Thursday, April 29, 2010

Patience and Discipline

Blizzard sent me another free week of World of Warcraft. I love that game but I haven't played it in months because we have to budget our expenditures (both financial and chronological). I've uninstalled it from both computers: to play it, I'd lose an afternoon reinstalling the CDs for three games plus all online updates. And then I'd play it for seven days, which means I'd get nothing else useful done for seven days, and then when I was very into it the week would run out and I'd have to shut it down again.

It's an awesome game. Great movement, great score, great quest infrastructure (though I hate having to be social, in order to form a group to collaborate on a quest, since the collaborators inevitably flake out on me, the quest never gets done and I'm screwed. I don't play MMOs because I'm trying to be social, dammit; quite the opposite), but it's a timesink and a money pit. With the exception of a stack of CDs, everything I own in that game, all my achievements, is/are intellectual and virtual. I'm not dedicated enough to win the in-game competitions and events, I don't shell out real money for virtual armor, I don't twink out for 1337 gear, and I will not kiss sufficient ass to remain in good stead with a guild of social retards, just so I can explain to my wife that she and the cats must leave me alone for eight hours Sunday evening for an epic raid. Not that I've ever been on a raid, for all the above reasons.

So I don't know what game would be ideal for me. I was really into a dozen free MMOs from China, Japan, and South Korea (as I've iterated to my friends and acquaintances ad nauseum) and it's easy to get pretty far on your own but, again, they seem geared to reward you for getting along with other people. I'm not an ideal candidate for that: I can't say, "Oh hi, group, I will be here every night at 7pm CST for the next three months, you can count on that." I don't have a lot going on in my life, but I have enough to preclude that kind of commitment.

But I miss MMO gaming. I miss the escapism of a really good environment, exotic wardrobe, the concept of extremely foreign food, the illusion of infrastructure. I miss collecting things and showing them off on myself. The military was good for that, wearing patches on your sleeves and collar, medals and ribbons--and little metal bits that attach to them--on your chest. I miss riding some ridiculous supernatural mount and racing out of the desert-themed land and into the winter-themed coniferous forested land, or paying some flying beast to whisk me back to the thriving necropolis I called home.

At the end of the day, however, there's nothing to show for it but a depleted checking account and an expended calendar. That's the advantage of the free MMOs: they're not as great as WoW, but they're free so all you've lost is time, which is still a horrible thing to say.

In the face of that, though, I have to ask: what isn't a "waste of time?" What is both fun and a useful expense of time? I can't think of anything that satisfies both conditions, but I can imagine people insisting their non-profit humanitarian work is fun, and I'll argue, "No, it's not, but you've forcibly reconditioned your values to interpret as such." It's like, junk food is designed to be outrageously tasty (and deplorable for your health) and vegan food is blah (but great for you), but people recondition themselves to believe "yummy brussels sprouts!" or "gimme tempeh!" even though, as a pure and honest child-entity, they would have revolted at these taste sensations and instead whinged to go to McD's. So what's real: instinct or what you contrive to believe? If I spend the rest of my life developing an energy-efficient water filtration system for a third-world nation, will I not die in 40 years? Will my name not be forgotten in two generations?

And do I want my name remembered anyway? So many people do such horrible things to attain and retain fame for no other reason than to have it. Why? They don't ask themselves why: fame is the end unto itself, for them. But I need to know why. If I convince everyone in my neighborhood to consume fewer resources, set up go-bags for their entire families, and paint their roofs white and/or install solar panels, what will happen to me up to and after my own death that would not happen if I devoted my life to elevating global awareness and status of me as an MMO gamer? And which of these is more feasible? I'm not arguing which is the worthier cause, outside of myself, I'm asking which is more likely to happen. On the one hand, I could hone my gaming skills and contribute to online communities to market myself as a gamer. On the other hand, I could force people to reconcile with their own mortality, force them to live responsibly and with greater communal consideration, and force them to think about their own future and the future of the planet. Which do you think is more likely? Which do you think is closer to teaching a thousand cats to dance?

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