Thursday, May 28, 2015

4.38. Server First

As the level cap is removed, Syrophenikan surveys the
guild XP and those available to begin the grind to 25,
Tol Barad


10:51pm. Early. Upstairs, the kids slept. I heard Jul's footsteps as she passed by the computer room, leading the dogs out into the backyard. A few minutes later, she rapped on the heavy oak door. "Heading to bed. Good luck!"

"Night, hon. See you the morning."

Behind me, lights flicked off. The steps creaked as my wife headed upstairs. Shuffling. Water rushing through the plumbing in the hundred year old walls. And then, the house was still.

April 4th was an hour away, but in the World of Warcraft, the new day wouldn't truly begin until the clock read 3:00am.

Within hours of Cataclysm's launch, a limiter had been installed. It was an 11th hour band-aid to prevent expansive rosters from stomping over smaller guilds as we ground towards level 25. Nearly any guild related activity earned XP, so guilds of DoD's size and motivation could make short work of any fly-by-night 10-Man operation.

But that just wasn’t "fair".

Blizzard insisted on leveling the playing field; a guild's preference shouldn’t be held against it when racing to level 25. Each week, DoD capped guild XP a few days after reset, then waited patiently for the others to catch up by the following Monday. When 3:00am rolled around, we'd see just how level the playing field was.

Midnight. I carefully opened the computer room door, taking care to lift as I pushed, trying not to let it scrape across the floor. I snuck into the kitchen where an orange prescription bottle waited. Popping the lid off, I pulled the daily dose out, shooting the tiny pink tablet with a glass of water.


"I want to be clear that this is not a reflection on his intelligence; he's exceptional, particularly with reading. I love having him come up to the front of the class and read. He tells me his Grandmother taught him."

"Shawn spent a lot of time with her because I had to work, not having a husband to support us."

"He's been reading fifth grade content to a class of first graders, easily in top percentile for his age group. But, Shawn's also having a tough time staying focused, his mind wanders during focused assignment work, and is very easily distracted by the other kids..."

"That sounds like a problem with the other children."

" well as being a distraction himself, Mrs. Holmes. He also has a tough time completing tasks, he tends to rush through them..."

"Well, that's probably because he's got video games on the brain. Taking them away should give him more than enough time to do his homework."

"...I can appreciate you wanting to solve this entirely in the home, Mrs. Holmes, but I would still like to have him assessed. There is a possibility that he may need help that is beyond your…"

"Mr. Bergink, my son doesn’t need any tests or any drugs to get what he wants out of life. My father was a foreman on the Canadian National Railway for forty years and was still able to raise three boys and a daughter. And he sure as hell didn’t do it with any medications. Do you think I don’t know what’s right for my son?"

"Mrs. Holmes, I apologize. I never meant to imply that…"

"What he needs is discipline, and that's something I can handle. So you can take your assessment, and give it to some of the other 'distractions' in your classroom."

"He's got a healthy lead on his peers. If we don't take steps now, that gap is going to close, and Shawn’s very likely going to be left behind."

"I'll handle the steps from here on out. And for the record, it’s 'Ms.'"

I wouldn't find out about the conversation between my first grade teacher and my mother for another twenty-eight years.

Channels Forever Flipping

Jul had me pegged within the first year of marriage. She, like Bergink, noted the inattentiveness, the inability to follow-through on long projects. Discussions around menial tasks exploded in violent outbursts: dishes, laundry, cooking, doing the bills: bamboo shoots under my fingernails would've been less painful. If it didn't interest me, it was torturous, so I gravitated towards work I loved. Employers always had the same stance. Too fast. Not enough attention to detail. I was always rushing, always with one daydream on the brain.

Video games.

It took twelve years of persistent, gentle reminders from my wife to get me in to the doc's office. Diagnosis: "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder". Symptoms included a shortened attention span, challenges with focus, forgetfulness, and a noticeable acute case of my Mother rolling her eyes. The doc started me on 20mg that day, which I popped on my way back to work. I couldn't recall if she'd mentioned any side-effects. My mind had already drifted back to the guild, to progression, to Kael'thas, to Ater leaving for Illinois. Channels forever flipping in the TV of the mind.


If you've never written a line of code, I envy you. This must be what it's like to learn to read and go crazy at the same time. Staring at unintelligible squiggles that mean nothing as your brain tries to make sense of the curves and shapes and patterns that you were certain made sense an hour ago. I never had the luxury of illiteracy. As long as I can remember, I've been able to read and write. Coding must feel like those first years of learning to read. Even on your best days, you catch yourself baffled by your own writing, wondering just what in the hell you were trying to say.

I rattled off another few lines of code, saved, alt-tabbed, refreshed my web browser, and confirmed the last change. Finished. An unexciting drop-down menu with a list of restaurant franchisee owners stared back. Perfect. Just as the spec dictated. Done and in the bag.

I lingered.

I stared at the list of fictional names, then flipped back to the spec...then back to the list again. I popped the menu open, then closed it. Again. And again. This isn't right. The menu sucked. I hated it. I looked at the spec again. The spec sucked. The whole damn system sucked.

It sucked because it wasn't usable.

The channels in my mind stopped flipping. I tore down the entire interface and rebuilt it. Someone, somewhere, was eventually going to have to sit down and use this thing. Something compelled me to make it right. I sat there, without distraction, until it was right. Until it made sense.

Years of darkness now bathed in the full glow of a halogen lamp. But for the love of God, man. How the hell do you turn it off?


The clock glowed 2:30am. I was wide awake. I tossed. I turned. I fumbled with the pillow. I kicked the covers off, then pulled them back up. "Delayed Release" was what I missed the doc saying, distracted by the flipping channels, the video games, the WoW. A 20mg capsule of Adderall specially engineered to deposit medicine into the bloodstream, well into the evening, was strangling me awake.

Beware the dangers of taking your ADHD medication late in the day. It is insomnia in pill form.

Unless, of course, that’s what you want.

Voluntary Insomniac

3:00am. Twenty DoDers were burning the midnight oil. Invites went out. Dungeon groups formed. Pipes unkinked, the golden guild XP flowed once more. Any guild participating should’ve hovered at the tail end of Guild Level 22. At 3:30am, we broke 23.

As the early morning crept in, twenty players dwindled to five. I carried on, bursting with energy, never blinking, chipping away at the guild xp bar, through 4 and 5 am. Those late night players, having dropped from exhaustion, were replaced by morning people, guildies who got an hour of dailies in before my alarm clock buzzed. I tagged in the early morning stares and kept the guild XP flowing.

I hopped up for bio breaks between these dozen-dungeon-streaks, slurping coffee and wolfing down snacks, but was never away from the keyboard for more than a few minutes. 7am became 9:30am, and 9:30am became 11, hour after hour, lost to a blur of guild activity. As the sun rose, guildies continued to log on. There were always faces, waiting and willing to contribute. By noon, I felt like a million bucks. I needed no break. But I was curious how long it would last.

It was around 2:00pm that I began to feel the effects of being awake for thirty-one hours solid. Exhaustion is one thing entirely, something you come to recognize when your hobby is long-distance driving. The reduced reflexes, a bobbing head, slurred speech. Eyelids of unbearable weight.

This time, exhaustion came in an unfamiliar form. Instead of heavy eyelids, my eyes themselves felt like glowing rings, two halos propped open by a ghostly apparatus. My faculties seemed intact, my reflexes were ostensibly still sharp, my fortieth clear of Blackrock Caverns no slower than the first. But a disturbing feeling set in, one of mindless automation. If a soul exists, it had retired twelve hours earlier, and some unearthly fuel now powered an empty husk, clicking buttons, tapping keys, zombified. Nothing more than a calculator executing instructions.

Even now, it’s difficult to describe how I felt. But it wasn’t good. The longer it went on, the more I wished never to swear that curse upon my worst enemy.

At 3:42pm, in the middle of the Stonecore, a message flashed up on the screen.

Descendants of Draenor has reached Guild Level 24!

[Mature][Guild Chat]: I think I need to lie down.

I trudged upstairs to the bedroom, sparking neurons still firing as I tried to math out what time I needed to be up by. 3:30am to 3:42pm got us one guild level. 12 hours. One level. I need to be up by 4:00am, then. No. 3:00. Better make that 2:00. Yeah. Then I can help wrap this up. Mm, but wait, more peeps logging in. Which means they'll be grouping more. So...more dungeons, no no...less. Less dungeons. Faster. Because...they'll be earning faster. Yeah. That's right.

I think...

...the sky outside was dark. Did I miss work? No, that wasn't right. But the read 8:36pm...


I rolled out of bed, shot down the staircase, and swung into the computer room. Moments later, I was back online, surveying our status. Guild Level 24 was rapidly reaching its end. Three times as many players were now online, navigating down the white water rapids of guild XP. I hopped back into the fray, by 9:00pm, we were 60% into the level. An hour and a half later, the bar bled past the 90% mark.

Did we have an hour to go? A half hour? It didn’t matter. We didn’t stop. The evening was a blur of Deadmines, Stonecore, Grim Batol and Lost City of the Tol’vir. By 10:30pm, we had 74 guild members online, all running dungeons, bouncing between gearing alts, knocking out achievements, working their way through Vortex Pinnacle, Halls of Origination, Throne of the Tides…

[22:51:26] [Descendants of Draenor] "Descendants of Draenor" has earned the achievement [Realm First! Guild Level 25]!

It was our one and only server first. The hardcore raiding guilds, destined to forever beat us at raid progression, somehow slipped behind. And despite a guild leader's terrible pharmaceutical decision, DoD won the day.

I never did find out if it was a photo finish. I like to imagine other guilds weren't close at all. For a single moment in DoD's history, cliques melted away, petty arguments were pushed to the wayside, raid teams carried no weight, and the chain-of-command meant nothing. That day, every single member of DoD contributed, regardless of rank or status, a juggernaut that smashed its way to a landslide victory, and no one individual was the deciding factor.

I like to think that, because the alternative is bound to keep me awake at night.

1 comment:

Littlebear said...

This was seriously one of my favorite moments in my entire WoW career.

- LB