(Justin ⇒ Jasdev, 8/24/20)
Have a story of when you got in trouble as a kid? Or a phase that was in retrospect cringe or formative or the two?
First, I gotta say — I grinned as I read through this! So much of your story resonated with my high school experience:
But, to answer your question whilst only bordering on infringement: I think I have to go with MMOs 2.
I loved MMOs as a kid (and let’s define “kid” as “up until and including today”). I loved the concept of them more than the execution: the idea of exploring and mastering a virtual world is something that innately appeals to me, let alone the lizard-brain Skinner box nature of watching numbers slowly and surely go up as you spend time and a modicum of energy within a system.
(This, too, I think I got from my brother, of whom I was a little envious: he played Ragnarok Online and Ultima Online, early trailblazers of the genre. They both seemed a little sluggish and passé by the time I got to them, though I still will occasionally listen to the former’s extremely calming soundtrack.)
I was never quite as hardcore as the stereotypical player — I never seriously raided, and my time commitment topped off at a couple hours a day — but, especially with World of Warcraft, I found the world and the escapism and the promise of a comprehensive system so enticing that I gave myself over to it.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently cringe about playing MMOs, to be clear. I think we are all allotted a fair share of leisure and there’s nothing immoral or flawed about spending that time grinding away collecting digital experience points. But I cringe at my relationship with these games, and how I used them as placebos for a type of self-improvement that I didn’t know how to summon in real life.
My commitment to MMORPGs waned only when I found better things to do with my time. When 2012 Justin read a quote from Patrick McKenzie that — and I’m paraphrasing — pointed out that most of the same grinding and feedback you encounter in an RPG you can also engineer for yourself in a software business (pageviews substituting for DPS, MRR milestones substituting for epic gear), I resolved to try and throw away the genre for good.
...I failed, of course.
I still think about MMOs a lot!
I haven’t redownloaded WoW in the better part of a decade, but I find myself either playing games that are modern takes on the MMO or love letters to the nostalgia of having played them.
The latter is probably my favorite video game I’ve played in recent memory, in no small part because it uses the framing device of being a player stuck in an MMO. This is meant to be a little scary, but the game is filled with warmth and joy and a child-like sense of wonder. It reminds me of a time where I got to run around places called “Stormwind” and “Alterac Valley” with people who I’d never met but felt like family.
The former has been a genuinely great way to kill time and smooth my brain out for an hour or two after work every now and then, and it introduced me to one of my best friends. Iheanyi and I decided to download the game together after chatting about wanting to play it, and the hours we spent in Eorzea ended up translating to real life: he’s hosted me in New York, I’ve hosted him in Seattle, and we spent a glorious ten days together in Japan last year.
I realize that, especially considering how you and I first got acquainted, meeting over the internet is not exactly the pearl-clutching event that it used to be — but I think it’s still relevant and noteworthy every time it happens.
What’s the most interesting way you’ve met a friend? Still keep in touch with any of your Halo teammates?
“First person shooters”, like DOOM, Call of Duty, or Counterstrike, in which you run around and shoot other people with a gun. ↩
“Massively multiplayer online” games, in which you run around with hundreds or thousands of other players simultaneously. These games can be fantasy-based and combat-heavy (like World of Warcraft or Ultima Online) or considerably more chill/peaceful (like A Tale Of The Desert or Second Life). ↩