dinging", so when you do it, you can say "ding!" i was really hoping that something amazing would happen at hitting 60, but sadly it was the same as all the rest...

so, after 60 the game becomes quite different. gone is the finite game of leveling; in its place are a variety of other far more time consuming options. you can run 5 man dungeons, you can play in player vs player battlegrounds, you can go on 40 man raids to kill ridiculously difficult creatures. all of these options have the same goal though: gear. getting better and better gear. there is so much gear in the game, and the super super best stuff is stuff that drops like 0.01% of the time off of some crazy impossible to kill monster that a 40man group can only attempt to kill once a week or so. and only one drops, so all 40 people have to then negotiate over it. so yeah, to get like the best possible set of warlock gear, the kickass tier 3 plagueheart set, could take years. literally. and by then the expansion will come out and there will be a tier 4...

so there i am at level 60. most of your options as a solo lvl 60 player involve highly repititous slayings. ie you can work on your reputation with various factions, kill like 1000 of some creature and then this vendor will sell you a really cool belt. stuff like that. kill a bunch of stuff so you can get better gear so that you can kill more stuff so that you can get better gear. etc. not so fun, really. most high end content is aimed at the large groups, specifically the 40 man raid. now i can see the beauty in this, the team work if youre close with a group of really dedicated players...but unfortunately my social awkwardness actually translates into the MMORPG world as well (who knew?) i only had one experience in a 40 man group, killing a dragon near azshara, and man it was just too geeky for me. raids use vent, a software app that allows you to talk and listen to everyone rather then chat...and hearing these people just GEEKING OUT, man, and some obviously pre-pubescent..it was a bit much. im still cool, after all.

and theres this other aspect, subtle yet disturbing to me, but of all these people gathering together to defeat a game that has been made by another person? like, youre not defeating something real, youre defeating something that has been specificlaly designed by another human being just like you in such a way that it can be defeated. you know? your success is ultimately guaranteed. right?

outside of these 40 man raids, you can group with people and run 5 man dungeons, no vent so less geek. this is mostly what i did at 60, trying to make gold to get my epic mount (a fast demon horse), at least that was some kind of tangible goal. and i had a couple nice moments, a priest named seviana was very nice to me and i developed a bit of a crush on her ("i cant believe that was your first scholomance, you did so well!" *blush*)...but more often the strangers were bad, bad players and worse communicators, rushing into monsters before everyone was ready, like im at 0 mana and this asshole warrior goes and charges a group of plagued hatchlings, christ. and then the bickering over things, and the posturing, and the endless talk of gear and crits...ugh.

anyway, yeah, the game just started being depressing. no point, no goals, no friends, no way to win. i mean, yes theres still the joy of gameplay, and raiding would certainly offer more new...but the goals, where were the goals> what was the point? so i found myself getting depressed, in the game itself. now, its been a bad few months for me, the game really sucking away at me, my sleep schedule erractic and my drive in creative and social pursuits really diminished. i actually bailed (and didnt call, just watched the minutes tick by and saw the phone and... !) on a good friend one night cause i was playing (funnily she was actually the first of the original group to cancel her account, for similar depression-causing reasons. so she was pretty understanding), ive neglected another kind of cracked relationship with another good friend, i havent made any new music in months, havent really pursued any dates, stopped going to the gym. and when i wasnt playing, i was thinking about it. yeah, its bad. but at least while playing the game initially i was jazzed, so excited to get to that next level, so happy after a long night of questing to say goodnight to tb and know id see him again tomorrow.

but now, post 60, it just all started to feel...meaningless. no clear goals. tb and i stopped playing together as much, as he got bored with his 60 and started leveling his alts, all of which are at levels that i have no characters at, so playing together isnt so possible. and leveling alts, to me that just seems boring. ive already done it! it was a little fun to roll an undead charcter, totally new lands, plus they can feed themsleves by cannibalizing the corpses of their enemies, whee, but still there was that lack of initial newness, the 60 goal. the goal. id already done it. and lord i cant imagine spending another week in my 30's in stranglethorn, good god. so i stayed with my 60...but the goals, i missed the goals!

>the game started being like everyday life. boring, routine, no great rewards.<

ie like i had chores to do in the game, selling things at the auction house, managing my bank account, making mooncloth bags. and then when id go out to do things it would be just things id already done, with no real point other than just doing them. like im just trying to make a bunch of gold so i can get a horse that goes faster? and where will i go so fast? or im saving for a necklace that boosts my stamina by 10? and what will i kill with these extra hit points? no goal, no goal! a free for all..and so easy when free to lose all focus and just be a wanderer. and i kept trying, i played some pvp battlegrounds and got yelled at by some more skilled players, lord that was also depressing. recreation is supposed to be a break from this petty minutiae of human interaction, right? but no, it was there, so much of it, bickering and posturing over chat windows, and all about nothing, nothing. what i want out of a game is an escape from life, not a replication.

i talked about this with some of my guildmates, the ones who have been playing for a year+...and the conversations were very odd, like they were offering advice on what i could do to keep myself busy, what options there were, "oh you could level an alt, or you could take on a different profession, you could work on your reputation..." it was just like in life, when youre bored in life and so decide to take up knitting.
but this wasnt life! if its boring, i dont have to play!

so i quit.

now an expansion comes out in january, allowing you to progress to level 70, and yes ill probably rejoin just to get there and feel that old thrill again. and my outside life will suffer, but then the bells and whistles will stop, and ill get out. and hopefully something new in the real world will be there...

sadly this is not a heroic story of me overcoming an addiction. its just that the addiction got boring to me. which interstingly seems to be my pattern for all addictions, drugs and music and women. "flavor of the month" an ex told me i am, and that one stays in my head. scary.

its been a nice few days, back in the real world all the way. i saw a baby at a party the other day, and the mom was talking about how thats her new obsession...and yeah, i liked that. i really liked that. now theres one i think i could stick with.
always changing! always love!

ah someday.

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