Thursday, October 23, 2014

4.11. Cataclysmic Tactics

Vanilla era, Zanjina prepares to PvP while Bovie makes
an excellent suggestion for the future of WoW,

The Unforsaken

When Bovie confessed to us that she was, in fact, a 'he', it was admittedly both historic and awesome, but was not the most impressive thing I remember about him/her. S/he came out of the woodwork of Deathwing-US very early in DoD's history, when Vanilla was ripe, gold was scarce, and soloing level 60 quests often ended tragically. I secretly suspected. There were no shortage of female toons; digital busts, hips and waists powered by the hormones of teenage boys and middle-aged men uninterested chase-camming a dude. I was as guilty as any of them, having already rolled Uld, a female orc rogue, and Zanjina, a female troll priest. Gal players were out there, but they were far and few between. Many chose to downplay their gender in real life, an unfortunate necessity of the culture: in my experience, they were nearly always subject to harassment and rash judgement of their ability. Now, Bovie certainly didn't run around Orgrimmar announcing her lady parts to the server -- s/he was quite demure about it...which is exactly why DoD never really knew for sure.

I got that it was a tremendous weight lifted off his shoulders. The guild got a good round of jabs in, and the druid took it all in stride. For DoD, it was historic and awesome, but not the most impressive. The most impressive story about Bovie is that, mid-way through TBC, he took me aside in vent and made another confession: he was headed to law school. I asked how long it would take him; he guesstimated about three years, from baby to the bar exam. I told Bovie that we would miss him, but that as long as WoW wasn't going anywhere, neither would DoD, and I assured him that I would keep his spot warm in the guild. The virtual seasons came and went. TBC carried on, as did our struggles and redemption, concluding with Illidan's defeat. DoD was torn down and rebuilt. New stories unfolded in Northrend; Death Knights were everywhere. Naxxramas, all over again. The epic adventures in Ulduar. Breaching the gates at Icecrown, slicing through rotting flesh and undeath to put an end to Arthas. Now, WotLK was at the end of its life. And in the entire time, Bovie sat offline in the roster, his 'last logged in' status a constant reminder of the promise I'd made. 1 year offline. 2 years offline. 3 years offline.

...and then, one day in October of 2010, I opened the roster and saw his last logged in status: Today. DoD's official litigator was ready for his opening arguments.


Thorim's voice called out from inside my jacket. I was parked outside my son's school, concentrating on capturing Ho-Oh when Thorim began repeating his infamous phrase. I flipped the DS into the passenger seat and answered the phone. It was Joredin. I hadn't heard from him in years. He quickly brought me up to speed on the events that had transpired since he'd last set foot in Azeroth. We exchanged stories of job changes, of life changes. I told him of changes that were coming, both to the game and to DoD. He revealed the hacking event that caused his first retirement from WoW. How many players were lost to hacking, over the years? Only Blizzard knows. Thankfully, they did something about it.

I told Joredin about the latest addition to the game: authenticators applied to player accounts could now be verified by guild leaders. I'd be tying certain ranks to their presence; additional permissions to the guild vault that wouldn't normally be considered sane. Trust goes both ways, and if I gave a little, I expected a little in return -- authenticators would be the first way to guarantee that trust was in place. In a virtual world shrouded by so many layers of anonymity, players sloughed off accountability like so much dead skin. "My account is secure, Hanzo, honest!" carries very little weight. In Cataclysm, I wouldn't be able to promote you to raiding status until an authenticator was attached and confirmed -- the game would physically prevent me from pressing the promote button.

Joredin liked the sound of that, and wanted to know what he could do to return to DoD.

"You've already done it," I told him, "be ready for your re-invite when I log on."

One of the few rare moments Mature pulled ahead
of Zedman in achievement point whoring
(Source: via The Wayback Machine)

Unhealthy Obsessesions

I stalked the shaman relentlessly for the better part of Wrath of the Lich King. Who was this orc that had the audacity to stay ahead of me in achievement points? Folks in the server-first raiding guilds like Enigma and Inertia had a valid excuse: they got through the toughest stuff before we even had a chance. But Unbridled Apathy, as far as I could tell, were either neck and neck with DoD, or falling behind. Yet, this player named for the last letter of the alphabet was continuing to stay first in this unofficial race to who had less of a life. And it ate away at me like "nerd world problems" tended to.

It was at the point where I was filling out spreadsheets just to determine the fastest, most efficient path to beating him. Some achievements might only take a few hours worth of work, while others would take weeks and weeks of grinding (particularly the ones involving reputation gains). Every time I gained a small lead on the Zed Man, it would only be a matter of days before he closed the gap and pulled ahead once more. I carried on in tortuous agony, queued for the worst kinds of PvP, participated in mindless clickfests, and camped for desperately sought-after creatures. I was determined to stay ahead of a make-believe nemesis who, quite possibly, had no idea I even existed.

[From: Zedmann]: Loq? He won't be up for another 3 hours. :(

I eyed the random whisper.

[To: Zedmann]: I hate my life.

He'd spotted me, hiding near some foliage in the southeastern corner of the Basin, one of the known spawning locations of the rare spirit beast, Loque'nahak. I needed him to finish Frostbitten. Every other hunter needed him to bring some concentrated coolness to their Beast Mastery game. The result was that he was never up. Never.

[From: Zedmann]: I've got them all on a timer now. It's a 6-to-8 hour window, his comes up again around 10:00pm. Only way to keep ahead of the hunters.

[To: Zedmann]: Staying ahead of you is a full-time job. You realize that, don't you?

[From: Zedmann]: lol, only thing we can do to compete with the hardcore raiding guilds.

The in.

[To: Zedmann]: So what's the deal with UA? You making progress over there or what?

[From: Zedmann]: Long story. It's all over the board, and I have RL stuff that keeps me out of the regular schedule. People are losing interest at the end. Raids are spotty.

The pitch.

[To: Zedmann]: Come join us. Our forces combined, no other guild could compete with such ridiculous levels of achievement whoring.

[From: Zedmann]: lol. It's complicated. ;)

[To: Zedmann]: Try me.

He was close friends with the leader of Unbridled Apathy, and in discussing it further, felt an obligation to remain. He was loyal, to a fault. Zedmann shouldn't have had to suffer the failings of a disappearing raid roster because of his friendship with the person in charge. I would never have demanded the same of my own people, nor expected such blind faith during imminent collapse. But Zedmann truly felt a bond with his guild leader, and assured me that he would be staying in Unbridled Apathy.

...which is exactly the reason why I continued to stalk him.

That kind of loyalty is hard to find. If I could wrap it up, package it, and sell it as a How To Guild Leadering LOL, I'd expect to make a small fortune. So whenever I re-engaged achievement whoring mode, I sent him whispers, and continued to harass him. I explained how he shouldn't have bear the brunt of a collapsing guild, or a raiding roster not in tune with his restrictive RL schedule. I broke the Zed Man down, chip by chip, until eventually, the guild title underneath his name read .

You've made a wise decision, achievement whore. It will be you, Joredin, and Bovie, that take up the mantle of our first 10-Man Tacticians.

If you're reading this caption, Zedmann, then
you know why I'm including this screenshot,

Why We Want Your 10-Man

In order to support official 10-Man teams in DoD, I put together a list of all the things 10-Mans had failed at in the past.
  • Assembled via word-of-mouth, leading to hard feelings / ostracization / accusations of double-standards
  • Poaching of members between teams, due to miscommunication
  • No guild-sanctioned title or leader, thereby shirking responsibility / accountability of the behavior of the team

My attempt to solve these problems came in the form of a new rank I introduced to DoD for Cataclysm: the Tactician. Tacticians were the new pseudo-officers of the guild. Thanks to the flexibility of eqDKP-Plus, I was able to grant them the ability to announce and schedule their own signups. This was especially helpful, as players like Joredin were forced into managing a schedule on a shared spreadsheet. Workable, but we could do better.

eqDKP-Plus took it a step further: they could even manage their own DKP pools, if they chose. These tools, coupled with the ability to see all the other 10-Man team schedules (and, of course, the 25-Man schedule) meant that the Tacticians weren't only asked to keep in communication with one another, they had no excuse not to. All the data they needed to coordinate schedules between teams was a single click away. My intent was to have this be the end to poaching, once and for all.

Outside of all the publicly announced rules and perks associated with running a 10-Man, players who chose to take up the Tactician mantle received an unofficial briefing from yours truly, to ensure there was no opportunity to misinterpret the needs of the guild:

The health of the 25-Man is of the utmost importance in DoD. Anything your 10-Man team does to jeopardize that health will fall harshly on your shoulders. Do not, under any circumstances, appeal to the members of the 25. If they reach out to you, fine; I'd ask that you clear 25-to-10 transitions with me first, before you approve their induction into your team. You will not sell the magnificence of your team to the 25.

If they could do me this one small favor, I guaranteed that they would be subsidized in raiding costs, guild repairs, ample raiding resources (flasks, mats to craft, etc.) from the vault, as well as granting them first dibs on any BoEs that the 25 produced. I would also expedite any recruitment they brought to the table, getting individual players or groups of players, grandfathered in -- so long as they met our minimum requirements. On digital paper, we had many rules, the result of so many common-sensical decision gone horribly awry. Behind closed doors, I shared with the Tacticians the only one true law they needed to abide: Wheaton's Law.

Joredin, Bovie and Zedmann all fit the requirements for Tactician beautifully. They very much wanted to be a part of the 25-Man, but had their own reasons for spinning up a 10, whether to sate an unbridled hunger to raid non-stop (on alts, if it had to be so!), the unpredictability of their careers intervening at impromptu times, or of the demands placed upon them by their families. Each had their own reason to lead a 10-Man, and with Tactician in place, we could scratch each other's backs.

Heed my words, Tacticians: Do not let the 25 die.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

4.10. GFY

Mature participates in the reclamation of
the Echo Isles, earning "Zalazane's Fall",

Keeping Tabs on Tyranny

The Echo Isles were under attack. I raced Mature to southern tip of Durotar, preparing to rid Kalimdor of Zalazane. The troll's never-ending cycle of life and death had been in the hands of millions of Horde toons leveling their way out of starting areas, but this transition promised to end the cycle. Zalazane's Fall, the first of several events indicating the coming Cataclysm, would forever change the course of the zone. Future generations of trolls would begin their lives here, once the Echo Isles were returned to the Darkspear Tribe. In doing so, players implicitly restored Vol'jin to power in that part of the continent. Vol'jin had long acted as a faithful adviser to our warchief, and the troll had been rising in prominence, as of late.

An adviser of my own was about to get similar treatment.

"I'd like to give you a bit more authority than what you're used to."

Jungard sounded curious, "Oh yeah?"

"Look, you remember how it was. Bustin' ass in Mount Hyjal. Raids weren't easy. We needed discipline..."

He finished my thought beautifully, "...and the 'tyrant' was there to dish it out."

Jungard knew exactly who I spoke of. When he was a freshly recruited warrior, participating in his first DoD raids, Jungard kept his mouth shut, listened and learned. He knew how Blain led every raid with precision, the rogue's ability to pinpoint and correct minutia remained unmatched in DoD's leadership history. But with Blain's perceived super human attention to detail came the drama of players unable to handle his critique, his adjustments, his identification of their badness. They called him a tyrant, and Blain owned it. He even insisted that his rank be displayed as such, continually harassing me to update it to display "Blain - Tyrant" after every rule revision.

"You may have heard that our infamous tyrant is making his return to raid leading in Cataclysm."

"It'll be a welcome return."

I continued my broken responses, in between driving Shadowmourne into Zalazane's followers, "'s the thing, Jung. I know now, after having lived through it the first time...Blain's honesty doesn't often mix well with the majority. Any other situation...I'd put this out of my mind. Except..."

I paused to gauge my phrasing.

"...we aren't going to have the same luxuries in Cata as we do today. Recruitment is going to be much more difficult. We're going to have to nurture more of who we have, rather than straight up discarding them. This is where you come in."

Jungard was the compassionate one. He, much like Neps, was the type of player who would drop what he was doing and help a guildy in need, regardless of their tenure. I never intended to be completely hands-off with mediation in Cataclysm, but I had the sneaking suspicion that my administrative needs would increase. Anything I could hope to delegate had to be identified; game/life balance was still a priority to me. Blain needed a better half; a number two that kept him in check.

"There's no more Ater, Jung. They worked very closely together. Ater mapped out strategies; Blain implemented them. Blain had no interest in putting up with people's excuses, but Ater added that human touch...he fought a lot of fires. There's no more Ater...but there's you. I want you to take this role up in Cata."

"Co-Raid Leader?"

"Well, I was thinking a little bit more..."

Blain fields a complaint from a guildy that was left
out of a 25-Man raid due to poor performance,
Black Temple

Who Offices the Officers?

The plan was as follows: restructure the guild ranks, putting Jungard above Blain in the hierarchy. Responsibility wise, they would lead raids together. Jungard would be Blain's backup to help manage the menial tasks that were proven to drive him overboard. My former raid leader attributed his burnout to the constant re-explaining of strategy, and to his lack of patience toward excuse makers. Having Jungard take these responsibilities off Blain's shoulders was a burnout reduction tactic...but it was only one part of a larger strategy.

Blain already shared his own plan with me for Cataclysm, and promised to make an announcement post on the forums to set the record straight. We had gone soft. We had grown too fond of farming as means of excusing progression decay; it was the Loot Paradox, all over again. Blain blamed this on Bretthew and Omaric's style, having shifted the mentality of the 25 too far into casual-land. It was music to my ears; I loved everything he planned to solve. But, it would be a tough pill to swallow, especially for the "Wrath babies": players who'd never experienced the pleasure of four hours a night, twice a week, for five weeks...on a single boss. I wouldn't have questioned Blain's iron fist in any other situation, but Cataclysm was too grim. If I'd learned anything thus far, there was an identifiable absence of self-esteem among a vast majority of the player base. It didn't make them all bad. Some could be saved: turned around, re-trained, and sculpted into half decent human beings/raiders. They just needed a bit of extra TLC, and this is where Jungard came in.

By putting Jungard over Blain, I explained to him, I could give Jungard final say. He could sit alongside Klocker and Neps in the advisory pool and give another empathetic, thoughtful voice to our progression strategy. Blain would push hard, that was never in question...and we needed to. But, by having Jungard above Blain in the pecking order, I'd have a solid enough voice to back me up, in the off chance we were pushing a little too hard.

"You have the eye for it. I trust your judgement. You'd co-lead in the instances, keeping Blain's plate clean. And in the off hours, keep your finger on the pulse of the guild. Are we keeping a good pace? Or pushing too hard? Those are the kinds of questions you'll be asking yourself."

Was Jungard up to the task?

"Oh, definitely...I'm definitely up for it. There may be a bit of scheduling I need to work through with my night classes, but I think I can manage."

"Good, let's make it last as long as we possibly can."

I told Jungard I would announce the co-raid leadership appointment next, then deliver the actual promotion in October. Keeping the two announcements separate was by design. To every guildy, Blain needed to be seen as the ultimate raid authority for DoD, and if there was even a hint that Jungard's promotion might undermine that, it was my responsibility to eliminate it. Once we set foot into Cataclysm raids, Blain called the shots. No questioning, no second guessing.

Tyranny would lead us to victory.

Elephantine and Graulm pose outside of Gadgetzan,

Sentimental to a Fault

"Gettin' a little work done, there? Good for you!"

Dave's voice was loud enough to break through the WoW music coming from my earbuds. I popped them out and spun around to face him, the eqDKP-Plus site behind me, and gave him my best Peter Gibbons impression,

"...well, I wouldn't exactly say I'd been missin' it, Bob..."

After slaving over the company websites for nearly three years, the boss and I both earned the right to mock the work (or lack thereof). Whether it was he, cursing at ridiculous requests behind his office door, or myself, cursing at ridiculous bugs behind my code, we'd gone through it together. We understood one another; we both wanted things to not suck.

Dave and I shared our love of things that sucked the best way we knew how: sarcastic mockery of items broken, and of attitudes needing adjustment. You can't always get away with that tone in a professional environment, though. But where there's a will, there's a way: a client-facing "code phrase" to use in public situations, free from HR scrutiny, and we'd wield it like a fucking machete. You'd like another round of completely unwarranted changes that have absolutely no merit whatsoever? Good for you!! You'd like me to undo all the work that I've just done? Good for you! You're having me stay late on a Friday because you left things to the last minute? GOOD FOR YOU!!!

"Good for you" happened to share its initials with another three word that more accurately conveyed our feelings on the subject:

Go Fuck Yourself.


I took advantage of the downtime between projects, loading screenshots into the eqDKP-Plus gallery. I was a sucker for sentimentality and lingered on shots featuring the core's first appearance; players that made DoD what it was. A shot of me helping Kadrok with a quest in Ashenvale. A shot of Kerulak doing the happy dance alongside Gutrippa, shortly after purchasing the guild tabard. A shot of us about to take on Immolthar in Dire Maul, partnered with a priest who would go on to become my healing lead through the duration of Vanilla. So many faces...gone. Waxing melancholy skewed my focus, wishing for things that once were. Looking back with fondness was a perfectly human thing to do, so long as it didn't cloud your judgement.

I browsed through disorganized images hastily burnt to CD, and pulled one up that hit me right in the feels. It showed two players on mounts, just outside of Gadgetzan. One was an undead mage, an alt of mine named Elephantine. The other was a warlock, sitting atop his dreadsteed, his violet robes and shoulders matching a purple mask that covered an orcish grin.


Memories rushed to the surface. In the days before Graulm, guild leadership was little more than /ginvite and /gkick. Back then, "difficult" decisions were whether to run Zul'Farrak or Sunken Temple (it wasn't ST!), and the most complex logistics of any guild-related coordination was figuring out who had the key to Upper Blackrock Spire. Ater may have dominated my leadership mentoring-related memories, but turning the pages back further reminded me that others were no less important.

A Quiznos between Arapahoe and Curtis on 17th St., was where Graulm and I met for several lunches, back in '05. He told stories of EverQuest, and the demands of running a guild in a day where the 1% was a measure of who raided, rather than of financial worth. He gave me those first steps; the sorts of things that were taken for granted today. Why take the extra time to hand out Zul'Gurub tokens to guildies, instead of letting them roll? Loyalty. When you hold the keys to the car, players are less willing to look for another ride. Why do we need a private area of the forums, specifically for officers? Discretion. You mediate behind closed doors, particularly when the strategy isn't agreed upon. When officers debate an upcoming decision, it gives off an appearance of instability to lower ranks. For leadership that extended beyond basic button presses, Graulm advised on appropriate behavior, and helped keep tabs on unruly players who ran the risk of tarnishing our reputation. DoD had a six year long, rock-solid foundation underneath it, and Graulm was one of the first to pour the concrete.

The feels continued to ache from the blow of pulling up that screenshot. I considered Graulm a friend. I'll never forget the day he showed up at my front door, an air conditior gripped tightly while he barked out, "Where do you want this thing?" I pointed up our rickety staircase. With a single shake of the head, he gave me a "Damn!", then stomped upstairs with the 100lb unit in tow.

Over an in-game conversation, Graulm discovered I had no AC in my house. Jul, the kids, and I were at the mercy of a ventilation system from 1890, far too old to support a centralized air system. Without giving me a chance to decline the offer, Graulm produced one of his own unused units from his garage and brought it to my house as a gift, latching it in place in our master bedroom window. It ran faithfully for about 10 months before coughing and sputtering in a final gasp of freon-scented smoke.

...and it was the best 10 months of sleep I'd had since moving in. Before the unit, and after, my bedroom doubled as a kiln in the summer months.

I missed Graulm, and I hated how things had ended. I missed the early days of Vanilla, partnering up with him, exploring Azeroth, running dungeons, helping set the stage for our raiding days. I missed his screams of victory in those early months of our first steps into 40-man content. I didn't expect that Graulm would ever come back to the game; an unavoidable tragedy. When some players walk away from WoW, it's official. But perhaps some could be coaxed back, those still floating in the amorphous soup that was Deathwing-US.

I believed wholeheartedly what I told Jungard: when it came to recruits, the pickens would be slim in Cataclysm. Anything we could do to build and maintain our core was of the utmost importance. And if I was directing Jungard into putting effort into those who might be, did it not make sense for me to put effort into those who were? Forgive. Forget. Reach out to former guildies that I'd wronged (or had wronged me), agree that we'd made mistakes, come to terms, and move forward. Band together, for one last hurrah.

Oh, so that's what it's come to? That's what Cataclysm is going to force you to do? Sacrifice any remaining integrity and self-respect by going back to the people that wiped their feet on DoD and compel them come back to progression?

Good for you.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

4.9. DoD+

"WoW Fan Art - Page 3"
Artwork by Jiein Hyun

There Will Be 10s

My guild revisions sat untouched. All the work to lay out a 10-Man culling strategy no longer applied; I couldn't remove them. My conscience, dulled over the course of the last two years, enjoyed a reawakening by staring at itself in the mirrors of my Mother's house. I didn't want to be like her, making decisions on no other grounds than because I can. Effort was necessary in order to make great things happen. DoD had long stood as a place for players uninterested in immature leadership and arbitrary rules. That summer vacation compelled me to reassess my strategy surrounding the 10s. Instead of lancing them like boils, I contemplated the other end of the spectrum: could DoD seduce 10s into joining?

It was a ludicrous question; I shook my head in disbelief frequently while walking this alternate path. A 10-Man team in Cataclysm was a self-sufficient guild. Logically, there was no reason whatsoever why a clique of tight-knit friends would feel the need to have themselves assimilated into a "faceless" organization like Descendants of least, at initial glance. The more I put myself in their shoes, however, the more reasons floated to the surface. Members of a 10-Man guild were no different than any other players I marketed to. 10s thought they were free from the complex underpinnings of a 25-Man guild, but I was skeptical. They shared the same stresses as any other team, just ot a much smaller scale. And when a guild mishandles those stresses, each member was an unwilling customer, discreetly shopping for a better deal.

I walked through the list of my own pain points, converting six years of workable solutions into a packaged product. Recruitment was always a worry. Let me take that off your hands. Bring your 10-Man team to us and you'll enjoy the benefits of DoD's never-ending recruitment. We have a wide array of people to choose from, and not all of them will be able to participate in the 25. Maybe they can help your cause?

Raiding can cost gold, both in repairs and flasks. The situation wasn't nearly as dire when compared to Vanilla and TBC, but the costs do add up over time. Let me subsidize your efforts. Bring your 10-Man team to DoD and I'll commit to issuing you a weekly kickback from the guild vault to help take the edge off. Why stop at gold? DoD's vault was thick with unused BoEs from the 25-Man efforts; Neps and I could only auction off so much, so fast. Why not reinvest those profits back into the 10-Man teams? BoEs might not make-or-break a 10-Man's progression, but perhaps such a gesture would give 10-Man guilds pause before rejecting a radical offer from a guild they'd otherwise never do business with.

There was no question in my mind that 10s would proliferate in Cataclysm. 25-Man guilds would collapse in great numbers, and while I scrambled to pick up the pieces of those fragmented teams, the 10s would overflow and dominate the server. It wouldn't be long before those 10s felt the same pressures I felt, as players acclimated to their more compact environment. Sooner or later, frustration and turmoil would lead to the grass-is-greener syndrome. For those teams with few people-management skills, miniature explosions would paint the server like a fireworks display -- my signal to come knocking. I'd offer my condolences to the formerly-known-as-10s, pitching Descendants of Draenor to those grieving widowers. But for the 10-Man guilds who fought desperately to keep it together, they would need help. They would need guidance, direction, and tools, so they could focus on enjoying the game. DoD could provide all these perks, and more.

It wouldn't be an easy sell; many would deny our necessity. It was the nature of the gamer to shove a big middle finger up toward anyone telling them what was good for them.

So, I wouldn't tell. I would show.

The "face" of DoD, circa May 2010
The main guild website (top), eqDKP
site (middle) and phpRaider site (bottom)

Look On My Works, Ye Mighty

Two and a half years had passed since I bid my previous job adieu. I still remembered with fondness the many conversations I'd shared with Ater as a fellow employee, side-by-side as programmers during the day, guild leader/raid leader pairings in The Burning Crusade by night. But I shed no tears for the working conditions and abuse. At my present job, life was spectacular. The boss trusted my judgments instead of challenging them. The positive feedback loop encouraged me to push myself even harder, hold my own work to a higher standard, deliver something I could be proud of. And when the time came to fire up some distractions at the office, I was never once made to feel the pangs of guilt.

Pushing the quality of my work produced a wonderful side-effect: free time. Late into 2010, I had more and more opportunities to break from coding, putting time into research. Traditionally, I sought knowledge of a technical nature: programming languages, debugging and troubleshooting, understanding what was happening at the bare-metal of the processor. But these days, I found myself seeking more "right brained" knowledge. Architecture and design considerations, usability, what makes sense to do when, based off of context. Inevitably, I often ended up back at people: their nuances, what drives them subconsciously, what motivates them. My intent was to become a better coder, but my research kept pointing me toward becoming a better leader.

My boss, Dave, repeated the message at every opportunity, "You really ought to think about management." Each time, I humbly thanked him. Professionally, I never saw myself trading code for people; I loved to fix things. Programming is a canvas that's never complete.


The quiet hum of a smoothly running company website freed me to investigate our own guild "face" on the 'net. It was sad. There sat the same dull, static HTML, unwavering since the game launched in '04. A single central column acted as our news of latest boss kills. To the left, I'd recreated progress bars to indicate how far along the 25-Man team had progressed through the current content. "APPLY TO THE GUILD!" yelled out in tiny caps above the faux progress bars, while an "Application" link on the right clung desperately to a PayPal button. This had been DoD's sole means of lead generation since the guild's inception.

There was a second site, charged with the responsibility of tracking the guild's DKP. I'd been using eqDKP for this task, built in the days of EverQuest, receiving minor updates along the way. Customization existed only in the form of alternate color schemes, which was about as effective as a can of spray paint on an Excel spreadsheet. I'd be foolish not mention the third site, our raid management tool. This was an implementation of phpRaider, which grew a bit over the years. The majority of changes went in by my own hands, fixing bugs that allowed players to sneak out of raids they'd been confirmed for, well after the cancellation window had closed.

All three sites needed some serious love. Guild portals were all the rage, jamming a million widgets and scrolling text down your throat like they were the natural evolution of Geocities. I refused to pay for a "solution" I could install and configure on my own. What good is a mechanic that can't fix his own vehicle? I dug deep into the web until my screen was filled with Umlauts.

The character profile management tool
 featured in eqDKP-Plus (Source:

Germany Is Our Only Ally

It wasn't difficult to see I'd landed squarely in Deutschland, given the huge black, red and yellow striped flag at the top of the page. The language barrier had minimal effect as my attention focused squarely on the screenshots. Character profile panels boasted in-game rendering, thanks to an integration with the World of Warcraft Armory. At the time, the WoW Armory allowed players to pose their character in one of many different frames of animation. You could have this in your guild site. Aesthetical niceties aside, the content management system boasted full character statistic importing, gear and glyph display, even supporting multiple specs. When compared to the ridiculous hacks necessary just to display an item hover in eqDKP, this package delivered functionality well beyond anything I expected to find....and the character profile was only the beginning.

Named in homage to the original eqDKP tracking system it was based off of, eqDKP-Plus was, quite possibly, the most advanced guild CMS I'd come across. The configuration panel alone listed 41 custom modules that could be enabled and displayed wherever I chose. Some of them actually didn't suck! Automatic achievement tracking? Check. World of Logs report integration? Check. GuildOx rank badges? Check. When I stumbled across the full phpRaider implementation, I just about fell out of my chair. And of course, there was the eqDKP system itself, tying loot earnings directly to the raids in phpRaider, which in turn, cascaded up into the news items. With a single button click, I could post the news of a boss kill to the homepage, include a photo of the kill, and display the loot that was distributed. It was the complete package.

...include a photo of the kill...


That evening, I dug into the photo gallery module. It allowed administrators to upload and tag images that could be featured across the site, in such places as news headlines or via a random "Pic of the Day" rotating widget. I pondered our six year history of screenshots buried on my hard drive as marketing collateral. If nothing else, DoD was stable. In my vision of 25-Man guilds collapsing around us, stability would be the most important selling point. The last thing anyone freshly ejected from a guild relationship would want...was to suffer through it again. The gallery module, an otherwise frivolous gimmick in the grand list of eqDKP-Plus functionality, suddenly became the single most important tool in my repertoire. If six years of screenshots couldn't vouch for DoD, what the hell else could?

And thus began the burning of 918 screenshots to CD.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Survey: WotLK in Review

Please take a few minutes to complete this survey. Your honest answers are very important, and will assist with the shaping of the guild as it transitions into Cataclysm. Thank you.

Section 1: Goals (General)

With the release of WotLK, a number of goals were set to shift the ideals and core values of DoD in a more positive direction. The following questions deal with whether or not those goals were achieved.

Overall, I felt like I was playing with peers than with a bunch of strangers.

I felt that there was much more knowledge surrounding the inner-workings of the game, and that members of the guild demonstrated a deep understanding of the game's mechanics, which led to expertly played characters.

I felt that the players were far more mature and responsible than what I had been previously exposed to, were respectful toward one another, and polite/helpful to those outside the guild.

Section 2: Goals (Raids) 

For WotLK, a number of core changes were made to raiding in the hopes of improving its efficiency, maintaining fairness, and rewarding players based off their dedication. Please answer the following questions regarding Raiding in DoD.

Raiding in DoD was a rewarding experience, and I looked upon it as recreation rather than work.

I felt that raids ran on time, and were extremely efficient.

I felt that raids were run professionally, and relatively free from wasted time and inappropriate behavior.

I felt that the sign-up / rotation system was a good idea, and that players were treated fairly, and given ample opportunity to prove their worth in progression.

As a guild, DoD progressed through new bosses:

DoD's raid schedule was perfect for my tastes.

I felt that DoD rewarded loot fairly and without bias.

I felt that I received adequate time to learn fights, and was given proper instruction by officers on how to perform.

I felt that my role officers were able to provide me with appropriate feedback on my performance and helped improve my play.

Section 3: Ranks

For WotLK, the DoD guild ranks were overhauled. Please answer the following questions regarding the changes that were made regarding guild ranks.

I felt that the guild ranks more accurately reflected a player's contribution to the guild than what I was previously used to.

It was easy for me to figure out who was responsible for what, based on what rank they held.

I liked the idea of the "Avatar" rank.

I thought the the "Avatar" rank was awarded:

I liked the idea of the "Elite" rank, and rewarding players whom were the most dedicated to the guild the ability to 1st-round items in raids.

I thought that those players who earned "Elite" ultimately deserved it.

It is a fair assumption to say that the players who did not earn the rank of "Elite" simply did not try hard enough, did not care about having the rank, or had caused a few too many "red flags" for it to be a risky bet.

Section 4: Hanzo's Way (Or the Highway)

In WotLK, the guild leader implemented a number of changes to the basic rules of what was allowed in guild and what he would use as grounds for swift retribution. Following are a list of questions regarding his tyrannical rule.

I think that implementing the age limit of "21 years or older" was a positive thing, and helped improve the quality of guild pool.

When I observed a player or a situation that got out of hand, I felt that Hanzo's resolution was typically:

If and when I got a little out of hand, it is a fair statement to say that Hanzo handled my personal situation in this manner.

If I had an issue, I felt that Hanzo took the time to hear me out and made an effort to resolve the issue.

I felt that the amount of people Hanzo put in charge was:

Overall, I felt that the people Hanzo chose to help lead the guild were:

The officer that I felt helped Hanzo the most with the guild was:

"Neps or Jungard imo"
"Jungard and Neps"

The officer that I felt helped Hanzo the least with the guild was:

"Eacavissi :("
"Can't really pick one...they all did fine in my books"
"No one. I put neps as the oen who hepled most, but Klocker is always around to help as well. I'm excluding raid leaders from this, as the questions pertaining to them was already asked."

Section 5: Guild Leader For a Day

In an alternate universe, everything is as it exists in Descendants of Draenor, except for one small difference: Mature is just another new recruit to your long list of Death Knights waiting to get into a progression run...and you...are the 6+ year long guild leader of the best damn guild on Deathwing. How would you do things differently?

The first three players that would be promoted to an officer-like rank would be:

"I like this alternate universe thing!

One person who's been in guild for a long time, but may have raised a few red flags is Aeden / Ben. While he can become drunk and disorderly, he only wants the best for the guild. I wouldn't hesitate to promote him to something other than raider.

Sixfold should also become an officer (or officer-like role). He's been more absent lately, but he's always been a great healer and steady attendance at raids.

Blaine. I am unsure of Blaine's current rank (apart from Tyrant.. not sure what that entails). While people have had disagreements with him, he's a very good raider, and when I've raided with him, always positive, looking for ways to beat an encounter."

"Daliah, Mangestu, Sarge" 

"Mangetsu, Lexxii, Joredin"
"For the most part I like the officer core the way it is. I do not like Guns as an officer for healing as I feel that his immaturity and ego get in the way of him being a good leader. As far as the healing officer role, i do not have a person that I would rather like to see in that position outside of Klockerr, and well we know all about that. I feel that Jungard is a good fit for his role as the melee officer and I am indifferent on Eaca as I have not had to deal with him directly, but he is a bit quiet for my liking as a leader."

"Ben, Sixfold, Mangetsu" 

"Jungard, Neps, Klocka"
"Neps first and foremost. As a long standing, faithful, dedicated, and selfless member of the guild the promotion of this individual would be a no brainer.

Jungard. Although initially selected as a roll officer, he has always taken the extra step in game mechanics and fight strategization. He demonstrates a raid leader initiative without trying to overthrow the current appointee, moreso to help with the weight the position requires.

??? - The third individual is a toss up. =/ I'm interested in someone who would place their e-peen second to getting a boss learned and downed. Guild advancement > personal advancement"

"Lexxii, Drecca, Mangetsu"

"Assuming we wiped the slate clean, in terms of officers and the like, I would say Neps, Klockerr and Guns"

"Seeing as how the people I would promote already are officers and I haven't played in some time I can't really think of three new people that I would promote."

"Aeden (Ben), Hellspectral, and Bonechatters."

"neps, jungard, guns"

"Jungard, Drecca, Hells"

The first three players that have long since worn out their welcome and I would take great pleasure in /gkicking are (if no current names, you are free to put in names of players that *were* kicked that you agreed with):
"None immediately come to mind. I think my mind purposely blocks out douchebaggery.

In all seriousness; I feel the quality control of applicant addmission is adequate with little need for improvement. I have not personally run into a problem scenario (or one that I can recall) in my almost two years with this guild."

 "Ben, Divinepants"

"None. I haven't been around long enough to see people get kicked (apart from Bulwinkle)."


"Deathonwings, Hellspectral and I agree with giving Bul das boot."

"Aethernight (He's not a bad guy, just a bad player... and he complains too much). Helmeron (I love the guy, but he's had a very bad track record never showing for runs and he almost never runs progression). Can't really think of a 3rd at the moment"

"Nobody in guild right now requires a kick.  Ok maybe I wouldn't mind seeing Aetherknight go."

"No one that has really worn out their welcome, but maybe a couple people who have been with the guild many many months, but no one knows them at all :( and in that, idk their names or who they are, but i do know that their are a few people here and there who got added into the guild one way or another, and never contribute at all in any way shape or form. Just log in for their own personal use, never talk in gchat, never respond to any of the guild, and then just log out. And no, these are not muted players."

"Well, I don't know if I would go as far as /gkicking, but I did not take well to all the alliance converts joining DoD.  Maybe it's just my old hatreds of the faction itself.  Did any of them even apply to join the guild?  There was a month or so of time where a few of them would join each week."

"I probably wouldn't boot anybody unless they did something really disrespectful to someone else in guild. Bulwinkul for example. As for bad raiders (Aether, Raina) I would just not rotate them in if I had the choice, but I wouldn't boot them from guild. Just let them run in their 10mans. It's a guild and people should be able to stay in guild to hang out and do whatever."

"Gunsmokeco: Simply put: Guns' attitude is beyond poor and the way he conducts himself as a Role Officer (as well as general member of the guild) is garbage! He may be a knowledgeable player, but his ego holds him back from being an asset to the guild. Crasian: I realize that he is not currently playing the game, but I figured to make mention of him as an example of the type of player I would not like to keep around. More specifically, his cut-throat approach to gearing up. I felt he did a real disservice to the guild by taking advantage of his elite status in order to always have the best of the best, while other players struggled to simply upgrade to a new tier. In my opinion, this does nothing but hold the guild back from progressing. Bulwinkul: Having witnessed the situation that lead to his /gkicking, I feel that the way he behaved was absolutely uncalled for. That sort of attitude toward your fellow player should have no place in a guild (let alone game) and would not be tolerated in 'mine'."

"Aethernight, Bullwinkle"



"Fred, Rainaterror, Helmeron"

"Ummm, I am not that mean"

"Bul, Sentra, Pook"

I would change the Progression Raid Schedule to (Enter "as is" to leave unchanged):

"As is"




"as is. sometimes i wish we raided a little more but at many times throughout the year another raid night wouldn't fit my work or class schedule. Since 10 mans have the same lockout, and 99 percent of the people in progression we're running 4 days a week combined between 10 and 25 man. I honestly think you should add a third day. Maybe Tues for some server firsts."

"As is"

"as is"

"as is"

"as is, however i know that cata will bring same lockout 10s and 25s. My suggestion for that is to have prog focus on one raid, and 10 mans are in agreement to focus on another."

"Sunday is Fine.  Anything other than Friday night that people can agree on."

"No more Friday nights."


"Move towards cutting back hours instead of pushing mind-numbing achievements"

"As is. While the current schedule isn't the greatest (In my opinion, of course. I'm more partial to weeknights, personally), I do feel they are probably the most convenient for the majority of players."

"Sunday could be an hour later."

"No idea"

I would change the Loot System to (Enter "as is" to leave unchanged):


"As-is. DKP is fair."

"as is"

"1st round - starting at 70, main spec - starting at 20, off-spec - starting at 5"

"With the exception that this would be too difficult to keep track of for the master looter. Unless we had an addon to auto-track the bids, I would keep things the same."


"as is"

"Jettison the first round bidding. Add a 200 DKP hard cap to keep the pts flowing, and potentially restructure the pts so that elites earn at 1.25 pts, while raiders earn at 1. If that isn't agreeable, then increase the 1st round to 100 pts, seriously make the elites think since they're at all raids anyways, they're going to be earning pts left right and center. "

"Elites spend more than 50 DKP in first rounds"

"as is"

"as is"

"make the first round bid a bit higher so that it can't be used as often."

"The first round maybe should be higher or shouldn't be able to be used more than 1 time a week."

"as is"

"as is"

"As is"

"I like the DKP system we are currently using."

"As is. DKP is probably the best loot system on the market to date. I'm a fan of Loot Council, but probably wouldn't recommend switching to it because favoritism gets the best of people sometimes and that would lead to nothing but trouble. In addition, I  would implement a "Don't be a dick!" policy. Gear yourself up, but do so with an understanding of what's best for your team, not just yourself. The same would be enforced with the Elite system. They, of all people, have a great deal of responsibility to look out for the guild's best interests."

"by the time I get in the raids, I pretty much get the loot that drops, the guildies are very nice in passing it on to me"

"As is... DKP is a wonderful thing. People that don't participate a lot of the time shouldn't get the loot that's deserved."

"Have less emphasis on the "elite" system.  Either you are a hardcore raid guild or you aren't.  Trying to do the best of both worlds ends up screwing over people in the long run."

"Revamp elite bidding in some way (larger minimum?) so that the advantage of 1st-rounding must be strategically used rather than be available virtually every week."

"As is"

"as is"

"as is"

"as is dkp has always worked, no reason to change it now"

I would change the minimum age required to get into the guild to (Enter "21" to leave unchanged):

"21 is fine, but I know a lot of very mature 18 yr olds who play... I say 18 with a long trial period to test maturity."
"18 (All members should be subject to observation. Age doesn't always equate to maturity)"

My additional changes to the guild would be:

"In my personal opinion, some red flags are less red than others. I don't consider being drunk for a raid (while still performing very well) a very red flag. A minor one, sure, but not one worthy to keep someone from being promoted. Some raids need fun characters.
While all promotions ultimately come from the guild leader, taking into consideration how the guild feels is also important. Some promotions can cause pretty big rifts between people/groups, whereas some others are well deserved and no one would complain.
Other than that, I've never noticed anything wrong with the guild and why change it if it isn't broken? There's a reason it's the best damn guild!"

"Stricter minimum requirements to become main-raid raiders."

"Can't think of any off the top of my head.  This is a pretty well ran ship you've got here."

"All in all Shawn, I feel that the way you and (for the most part) your officers do a great job leading this guild.  Our presence is known and with the guild tag comes a great deal of respect on Deathwing."

"The guild has been around since launch, keep up the good work. Just make sure Neps/Klocker keep Taba and Omaric in check."

"This is an amazing guild... I fucking love it and I'd never leave it for anything. I really would like to see us starting to raid a little more hardcore though... Our 25m raids generally have a lot of people messing around and not enough raiding for me. The fact that we haven't even started attempting H LK seriously by now should be testament to that."

"More structured raid leading, less goofing around during wipes."

"First, let me start with the positive stuff. I love DoD and I have been in it for a good while now. Being in this guild has enriched my experience playing World of Warcraft by a bajillion times. Sure, I have had my own scuffles with Mature but after I thought about what we was telling me, I realized that he is just being fair. I really respect him for that, and I cannot even imagine what it has been like to run this guild for as long as he has. DoD is the last dinosaur on Deathwing as far as Horde guilds go, hell probably even Alliance side too. I am very proud to be a Descendant of Draenor.
However, I do not like what some of this guild has become. A good chuck of of guild members have become extremely elitist. Elitist to the point of saying some pretty terrible things about other guild members. I am sure that I too, am guilty of saying some bad things about someone in the guild at some point in time but, I have never gone to the point of genuinely thinking that I am above any of my guildmates. I feel that as of lately, pretty much from Ulduar and on, I feel that DoD has slowly seperated into cliques. One being the elitist assholes, another being elitist wannabes, and then a small group of people who keep it fun and simply play to enjoy the game. It disgusts me, in game and irl, when someone actually feels that he is better than someone else. The specific example I can recall is a discussion where these particular elitist guildies were discussing how a particular piece of loot was 'wasted' on a fellow guildmate because he was not good enough to wield it. Reading that honestly made me feel horrible; to know that the DoD that I love was slowly turning into something terrible. These elitists are egotistical and just straight up assholes. I can honestly say that it negatively impacted my playing experience and I have been playing less because of it.
Now - I don't expect a guild leader to be able to control a mess like that. I know that a person cannot control how another person thinks, feels or reacts. Hanzo, I just want to make you aware of what is in the guild and what could potentially lead to problems in the future of this guild. I don't really have any suggestions as to what to do from here - other than to tell people to not be assholes and hope they listen."

"Drecca or Blaine raid lead."

"More COWBELL!!!!!!"

"Be more social.  Have in game meet and greets.  aside from general random (usually sarcastic and put-downish) guild chatter, it was very lonely.  The couple 'alt' raids i was able to attend with my 'Main'  I felt out of place, uniformed, and disliked because I was new to the area and didn't understand the logistics/fights as well as the others who have been through on multiple characters.  By the end I feel sure that I would not be picked up to run again with anyone, nor would I bother signing up out of embarrassment. Other events felt like speed runs and that i was missing out on game play rather then hurry to get the next boss for loot drops. I understand for the hardcore who have seen it a hundred times its old hat, but not everyone has ever done every single instance already."

"the way the 10 man teams are. I know there are a number of ppl who would like to finish up their drakes, but are without anyone in the team to be able to do this. Help from those who have their achievements, etc, would be nice - not essential, nice. Another guildy and I were talking of the fact that one of the responses for such a request was "we've done it, we're not doing it again"

"I am doing this for Cataclysm, not WotLK, all in all, as I read the rules and announcements I am LOVING the changes(at least in theory) that are being/have been made. I really applaud your efforts hanzo, you put a lot of fucking time into making this guild what it is, and it certainly shows."

"Rather than bashing people over guild chat or vent, speak with them individually about any questions or concerns. Also a new recruit performance review after a month so the new recruit can view some constructive criticism and maybe realize why they are not rotated in as often as they would like."

"You don't make changes to a team that's winning."

Section 6: Fun Stuff!

Time to generate some fun, raw statistics! For the following questions, you must pick someone other than YOURSELF.

My favorite guild member is:

"Jungard or Gunsmokeco"
"I'm not brown-nosing, but you."
"Ben =/"
"Fred (Daliah)"
"Neps, Moorawr"
"Mature and Jungard imo."
"bonechatters, he is very open minded to those new people that need our assistance"

My LEAST favorite guild member is:

"Scruffie (Ben)"
"Don't really have one, though Riskers made a Jew comment I didn't much care for one time."
"Daliah (Fred)"
"meh not worth saying"
"Lexxi (undeserved elite promo, and lippy)"
"Gunsmokeco and Deathonwing"
"bonechatters, duplicitous in the way he runs his team"
"nobody really... some people can be dicks at times, and sometimes more time than others. Those same people can be nice, too."
"a couple that like to run their mouth, but nothing a good shot of patron doesnt take care of"
The ex-guild member I miss the most is:

"Dalans :("
"Anni.. Who else?"
"Bovie and Aterea"
"bregs (Breginna)"

The most exciting boss kill in a DoD Progression Raid for me was (Enter "n/a" if you did not participate in a progression raid):

"Sarth 3D"
"Heroic Professor Putricide"
"The Lich King"
"HM Mimiron"
"Heroic Sindragosa"
"Professor Putricide"
"Bitch King"
"Leotheras the Blind"
"Freya/Mimiron (Hardmodes)"
"Putricide Heroic, the day we finally killed that bitch. We also one-shot him that night iirc, epicness."
"H Putricide"
"H. Putricide"
"Heroic Deathbringer"
"3d sarth"
"Heroic PP"
"Lich King 10man"
"Gruul (put me on the raiding map with DoD)"
"Lich King"
"Lady Vashj"
"Mimiron Hard Mode"
"Prof. Putricide"
"Team Si LK kill"
"lich king baby"
"Lich King"
"Kael'thas Sunstrider"
"Lich King"
"Mimiron HM"
"Heroic PP!!"
"Any that took a bit to figure out the strategy."
"Haven't been around for real progression"
"all 11/12 Heroic ICC"

The ex-guild member I am glad is gone is:

"Lol.. Shim."
"Wyse I guess."
"the prick loud mouth lock, ive blocked out his name"

In Cataclysm, I plan on raiding:

I know Hanzo is dead-set on playing his Death Knight in Cataclysm, but if it were up to me, I would totally force him to play his:


Thank you for your contribution. You may now send Hanzo a PM with the secret code:


to earn your Karma points.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

4.8. They Shot Jane Fonda, Didn't They?

Guild Leader in training,
1983 (8 yrs. old)

Arbitrary Math

The keepsakes in my mother's hope chest smelled of wet newspapers and old people. I stifled a gag while sorting through bags containing personal history I preferred to ignore. Down the hall, in the living room, a faint outline of my hand could be seen on the wall above the TV, visible only from a certain sunny angle. A dufflebag containing my XBox and laptop sat near the base of the TV stand, neglected. Wishful thinking had led me to pack them, even though, deep down, I knew.

I wasn't entirely clear why Mom asked me to rifle through my childhood memories: an old Boy Scout uniform, various bowling trophies, photos of me in the little league softball and soccer teams. A never-ending stream of activities designed to keep me out of the house. All I wanted to do was to sit down and play a video game, uninterrupted. There was no evidence to that in this wooden box. Her and I had a difference of opinion on what constituted time well spent.

Wandering the house of my youth felt strange. Flowery patterns lined the walls on the way to my former bedroom, long stripped of its plastic cartridge smell. I'd spent many nights there devouring Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter II and Samurai Shodown. It was in that room I wrote a FAQ about a fighting game which, in turn, led me to make new online friends, one of whom was Zoid. It was my first glimpse outside the tiny world of of Qualicum Beach. Holy shit! There were actually other people like me: gamers who recorded themselves playing video games and preferred Yuzo Koshiro over Metallica or Smashing Pumpkins. But with the joy of having a Sega Genesis, a NeoGeo, a SuperNES and more, came with the apprehension that my mother had the power to take them away at any time, for any reason. It was leverage she liked to hold over me.

Groundings were a battle of wits in my teen years, once the leather belt stopped working. The most miniscule infraction would send her into a rage. Like a child, I'd be forced to put the game console high up on the shelf in her bedroom closet. She suspected I hooked it up when she was at work, sneaking game time, so she one-upped me by placing a penny on the console. She'd leave for work, I'd grab the console, and the penny would fall silently to the floor. She'd come home and accuse me of defying her, I'd deny it. The groundings were endless. As of this writing, I'm still serving several grounded for life sentences.

I continued to sift through the items buried in Mom's hope chest, stopping to consider the room I was in. The ol' 286 used to be in here. It was a piece of shit computer that was the cheapest available. High school friends were up to 386s by this point, and Ultima VII was all the rage -- that, and Wing Commander II. I couldn't run Ultima VII on my 286, missing out on perhaps the best game in the series, and as for Wing Commander, well...this was the room she had once caught me playing during a lunch hour break. She saw the strategy guide laying next to the computer, and tore that book into a million pieces.

Yeah, it was a piece of shit computer, but I found a way to make it work. After winning the childhood-long battle of convincing Mom that I could use a computer for things other than games, the truth couldn't have been far from her mind. Mom was always watching, always waiting for me to mess up the rules. One hour of homework + One hour of trumpet practice = one hour of computer. I ended up pitching the trumpet, one of the few classes I enjoyed and excelled at, in my quest to balance the effort with the reward. One hour of studying for one hour of games, Mom. That's how it should be.

Mom's arbitrary math was yet another tactic, and one that had a way of grinding any lasting enjoyment out of anything I took pleasure in. Several years before giving up music, she caught me sneaking by the local arcade, trumpet crammed into the back of my bike's newspaper baskets. The "Fun Center", owned and operated by a sweet elderly couple, had come to recognize me by the trumpet case. Always friendly, they called me by name as I meandered through the darkened room, eyes on games like Renegade and Rush 'n Attack.

Mom had a hunch. One day, she played some of the kids I hung around with, getting them to cough up hints about my possible arcade shenanigans. She called the arcade and sweet-talked the couple into giving me up; they never suspected her ulterior motives. Mom had a way with people -- she not only read them like a book, but could adjust her demeanor with the ease of a professional actor to get what she wanted. The Fun Center debacle mathed out as follows: Five visits to the "smoke-filled", "drug-infested" video game shithole, multiplied by the three lies I allegedly told -- denying my having ever been there -- which brought the grand total to fifteen leather belts across the ass.

My newspaper delivery went slowly and painfully that week.


Nearing the bottom of the chest, I pulled out a worn plastic bag with a few elementary school books inside. One revealed a piece of history I'd sooner forget: my fifth grade report card. Fifth grade was the most hellish year of school in my academic career. A fat, bearded man with a British accent and an obvious distaste for children drove every student’s grades into the ground that year. Even Nina, the star, straight A student, earned Cs and Ds. There was no hope in Hell for me. Driscoll had done me one better, though, making sure to twist the knife. I flipped the card open and reread his comments, even though I’d committed them to memory years earlier:

Shawn would do much better in class if he spent more time on task, and less time drawing pictures of video game characters on his notebooks.

At the time, I knew what kind of punishment those words would bring, and I remembered how Mr. Driscoll knew so little of the impact of his comments. I held the report card at my desk as tears welled up in my eyes; he looked down at me, all smiles and hand gestures as he described the examples of Mario and turtles I sketched into the corners of my math and English papers, as if I didn't already know. I was certain to see the belt that night.

Mom remembered the report card -- there it lay in her hope chest, her wooden box filled with her precious memories of the myriad activities I was never interested in. The only evidence that reflected my actual interest -- video games -- was a piece of paper that fueled her suspicions that games would somehow, undoubtedly, ruin my life.

I bundled up the childhood artifacts and stuffed them into an old grocery sack, wondering when it would be, exactly, that I'd get some time to myself.


Mom kept me busy the entire time. If we weren't taking care of dishes or walking the dogs down to the park, she was encouraging us to go out, to go show the kids the beach, to let them roll around in the sand and collect up shells. Take them out to the mini-golf where you always used to go. Take them out. Go. Do. Enjoy the fresh air, the warm breeze, the sun, the sunset. Enjoy life. Enjoy it, son, before it's too late.

Her distractions were grating on me. I wanted to write. I needed to write. My guild rules needed revising and this was when I had intended to get most of my work done. I was out of the city, away from the game, on vacation. Yet as each day plodded along there was more to do, more to see, and more to keep busy with, thanks to my mother's unrelenting schedule. There was no time to work on loot guidelines. No time to write guild rules. No, there was never time for that.

Our first day there, while Mom was at work, I thought I'd hook the Xbox up. While reaching past the stereo equipment to plug the cables into the TV, I lost my balance and caught the wall for leverage. I thought nothing of it. As luck would have it, the living room patio door faced west, allowing the sun to beam in at the end of the work day. Anyone entering through the front door had a perfect view of its light reflecting off the wall, catching my hand print in the process. And in a disappointed tone, Mom reminded of how the wall was ruined, and would have to be re-painted and papered. Ever melodramatic.

Family Tradition

The extra baggage I returned home with,
following the summer vacation of 2010
The relationship I have with my Mom, now in adulthood, is quite awkward, offset only by her slightly twisted sense of humor. We have little in common, although we both love music and movies. We can even joke about how awful Joan Crawford was, what with her whipping her child with coat hangers, yet mentions of the actual movie Mommie Dearest always hung heavy with a deep unsettling irony. I avoid discussing topics surrounding video games and tech in general, yet any time my career comes up, she responds inexplicably, "Son, I always knew you'd do well in computers." It's laughable. Still, I can't quite brush away those years of brutality that put Mortal Kombat to shame.

Toward the end of the vacation, I still hadn't had an opportunity to gather my thoughts about WoW, yet there I sat, compelled to spend another evening discussing movies with my mother. I suddenly remembered something she had once told me as a child: the worst movie she had ever seen.

"Didn't you tell me...this must've been years was something about shooting horses?" I asked, bringing it up.

She let out a single laugh, "Ha! They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Absolute worst movie of all time, son. It was awful. Just torture to watch."

The title was misleading. It had nothing to do with horses. Instead, it told the story of a dance marathon held during the Great Depression. She nodded in agreement, "Yes. Yes, that is exactly what it was about. Your Grandfather and Grandmother dragged me to that, son, and I had to sit through the entire two hours of it. Around and around they went, over and over. It was ridiculous. Complete waste of time and energy."

I never understood why, until I did some arbitrary math of my own. Pollack's Academy-nominated film came out in 1969; Mom would've been fourteen years old. I imagined a rebellious teenage girl, forced to sit in a theater, as Red Buttons and Jane Fonda circled the dance floor for two straight hours. I imagined her agonizing, wanting to be done with the horrific nightmare so she could return to her bedroom, with its dangling spiders and black lights, to crank Iron Butterfly and Jimi Hendrix and forget the insanity of the movie. I pictured her withdrawing from her parents, wondering Who are these people? and Why the hell did this guy just blow Jane Fonda away? And I could see Grandpa and Grandma sitting there, taking it all in: family time at the movies. Because they could. There didn't need to be any other reason. They were in charge.

Just like she was.

Just like I was.


The morning after I arrived home from vacation, I took the bag of belongings pulled from my mother's hope chest and hung it in the closet. Then, I sat down at my computer, opened up my State of the Union draft -- wherein I proclaimed the death of the 10-Man teams in DoD -- and deleted it.