Saturday, April 28, 2007

Some change and some tears

Last night The Wife canceled her World of Warcraft account. There was real loss in the room, and as I heard her typing her last goodbyes into chat, I realized she was crying. I had quit a number of months ago, and it has been a huge change in my life.

For folks who have never played one of these style of games (MMORPG's, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) this level of emotion might seem odd, or ridiculous (in the true sense of the word "worthy of ridicule"). I wanted to at least attempt an explanation of why it's such a big deal, and a big change for people to quit one of these systems.

What you see when someone's playing this game, from the outside, is someone sitting at a computer. Occasionally you see them with a headset on, talking animatedly with folks. Flashy lights and colors, we all love that, except folks who eschew all electronic media; no TV, no movies, no web surfing. With these systems, however, what's really going on is a mix of video gaming, strategy, economics, and most importantly a social network.

Think of all the people you know who check their Myspace account 3x a day. This type of system has that level of involvement and more. It's got all the hooks of a well-designed game; rewards and progression, fame, glory, and moolah. But then you weave that with a social network (via chat channels, grouped play, large group or "raid" play which can consist of up to 40 people) you get something entirely new, and entirely engaging.

These games demand organization on the level of serious sports league play. You need leaders (coaches), team captains, teams and subsets of teams, organization of resources (the equivalence of bake sales to pay for uniforms), practice, skill, and perseverance. Almost every Guild (read: team) has its own discussion forum with pages and pages of text dealing with this organization, as well as being itself yet another level of social networking. The designers of these games know how to make sure all of these levels of involvement are required for players to be successful. The better they weave the social aspect into the game system, the more community it creates and the longer people will stick with their product.

In essence, these are the Bowling leagues of our day. You have friends waiting for you many nights a week. You have intrigue, backbiting, and drama -- inevitable with large groups of people pursuing ... well most anything. You develop many levels of relationship within the system. You have "game friends" who are folks you just play with and wouldn't care to know outside of that context. You have your close "game friends" who you prefer to hang out with inside the game over most anyone else you know in that world. But you also create many real-life friendships. I drove up to Victoria Canada last year to meet a clutch of folks who I only knew, up until that point, in the game. Now they're some of my favorite people, and I'm in daily communication with most of them.

So, changing the way you interact with all these people is real change. You walk away from all that engagement, and everything shifts inside you. It's not just giving up flashy lights and spell casting powers. It's very much like quitting a job, or moving to a new town -- that level of shakeup.

When I look at my closest friends, I realize that there is a huge percentage I have met over the internet. All of the blogs I link to here in my sidebar are people I've met over the internet, and only one of them I have yet to meet in person (Shocho, you are on the list man, best visit if you are in the N.W.). There are many stories in these meetings, and I'll have to include them as their own "mythologizing of my friends" posts in this blog in the future. Some were met in chat rooms (poetry ones, specifically), some over discussion forums of shared interest (fly fishing), and some within games. Even today I look at this in amazement -- I still can't quite believe anything that good has come from a computer, or the internet, or especially gaming.

I pray The Wife isn't embarrassed by this post (she's still asleep upstairs as I type this). It just struck me when I saw her getting shaken up like that how someone who has never been through this sort of thing just wouldn't understand, and I wanted to address that.

Blessings all,



Kate said...

hugs to Katye...I've been feeling much the same this past week. Still, there is this overwhelming sense of freedom and relief with it for me, so I know it was the right decision.

Tate said...

Agreed on that, I had a hard time saying goodbye to my toon. I have a lot of free time now and it is a weight off of my shoulders, but was very sad.
Tell her hi and give her hugs and pretty soon as you know yourself it is just a nice memory, and lots of friends gained

Shocho said...

I'm a helluva lot closer now than in Virginia, so I hope we'd make it out there some day.

quotidian said...


stingite said...

/hugs upon /hugs