Wednesday, July 27, 2016


So I might have mentioned that I’m a gamer. Right now I’m only a casual gamer, and I only play established games, and only a few of them. I play Sims 4, because I’ve been playing it since Sims 1, and occasionally I like building houses. I play Candy Crush, because the mechanics are just perfect and soothing. I play Hearthstone because I want to get every character gold, and maybe someday crack the top ten, but mostly because it’s a five to fifteen minute jolt of strategy and I dig that.

And I play World of Warcraft. WoW was my third MMO, and it’s not my favorite (that would be Star Wars Galaxies), but I enjoy it. I’m mostly horde, and my main is a troll shadow priest. I’ve got over 18k achievement points, and I’ve leveled every class through Draenor (and geared it in LFR tier).

I used to do progression raiding. Did it for about three years, nearly every night. Then we all just stopped, didn’t like Cataclysm, found better things to do. I started writing books, amazed to find that WoW had blasted through my writer’s block and taught me to go ahead and speak action. 

I kept my WoW account though, turning to a mostly-solo playstyle. When I’m blocked, or headached, or feverish, or exhausted, or otherwise not-at-my-regular-job-yet-not-writing-fiction, I’m usually playing video games, frequently WoW. Either that or reading.

I do videogames the way many of my peers do TV. A couple hours a night to relax after work. Occasional long weekend binges. My ideal game would feature complex strategizing that would cause the players to erect multicolumn spreadsheets and exchange long, technical forum posts, yet have pretty colored things for when a migraine is making you extra dumb. 

I used to really enjoy the socializing aspect of MMOs, where you can sit around chilling with people in different regions, countries and socioeconomic microclimes, while not letting any strangers actually enter your house. Gradually, balkanization took over, so that you now have to seek out groups catering to your specific gaming fetish, be it progression with the politically incorrect, grinding with GLBT guildies or nice ladylike gaming with the other ladies, which is where the sorting hat would usually dump me.

Unfortunately, my playstyle was different from most of the lady gamers I encountered. For one thing, I’m competitive and occasionally I enjoy pvp. For another, I have very few offendable sensibilities, and mockery/threats/slurs usually make me laugh. This leads directly to situations where ladies who do get offended are offended by my not being offended.

When I gamed with mostly boys, I ran into plenty of offensive situations, but the main one had to do with this tendency I’ve noticed for low-performers to lash out at any kind of minority they might find. It’s a compensatory strategy, where they try to distract from their own low performance by deflecting the scolding they deserve. I remember this one particular druid who was always scratching and then somehow turning it into haranging the other 24 of us about avoiding the scratch.  Guys pull this stuff 24/7. It’s exhausting. Most of the complaints one hears about sexism/racism/hate-slinging in video games actually have to do with these low-performing poor sports, trying to leverage their way up the leaderboards using hostility or aggression as a hack. They’ll be racist, or sexist, or conservative, or liberal, or whatever will piss you off.

The gulf got deeper and deeper, with gamers retreating into situations where it was either constant reticence and isolation, or constant shit talk and challenges. I remember listening to birds chirping in the trees one morning and wondering if they were saying the birdy equivalent of “my balls” and “f you all” to each other, like the guys in trade chat. Then the G word happened, wherein the worst 10% of each faction stepped up to the microphone, and by that point I pretty much started avoiding all gamers that I hadn’t personally met, while focusing on my writing, and you can purchase the result of that at Amazon. 

My ideal game would have different play areas that embrace loud aggro mayhem, silent ninja-like brutality, sociable philanthropy, bargaining, flowcharting, project managing and arranging things in aesthetically pleasing ways. It also needs to be a big, stable, solid, corporate game that isn’t likely to suddenly fold or adopt a drastically different interface. And it has to be an actual game, with competition, and points, and leaderboards, and not just some visual chatroom where hipsters sling pron at each other like Second Life. A challenging game like Candy Crush, not a game anyone can defeat consistently after learning the pattern or spending the cash. WoW is my closest approximation these days, and unless something better appears, I see no reason to buy a new game. Unless the new WoW expansion disappoints me, in which case I believe I will take up Dark Souls. Or possibly even head back to SWTOR (I leveled a couple of classes but despised the companions so much I unsubscribed). 

Videogames were the key that unlocked my writing. They taught me to talk story with people outside my physical peer group. They taught me how to make stories visual and interesting, and how men work together in groups (both successfully and the other kind of way). I learned a lot about how different personalities react in a clutch situation. I work in an industry with lots of clutch, and this kind of information is very valuable.

Some players (of all genders) emphasize their femininity, and engage in love games and drama, and collect favors. Some players (of all genders) emphasize their masculinity, and stomp around wearing boots like Gaston, picking fights and being obnoxious. Some players (of all genders) enjoy taking a break from the real world and its obsessive interest in gender, and I’m probably in that category, so I can’t say I have a lot of personal experience with harassment and sexism and death threats and real life violence and suchlike.

Yes, the online world has a few hazards, but for the most part they’re like vampires. You have to let them in – by giving out your password, or letting yourself get catfished, or running the execute file. I think games are a way better hobby than watching TV.  It’s participatory, and makes your brain work, and lets you chill with a truly random and occasionally extremely interesting crowd.

I’m not sure about this new WoW expansion. I appreciate that they’ve made it entirely soloable if you don’t mind random groups, which I don’t (in fact, that "drop into a random group and see if you can successfully cooperate" thing is what keeps me playing). They do seem to be making it way easier though, and I don’t approve of games that are too easy. Plus they’ve forced us all into a tight camera distance, and people are reporting headaches and motion sickness, which are the reason I had to stop playing FPSs. 

On the bright side, if it’s terrible, I’ll write novels faster.

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