Thursday, April 11, 2013

2.44. Epilogue: The Dinner

Denver, Colorado

Where Common Sense Goes

One of the last memories I have in Ater's presence was the night I couldn't stop thinking about my wallet.

Ater's folks were in town and they invited me out to dinner. I was nervous. Already being in Ater's commanding presence on a day-to-day basis had a perpetual tinge of intimidation attached to it, but tonight, my anxiety would reach an entirely new level. Ater's father was an oil man, and the family had traveled the world extensively. My travels were insignificant by comparison: I claimed Puerto Vallarta as my only destination abroad.

I made my way toward Mizuna, a restaurant off of 7th Ave -- staffed by a celebrity chef, no less, and I tensed up. How many foolish ways will you stick your foot in your mouth tonight? Awash with stress spreading through my mind as I prepared for the dinner, I took my seat across from Ater and his parents. The horror gripped me like a vice as I felt no familiar wallet in my back pocket.

I'd forgotten it.

The conversation, as one might expect, covered much ground. As fanciful dishes came and went from the table, we discussed education, business, the agency that Ater and I worked at, even a bit of WoW managed to slip into the conversation. All the specifics have since been overwritten in my mind -- a bunch of corrupted files all discarded, replaced with more up-to-date data like the seller's agreement on my old house, the address of my kids' new high school, and all the different ways Mists of Pandaria delights and infuriates me. As I struggle to remember the details of that night eating dinner with Ater and his parents, all I know for certain was how stupid I felt to have forgotten my wallet, and how embarrassed I was going to be when the check arrived. Only a child makes mistakes like this, I thought. But as I braced for impact when the fateful moment arrived, my anxiety proved wasteful and unnecessary.

Because there was no issue to begin with.

I was their guest. Ater and his parents had invited me to dinner. Sure, it was never actually spoken aloud, but the unspoken common sense should have put my mind at ease. This was standard operating procedure for them, and in inviting me as their guest, took care of dinner as well, never once giving it a second thought.

As I walked back to my car upon the dinner's end that evening, a deep feeling of relief washed over me. And then, disgust. For the first time, I finally understood all the chaos and confusion around my unwritten rules in the guild. Why players continually used ridiculous, embarrassing, nonsensical excuses to justify poor performance, poor behavior, an a total inability to follow my rules. I always just chalked it up to disinterest, or the inability to care about a video game.

Maybe it was something else entirely that blocked their ability to wield common sense.

You can't assume people think the way you do. A million and one factors all come into play. For all I knew, every player I ever recruited was nervous in my presence. The concept seemed absurd. Yet, I had proof of this happening before: Ater's story of Headhunter was a clear indication that, by some technique unfamiliar to me, I was commanding an air of leadership simply in presence alone. Even without saying or doing a single thing...there were players -- even complete strangers -- that saw me as a leader. Someone to be followed...or feared. If a stranger could feel this way, without knowing a single thing about me, why not a guildy, freshly recruited to the guild? Carrying that baggage around for months, even years afterward, was a possibility. It could happen as easily as it did to me, in the presence of Ater and his parents.

The days of assuming common sense were over for Descendants of Draenor.

Life Lessons

I cycled back through all the lessons Ater had given me, cataloging our conversations, sticking mental Post-It notes on my brain, writing each one down. All players want to be good at something. Identify the casuals, and keep them separate from the hardcores. Treat them fairly, which is not the same as equally. Acknowledge those players who go above and beyond the call of duty, and find ways to point out how they are the glue that keeps the guild bound together, make them feel important and special. Avoid negative reinforcement, make an effort to praise in public. And as I scribbled these notes down in an attempt to wrap my arms around the big picture, a realization set in.

The entire time I'd spent with Ater, working across the desk from him, going out to lunches, picking his brain, awaiting some new epiphany, some elegant simplistic solution...I always framed his answers around World of Warcraft and the guild. After all, that's the role he had played for so long. Leading the charge, mediating player issues, bringing Blain on board and guiding my decision process in DoD. And by always putting things into the context of the game, trying desperately to learn how to get a handle on the big picture -- I was missing the even bigger picture in the process, a picture Ater was trying to make me see all along.

His answers weren't about how to build a better guild. They were how to build a better me.

His soliloquy about people wanting to be good at something was what I wanted. I'd express bewilderment at the concept of people following a dictator like Bru berating his players in Pretty Pink Pwnies, and was disgusted at Depraved's foul language in addressing us. Then, I'd return to an office where sales managers treated me worse than both guilds combined. They made do. They were accepted into their social group, and that was worth the demeaning insults. They felt like they were contributing to something, even if it meant whittling away any remaining self-esteem in the process. That feeling of "belonging" that Annihilation touched on? He was close. They didn't feel like they belonged...they felt like they belonged to Bru, dehumanized and bullied. He owned them and treated them as such...and that's how they acted, subservient to his abhorrent behavior. Which is how I felt about my job. Fear kept me from taking a chance that the sales managers were wrong, and I was able to be something more. I wanted to go the extra distance. I wanted to be a star performer, and I knew I had it in me.

But when Ater spoke, I heard what I wanted to hear. I was getting direction on how to take control of the guild with greater proficiency. All that time, he was trying to give me direction on how to take control of my life. I was living in extremes, devoting too much time to the game, and not enough to my family or career. I was wallowing in self-pity, treating Ater's exit from the guild like abandonment. Yet the answer had stared me in the face the entire time, for as long as I had known him. Right from that first guild interview, I had the answer. This guy was different. His approach was so thorough, so professional. Put the coddling to bed and stop trying to be everyone's best friend. Stop letting people get away with murder just because we were a "family-friendly" guild. And most of all, find the part of me that was "abandoned" by Ater, and remove it before it metastasized. My emotions were completely in the wrong place. This wasn't a time to mourn, it was a time to celebrate a new venture, new challenges, and new ways to grow as a person.

To Ater, leaving Descendants of Draenor wasn't was just business.

It was time for me to start treating it like a business. No more falling back on people behind the scenes. Time for me to step up and start making decisions. Time to take control.


Taking control is not easy, but it begins with a single step. For Descendants of Draenor, it would begin with me sitting down on my Father's couch, deep in the Canadian north, as I took those scribbled notes and typed out every unwritten rule, every bit of common sense that a player could claim ignorance of -- so that they could never again wield that power over me. And as for my life, I handed in my resignation at that agency, taking my expertise to a place where I'd be better utilized and appreciated. As I sat across the table from the interviewer, discussing my programming credentials and history with web application development, he leaned over the desk and dropped the bomb: 

"Do you play World of Warcraft?"

I smiled and replied, "Not only do I play WoW, but let me show you this recruitment tool I threw together..."


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