Thursday, May 5, 2016

4.70. These Eyes

You should have to beat Sid Meier's Colonization
before you are allowed to colonize the new world and
declare independence from the King.

Hopeful Parents

Something about the Mind's Eye test continued to bug me, days after I'd taken the online quiz. I really wanted to believe it! As much if not more so than the previously debunked Myers-Briggs "personality sorter". After all these years of pulling strings behind virtual avatars, the thought that I might possibly leave with some marketable skill was endearing. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to thumb my nose at convention and prove to naysayers that, yes, a video game did have the capacity to teach a real world skill. It was a lesson many needed to hear.

There was no shortage of dismissive commentary from the public whenever the topic came up. "Video games teaching real world skills" has long been the subject of debate, though "debate" is often code for "mockery". Gary Larson's infamous "Hopeful Parents" Far Side comic remains forever burned into my brain as an accurate representation of how the world sees such a claim. Unless your job description lists leaping barrels or ripping people's heads off while keeping their spine intact as a requirement, video games offer few opportunities for a person to learn something they could turn around and leverage in the blinding brightness outside.

The worst offenders were the edutainment titles (you're not fooling anyone, Math Blaster). Attempting to teach a kid core curriculum while wrapped in a pretty pink bow of a video game struck me as pathetic and sad. An industry of "experts" that knew nothing about the medium, struggling to be "hip" and "cool" and "down" with the kids, while the larger educational problem went ignored. Trying to make learning fun was an act of desperation a gamer could spot a mile away. And nothing irritated a gamer more than someone faking it. Come back to me when you have the Konami code memorized, pleb.

Educators had it all wrong -- they were researching and reporting against the wrong games. Climbing the magic beanstalk to educational epiphany required burying the magic beans far more deeply than topsoil. The true teaching gems were the video games that were nothing more than simply video games....yet indirectly bestowed skill upon the gamer without anyone being wiser.

Build and manage a city, just like what is expected of an actual mayor. Drum to the rhythm of colored bars that just happen to coincide with the sheet music of the actual song. Blow zombies apart by typing words (ok, this last one walks that fine edutainment line, but I'll allow it: the intent is to kill zombies, not learn to type). New examples pop up all the time. Gamers have known for years what academics and legislators are only beginning to acknowledge: games teach through transference. You're welcome.

Which brought me back to the "eyes" quandary: were these video games really teaching skills? Or were they simply awakening talent already dormant in the player, flexing and strengthening a muscle that some of us possessed and still others lacked. Yes, I dealt with a lot of people problems over the past seven years. Some I controlled, some I let control me. But I resolved exactly none of these issues by looking the person in the eyes and getting a read, interpreting their awkward body language. Alas, this was the cost of doing business online. The missing piece eluded my left brain... exactly had World of Warcraft made me any better at reading people...if I was unable to see them?

DoD completes the final meta, "Not an Ambi-Turner",
earning "Glory of the Firelands Raider",

Famous First Pull

Apologies, reader. There is no great story about DoD's final accomplishment as a 25-Man raiding guild. I didn't have to make frantic phone calls at the 11th hour, looking for emergency fillers. We didn't secure our final kill amidst player disconnections dealing with hurricanes pummeling their homes or cars smashing through their living room walls. DoD didn't struggle with the achievement, going at it again and again and again, bleeding out past the four hour mark, exhausted and at the end of our collective rope. In fact, there wasn't even a motivational "famous last pull!" chant, inspiring the crew just enough to close the deal. In reality, it was over before it began.

Our final accomplishment took but a single attempt. "Not an Ambi-Turner" demanded we kill Lord Rhyolith by only allowing him to make right turns. We entered the instance on time at 7:00pm. By 7:14pm, Rhyolith had been spun in a clockwise circle, and lay dead at our feet. Glory of the Firelands Raider flashed across the screen of every player in the roster. The deed was done.

Only 30 minutes after the start of our evening raid, we gathered outside Sulfuron Spire, hopped aboard our phoenix mounts, and swarmed the top of the tower. As the raid positioned themselves for the shot, my screen was filled with bursts of a blazing deep violet that shimmered against the burning red sky. The mood in Vent was upbeat. DoD chatted away cheerfully, reminiscing about what they liked and what "sucked ass" in Firelands. They were definitely very happy. They were both relieved and fulfilled. It was another accomplishment that DoD could claim in a long, storied history of raid progression, something that my guild still cared deeply about.

Glory of the Firelands Raider meant as much to the 25-Man progression team as Icecrown's Glory, Ulduar's Glory, or any of the raiding milestones that came prior to the advent of achievements. I might go so far as to claim it meant more to us than usual, having missed Tier 11's Glory amid many stumbling blocks, both in the raid and out. DoD was excited to wrap Firelands and show off their Corrupted Egg of Millagazor to the rest of the World...even if that World no longer noticed nor cared about a fancy mount.

The memory of DoD's last accomplishment is sobering upon reflection -- we endured some shit. The evaporation of recruitment forced us to wring the last remaining drops out of player availability. The team took on increasing responsibility of our success, which equated to players rolling alts and gearing again and again. That encroaching feeling of the walls closing in meant constant people management, forsaking any semblance of game/life balance once formerly in check. Facing the weekly threat of losing good people to 10-Man guilds or teams.

Yet, we persevered.

I can appreciate athletes that train at high altitudes or piano teachers that insist on blindfolds. Firelands (and, to a larger extent, WoW at that time) felt as if we weren't just felt as if we were raiding with our hands tied behind our backs.

So, reader, forgive the excess melancholy. If I come across too seriously about a video game, it's because I know the eventual outcome. As will you.

DoD poses outside Sulfuron Spire aboard their
newly acquired Corrupted Fire Hawks,

Hard to Starboard

As I spun the mousewheel, a picture of smiling faces scrolled into view. The faces collected around several tables shoved together at a restaurant, all smiling, all turned to face the camera. Descendants of Draenor.

Several of them raised a glass in toast, others grinned boastfully, proud to be a part of something bigger. Those who don't know or understand the gamer lifestyle will forever pigeonhole gamers into the antisocial stereotype, but you'd never know it by looking at this pic. This was just a group of friends, celebrating together, partying, reminiscing. And all the pairs of eyes looked back at the camera, as if saying, "Here's to DoD, Hanzo. Here's to you."

All but one.

Near the lens, sitting directly across from me, one pair of eyes was turned to look at something off-camera, as if unaware a guild photo was being taken mere inches from his face. A smirk lay half-settled on his lips, partially here, partially distracted. With every single guildy focused on the shot, he was the odd-man out.

What the hell is so fucking interesting that you can't even look at the camera, Drecca?

I laughed at what had to be a simple case of bad timing. Everyone takes an awful photo now and again: eyes closed as the shutter catches you mid-blink, mouth agape as the photographer presses the button. It catches up to you eventually, that one photo that makes us look like we've been kicked directly in the junk during "Cheese!" I scrolled further, to see if there was another, more flattering photo of my least favorite ex-guildy.

Sure enough, a second photo scrolled up into view, taken moments later. It was the "just in case" photo you take when you want to be sure you capture everyone in their most devilishly handsome state. Again, all faces were turned to the camera, grinning. In this particular pic, Goldenrod raised a glass in toast, mouth most certainly forming the words "For the Horde!"

There he was again, the odd-man out. Instead of being distracted, this second pic was even worse. Drecca's face was painted with a dead, blank stare, contemplating absolutely nothing in particular.

I zoomed in. In this second photo, he was the closest to the camera. There was no possible way he couldn't have known a picture was about to be snapped. You could reach right into the photo and flick him in the head. Hey. Wake up. Over here. Picture being taken. The guild gets together for events like this never. Pay attention for five seconds.

Nothing. He was completely checked out.

I looked at the two photos, then thought back to that glare he gave me, arms crossed, leaning back in his chair, that smirk across his face in response to my proposal -- that I had a good feeling about DoD in Cataclysm, that "it was doable," so long as everyone was in it for the long haul. I remember reading that smirk of his, and ignoring it. I remember the drama, reflecting on the damage he caused DoD by ripping a portion of my roster away in the Herp Derp exodus. I remember thinking only one thing: he had it planned all along. I beat myself up for not catching it sooner. He had that same look in his eyes as thieves from childhood, ones that screamed you're a fool to have thought I was ever on your team.

I looked at the two photos, and knew better now. There were no plans.

There was never a scheme, no great conspiracy to break my guild up and take my members away. That look Drecca gave me from across the table in the restaurant at the conclusion of BlizzCon 2010 wasn't one that spelled manipulation, or cunning, or dishonesty. It wasn't any look at all. Play. Don't play. Raid. Don't raid. Guild. No guild. Whatever.

He simply didn't care, not about the success -- or even the failure -- of DoD. He didn't even care where the lens was. He was aboard a ship of one, sailing, with neither destination nor purpose.

Contemplative. Panicked. Desire. Jealous. Indecisive. Playful. Guilty. Bored. Upset. Confident.



Anonymous said...

Really enjoying your blog! I'm imagining it as a story about a guild leader who descends into darkness after assigning the Shadowmourne legendary to himself.

"There was never a scheme, no great conspiracy to break my guild up"

Long after laying down Shadowmourne, sanity returns :)

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks for the support!

I think a good number of us seek closure, we want answers as to why things don't go our way (see: Just World Fallacy). I hope the readers get (by now) that this is something I've long struggled with, wanting to definitely point my finger at this one thing or this group of people or this particular event and say, "that...that right there...that's why everything went to shit."

As the gaming community knows all too well, it's easier to blame someone else than accept the notion that, maybe, *they themselves* were the biggest cause of it all.

Angelo said...

I've been saying this since mid-WoD. The community and the players must share some blame for how things are going in the game. They are players in an open world. A bunch of nerds in Irvine don't make us behave the way they we do.

Joredin said...

I remember that night and that photo! You need to post it in 'this' post, unless you already have somewhere else.

Shawn Holmes said...


I opted against posting the actual photo in here as it would allow the public to associate players in the guild with their RL info. I'm erring on the side of some players wishing to retain their privacy (and is also why I've avoided using real names).

Anonymous said...

Fucking hell, I loved the ending to this entry so much.