Nope, I’ve Got No Issues With “Comfortable”

You see, I just spent 18 hours of the last Saturday, literally every waking moment not devoted to food or personal hygiene, seated in front of a computer…

… not having ANY fun at all.

Because the darned thing was malfunctioning, and all leisure activities had to be put aside, with troubleshooting the sudden new priority.

At that point, I would have traded a good many things to get back to my simple regular non-stressful routine of dabbling around doing dailies in a “comfortable” game, in a comfortable chair.

The trouble began Friday night, when I logged in for my usual Teq and Wurm runs.

GW2 was freezing on me.

As in, a complete hang with mouse cursor frozen, inability to ctrl+alt+delete and the only way to get out of it was a hard reset.

The hell.

This was, of course, not good for any semblance of normal blood pressure since rebooting would -obviously- mean I fall out of the correct megaserver map instance and have to try my luck spam taxing back in.

Before long, I stopped worrying about even getting into the correct map, because I was consistently triggering a freeze every time I opened Teamspeak alongside GW2 and switched into a channel with people talking.

?!!??!?!

This was fine yesterday, and the day before that, and the months before that!

I’d changed nothing with my computer between yesterday and today!

Utterly bamboozled, I decided that maybe I was straining the RAM on my computer by having multiple programs open at once and gave up Teamspeak as a lost cause for the night (which didn’t bode well for any future fun with TTS until I could figure out the issue) and just sat in Sparkfly Fen on a pug Teq map brooding on possible causes and solutions.

10 minutes in, the system froze again.

WTF?

Hard reset, retreated from the crowded map, sat in Lion’s Arch to get some crafting and TPing done – some secondary productive activity anyway, though I really wanted to be killing Wurm – while trying to see if the problem still persisted.

I bought a mass of sigils from the TP for a little experiment, and the “Take All” triggered a freeze.

Fuck.

Hard reset again, log in, try not to do anything more strenuous than stick stuff, jigsaw-puzzle like, into the Mystic Forge.

30-45 minutes into this, freeze yet again.

YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME.

Completely unable to enjoy any aspect of the game in a normal fashion, I ended up giving GW2 up as a lost cause for what remained of the night (not very much) and started basic troubleshooting.

Maybe it was a memory issue? The Resource Monitor did seem to indicate that having both GW2 and TS running was exhausting the “Free” memory, but there was still a lot of blue-colored “Standby” memory remaining – I’d already switched to Win 7 64-bit to combat the problem…

…maybe I was running out of swapfile? I was admittedly a little low on the free HDD space, so I ended up on a mass transfer-data-to-external-hard-disk deletion spree.

Temperatures of the CPU and GPU were all normal, so that couldn’t be it either…

Then with a sinking feeling in my chest, I suspected I had a real problem when the mouse cursor froze up on the desktop with nothing more strenuous open than Windows Explorer and Firefox (plus regular startup programs.)

Maybe it wasn’t a GW2 specific issue after all.

There was more disk space free on both drives than had ever existed in the past month, the pagefile had plenty of room to play with…

I shut the computer off for the night because I was tired of hard resetting (and worried about how much strain it was putting on my ancient PC)  and just overall tired and sleepy, and was rather hoping to wake up in the morning and find that it was all a bad dream and that everything would be back to normal in the morning.

It wasn’t.

I got on to GW2 just fine, gingerly stepping into LA, expecting a freeze any minute now.

It didn’t come, so I logged onto Mumble in preparation for WvW reset. As I switched into the guild’s channel, I heard our comm say someone invite Jeromai to a group…and then yep, the computer froze.

Well, shit.

Cue hard reset. Cue all the attendant stress and obligation that comes from having social networks and connections and expectations online – though fortunately, this was pre-battle and not like, a dc in the middle of a raid or something where your not-being-functional could cause an immediate wipe of a mass of people counting on you.

Went through the slooow loading Windows, loading GW2 process and finally logged in, to explain why the party invite and I was just sitting there unresponsive (and probably greyed out and offline) and then backed out of any WvW reset parties to grimly face a morning’s worth of troubleshooting.

Little did I know.

Sure enough, just sitting there in LA and switching into a Mumble channel where folks were talking produced fairly consistent freezing. It wasn’t -just- Teamspeak. It seemed to be all VOIP.

Goddamn it, was I doomed to a future in-game life with no contact with the VOIP-using player subset?

Hell, I didn’t even need to be running in GW2. Just sitting in Mumble could cause the freezes. (Silver lining, WvW reset goes for over three hours, so there’s lots of time to find channels where people are talking to stress test my system while troubleshooting…)

Googling up “computer freezes” in relation to VOIP presented a whole smorgasbord of possibilities:

  • There was something apparently called DPC latency, which had an impact on whether computers could handle real-time data streams, and may be the cause of audio-drop outs and a couple seconds of freezing. (Except my freezing was a LOT worse than a couple seconds.)
  • My RAM could be failing.
  • My hard disk drives could failing.
  • My power supply could be failing, and so on.

(None of the above were particularly incredible possibilities, since my computer IS 7+ years old by now, with all the hardware inside likely way past their warranties.

These were all not fun possibilities to consider. The RAM failing wouldn’t have been a matter of just going out to buy new ones to slot in.

It’s DDR2 RAM – who sells DDR2 RAM these days?  My mobo is too old for DDR3 RAM. I’d have to switch the motherboard, which meant the CPU as well, which meant pretty much embarking on the whole new computer adventure at a time when my budget still can’t really deal with an SGD $2000 purchase. Besides, new computer would mean reinstalling Windows and all the programs, a day of intensive effort I never look forward to.

A hard disk failing would mean potential data loss, having to copy over stuff from the last not-terribly-recent backup, more reinstallation of stuff, and oh, cracking open the case to swap in a new one. Still not fun.

A new power supply would cost about double the price of a hard disk or two sticks of RAM, and still involve an opened case and lots and lots of rewiring and computer surgery.)

  • Or it could be a virus.
  • Or maybe… could it be some kind of driver or IRQ conflict?

Cudgeling the memory suddenly revealed that I -had- changed one thing between yesterday and the day before that.

I’d absent-mindedly plugged in my phone to transfer some photos, and this was apparently the first time I’d done so with my new-ish Windows 7 operating system, because it did its usual automatic “installing drivers” schtick.

They weren’t the ‘official’ drivers from some CD loaded with plenty of branded bloatware, just whatever Windows 7 had decided of its own accord was worthwhile to use. It had worked for the purposes of transferring pictures… but had Windows 7 been too clever and rearranged something it shouldn’t have?

  • Or it could be the anti-virus itself getting too smart of its own good.

I’d been running Avast antivirus, with its multiple shields, and I couldn’t help but notice in the stats provided that its File System Shield seemed to be scanning a lot of files, at roughly the same time I was having all the freezing problems. Coincidence?

So many possible angles. No real clue of where to start.

Suffice to say, there was a lot of scanning.

That terrible boring activity of watching a progress bar creep slowly up percent by percent while listening to your hard disk spin away, hoping not to hear any funny sounds or see any errors pop up on screen.

There were a lot of freezes mid-scan attempts. It is not a fun thing to attempt to surf to Malwarebytes’ website and have the computer freeze on you. VIRUS? TROJAN? ROOTKIT? are all things that go through your mind.

The second attempt post umpteenth hard reset worked… so maybe not…

DPC latency checker or watching resource monitor was consistently triggering a freeze about a minute or two into watching the info display.

There were scans of the hard disks for functionality. Seemed ok.

There was writing MemTest to a CD to boot from so that the RAM could be checked. Seemed ok.

There was lunch sometime between scans and brooding, barely tasted.

If anything, it’d gotten worse.

I was only getting into normal mode Windows for about 2-3 minutes before the whole system would freeze, which isn’t much diagnostics time at all.

The one saving grace was that safe mode Windows (with networking even) seemed to work fine… and was even pretty stable.

No freezes there.

So it -probably- wasn’t a major hardware issue, was the afternoon’s conclusion.

What was intensely weird was that taking out all the startup programs and services using msconfig in safe-mode, and then starting up normal mode with that very selective startup of absolutely nothing worth mentioning… was still producing freezes.

There was a battery of virus scans in safe mode, all coming up negative.

Seeing those results, I uninstalled Avast to see if that would help the problem any. Still no go. Still plenty of freezing in normal mode.

In the evening, I took a break in safe-mode to make some backups of my recent data (like screenshots!)… just in case it really was a failing hard disk, I’d regret it if I had time to salvage stuff and didn’t, after all.

NO FREEZES IN SAFE-MODE. FOR THE HOURS IT TOOK TO TRANSFER GIGABYTES WORTH OF STUFF.

WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON.

During the enforced break, I discussed the whole perplexing issue with a friend, and we started leaning towards the possibility of a driver conflict and/or IRQ conflict.

It was weirdly suspicious, I told him, that the IRQs for safe mode and normal mode were differently assigned. My Creative X-Fi soundcard was sitting on IRQ 3 on safe mode, and IRQ 20 on normal. A bunch of various USB hubs on the mobo were seemingly chaotically arranged and sharing IRQs on normal, but looked a little more organized on safe mode. My graphics card had a negative IRQ on normal mode – was that usual? Sadly, I didn’t know, since you know, one never bothers to look at these things when the computer’s running smoothly. Did I really scramble something by plugging in my phone and letting Windows 7 have its way with things?

Annoyingly, there appeared to be no easy way to manually re-assign IRQs with Windows 7. The operating systems have gotten too smart to allow that kind of thing.

The conclusion reached was that it was time to crack open the case and try to isolate the problem from there.

Urgh.

Did I mention the dust in the case?

And that I’ve lately figured out that I have a dust allergy from a) developing a seriously runny nose and congested lungs from inhaling dust thrown up in the air and b) symptoms subsiding when I swallow an antihistamine pill?

If things were normal, I could have been just happily mining for iron and platinum ore instead, I thought mournfully, as I opened the screws and tried not to inhale.

Or static discharge anything into valuable components. (There’s one plus for living in a country with high humidity. Not many static shocks here, if you don’t spend your days rubbing across carpeted flooring.)

Swapped and reseated the RAM. Turned the main power back on. Booted up. Still freezes. No go.

Turned the main power off. Removed the soundcard. Booted up.

No freezing. Or at least… for five minutes and counting, which is about double the improvement already.

Crap. Really?

Googling up “Creative X-Fi” and “freezing” brought up an inordinate number of hits, especially in relation to Windows 7 and 8 and driver issues, and plenty of complaints about Creative being slow-ass sons-of-bitches who don’t update drivers quickly, or write competent ones to begin with, and that folks were having freezes that required hard resets to get out of in virtually every game you could name.

It was officially night, and one had finally narrowed down the possibilities to the probable culprit.

It made a certain kind of sense, it had been two voice programs triggering audio issues, after all, before things escalated to freezing any time it felt like it.

But but… it’d been acting fine for the months since I’d switched to Windows 7, and installed all the official drivers (last updated Feb 2014, for Windows 8) from the sad little page labeled with “End of Service Life.”

And I really really liked the sound my X-Fi produces. On-board sound just isn’t in the same league, by far.

Further study revealed that the motherboard had a second PCI slot. Friend suggested swapping in the soundcard into that one instead.

Did so.

Yadda yadda long story short, booted up, well, hey, still no freeze… checking the IRQs showed it had reassigned itself to 19 instead of 20… maybe that helped?

Friend headed off, celebratorily triumphant, thinking we’d licked the problem.

I sat down to some well-deserved and much-delayed GW2 dailies… when the computer froze again.

SERIOUSLY. FUCK THIS.

Suffice to say that I essentially skipped dinner, and went through many permutations of safe-mode and normal-mode, doing everything I could to first disable Creative X-Fi (which resulted in stability long enough to finish GW2 dailies, giving me at least some stress reduction in that department) and then wiping clean every trace of Creative drivers and programs and registry traces that may have been producing conflicts with each other and other drivers (Driver Sweeper was pretty useful) and then crossing my fingers and reinstalling cleanly the official ones again.

(I would have gone to the unofficial ones next if the official ones failed. I was pretty much operating on a whole “If this… then that” systematic list by that time.)

There were the odd occasional scares between reboots when Windows failed to detect the soundcard at all, then detected the soundcard and installed its own version of an appropriate driver (dated 2011, no idea where it found those) which ironically seemed to work, but of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to try for the 2014 ones, then it couldn’t detect the soundcard again, and then only detected the soundcard partially (playback was missing, but the microphone inputs were there, what?) and so on and so forth.

Eventually, one install seemed to take.

When I screwed the cover back on and righted the case, the most godawful noise started buzzing out of the box. It sounded like a dying jet engine in severe distress. A whining spinning sort of propeller noise with plenty of death rattle in it.

DEAR GOD ALMIGHTY, IS THAT A HARD DISK DYING, OR IS IT ONLY THE FRONT FAN?

Both hard disks and the fan were in the same place, so it was rather difficult to isolate the sound. Whatever it was, it sounded like it was going to tear itself apart any second now.

There was much hasty shutting down, powering off, and un-righting of the computer case back to the horizontal. Reverse those things to boot back up, but nope, even with the case flat, that noise was still unhappily going at it.

Much listening. Much gingerly touching the hard disks with the power on and that godawful noise to check for vibrations, hoping not to zap myself.

It’s the fan, I told myself. It’s probably the fan. All that movement of the case maybe jostled a wire and got it rubbing against the fan blades… or a chunk of dust fell into it and now it’s misbalanced and complaining like a very pissed off mistreated centrifuge.

Well, there’s no way I can operate the computer with that noise.

I had to get at the fan. How am I going to get at the fan with two hard disks in the way? So the front panel came off, with much struggle, and way too much fucking dust.

I guess I forgot to clean that part of it, though I vacuum the rest of the insides once in a blue moon. (It’s a see-through Cooler Master case, one tends to go for the visible stuff and forget the rest.)

It’s the middle of the night, no one sells cans of compressed air at this hour and I didn’t want to drive out and interrupt the troubleshooting process any further anyway. So enter much lugging in of the modest-power vacuum cleaner and much careful hoovering away at the fan, without touching anything (fortunately, static is still not the major issue it is in temperate countries) and without sending the fan spinning too much, which might create unwanted dynamo effects and electricity generated in the wrong places.

Powered back on. Blissful comparative silence. It was the fan after all, and it was now thankfully behaving.

Undergo everything in reverse once again. Move vacuum out of room. Replace cover. Right computer. Boot up. Cross fingers. Load Windows. Still no freeze. So far so good.

I had supper at midnight and went to bed shortly after. Not a great recipe for avoiding acid reflux, I assure you.

The next morning was a case of gingerly tiptoeing around the system, testing out listening to voice programs alone and in conjunction with GW2, getting the startup programs re-enabled and testing if GW2 and VOIP would still work, and finally reinstalling a new antivirus program (gone over to Avira now, not sure if Avast really was being too smart for its own good, but the insistent ‘feature’ ads were getting to me regardless.)

I’m still getting a mild case of audio crackles and pops when someone speaks too loudly over VOIP, but I think I can live with that over freezes for now.

I’ll troubleshoot that ANOTHER time.

Really, sometimes it takes a crisis to appreciate what you had and took for granted.

I’ll happily play with my “boring” and comfortable GW2 that apparently lacks content in relation to other MMOs and attend a daily Teq and Wurm, being actually able to hear VOIP communication, and go from node to node harvesting stuff any day over Saturday’s 18 hour troubleshooting marathon. ANY DAY. ANY TIME.

IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE.

WoW: 10 Years, 10 Questions

Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated...

Like it or not, WoW has been an institution in the public consciousness for a very long time.

The 10 Years, 10 Questions survey by ALT: ernative Chat seems to have taken off like wildfire and become at least a shared point of reference to unite the now disparate interests of MMO game bloggers for a time.

So why the hell not join in?

Though these are thoughts from a WoW contrarian’s POV:

1) Why did you start playing World of Warcraft?

I attempted it twice.

Once was juuust before the game officially launched, when I decided that even though I was burned out like hell on the raid concept and avoided Everquest like the plague, I may as well take advantage of the FREE beta to give the game a fair shake before dismissing it.

It took about 3 continuous days of leaving the computer on in a sweltering tropical climate wondering if I should use up even more electricity by running the air-conditioner for 72 hours to cool the computer down to download the client.

Something about their fancy bittorrent strategy to save bandwidth costs on their end, wasn’t playing well with my ISP. My download speeds were throttled, and throttled good.

That was, perhaps, not the best of first impressions.

Of course, since I left it till the last minute, I literally had about 1 hour of game time, snatched in the morning before I had to leave for work, after which WoW would officially launch and I’d have to pay to play it. Box + Sub fee. Quite a big hurdle to overcome.

I made a Tauren… something. Druid, I think.

Logged in, admired how clearly they laid out everything for newcomers to the genre (I’m a big fan of well-designed tutorials, even if I don’t need them, because well, they show good design and successfully attracting and retaining newbies without turning them off = success) and attempted to do some quests.

Somewhere just past retrieving something from the well, and facing the prospect of goodness-knows-how-many Kill X Whatevers quests in a tutorial area I’d seen was small and cramped and limited (for those said newbies not to be confused, I geddit), I said, there’s no way I’m getting past this in an hour, this is kinda boring, I don’t want to raid anyway so no interest in endgame, so what is the point of advancing further? Just to see numbers exponentially go up?

Then I nope’d right out.

Cue a long period of doing just fine without WoW and forseeing burn out of many at around year 4.

Couple years later, colleague at work started playing WoW like an addict, bringing his shiny new laptop in to sneak in game time during downtime periods.

Ended up essentially spectating him leveling, going through Battlegrounds and so on, mostly with a tolerant knowing smirk that the raid endgame wasn’t for me and trying to sell him on City of Heroes instead.

We sort of peer pressured each other to try out our favorite MMOs. For a time, anyway. Like the free month on the box, in both directions.

The one thing that ended up selling me on a second try of WoW was the smoothness of how his hunter went from mob to mob killing stuff. I -love- smooth, slick, medititative combat grind or farming, whatever term you want to use when referring to killing a whole bunch of easy mobs in quick succession.

The animations were quick and responsive and a little cartoony but just felt good even while merely watching him play.

I guess I could stand to buy a now-cheaper box bundle of WoW plus the Burning Crusade expansion and just enjoy the feeling of combat for a while.

2) What was the first ever character you rolled?

Tauren Druid, I guess. Because it could shapechange and stuff, and I like monster-y races.

I rolled it a second time when I re-tried WoW again, and this time managed to get up to the level where you could turn into a bear, and then the feral cat. Enjoyed the smoothness of the feral cat DPS combat quite a bit, but then had hunter envy watching my work colleague solo stuff and crank out level after level.

I think it was around that time that Cataclysm dropped as well. That was another reason to try WoW, I wanted to get a quick sense of the ‘before’  and then see the ‘after’ and check out what had been  ‘improved’ on.

Post-Cata, I rolled an Undead Hunter – a skeleton archer that ended up reminding me of Clinkz from DOTA.

That became essentially my “main” or the leveling character that got the furthest ahead, up to level 63, thanks to the well-arranged but very meta-gamey post-Cataclysm quest hubs.

I got up to the first flying mount level, flew around for a bit, ended up in the… Outlands, is that what it’s called? The Burning Crusade content level range, which was still full of the oldschool BORING Fed-Ex Kill Ten Rats shit (except now it was more like kill 27 somethings, and there’s a good chance it won’t drop the entrails you want anyway, so it’s really kill 33 more)… and cracked.

Couldn’t take it anymore, and gave it up as a bad idea yet again and ended the sub.

To this day, the poor skeleton guy is still logged-off somewhere in that other dimension.

3) Which factors determined your faction choice in game?

Horde for life!

Um, I played orcs in the Warcraft RTS games?

Because there were far more interesting monster-like and ‘ugly’ races over Horde side than the boring pretty humanoid ones on the Alliance side?

And it didn’t really matter anyway because I just hopped to another server and rolled a Draenei and a Worgen to try them out, the only two races I had a real interest in on the other side.

4) What has been your most memorable moment in Warcraft and why?

Let’s see: it would either have to be the first breaking point where I nope’d right out of the last 5 hours of the beta.

Or it would be somewhere around that time where I went swimming to some island just off the Orc coast (I can’t even remember what class that Orc was), across the way from some NPC troll village and then accidentally died to a shark or something in the water.

I’d apparently crossed some zone boundary or other without knowing it, because I turned up as a ghost at the ‘nearest shrine’ and when I rezzed there because there was no fucking way I was going to retrace my footsteps all the way back to the frickin’ ocean, I was like level 15 in a level 30+ zone.

EVERYTHING was a deep deep purple.

Cue a whole series of deaths, where I was calculating my chances of dying in sequence trying to ‘shrine hop’ towards a zone where I would maybe stand a fighting chance?

Ended up eventually reaching a town / quest hub where I found a more-or-less affordable (ie. nearly everything my lowbie had earned via quest rewards so far) griffon ride taxi back to the “correct” zone for my level range, cursing under my breath about being penalized in monetary terms for exploring, instead of being a good orc peon and following the defined questing route like a carrot-seeking Achiever.

Or it would be the second breaking point where I stood in the middle of demon-infested lands and couldn’t repeat the same thing I’d been doing for the past 63 levels, just in less hidden, less streamlined and not-much-story form.

With memories like that, I suppose that explains why I don’t really play WoW.

5) What is your favourite aspect of the game and has this always been the case?

How smooth and slick the dang combat is, animations and all.

Yep.

It got someone not at all impressed with the foundations of WoW (vertical progression, bait-and-switch leveling to raid game, raid endgame) to play the game for a time, just to enjoy pew-pewing stuff for a while.

I bet they had a testing and iteration period where they really -nailed- the optimum time-to-kill for a normal mob to fall over and die, how many attacks it should take to feel right, and so on.

It works. It really does. It has this ridiculous addictive “just-one-more-mob” quality to it.

6) Do you have an area in game that you always return to?

Err… considering I can barely name any area in game, the answer has to be no.

Maybe Orgrimmar, if only because all my Horde characters end up funneled there in the “proper” course of things? An inn, because of rested XP?

7) How long have you /played and has that been continuous?

No clue.

In real life terms, maybe a month or two or three’s worth of sub time?

Not continuous, no. The longest was that two month stint casually leveling the skeleton archer, I mean, Undead Hunter.

8) Admit it: do you read quest text or not?

I tried.

Then I compared the quality of the couple of sentences to the longer elaborate sagas found in LOTRO, where I actually had a vested interest in the lore, and gave up doing it in WoW.

Easier to do like the Romans do, put on a Quest Helper mod, follow the shiny dots and arrow and play the game efficient OCD Achiever-style. It’s primarily the main playstyle that’s rewarded by ding after ding, after all.

9) Are there any regrets from your time in game?

Not personally, no.

I played what I wanted, experienced what I wanted, and stopped when I didn’t feel like playing any longer, no hard feelings.

I do kinda regret how this massive WoW giant etched into the collective gamer consciousness an “understanding” that THIS IS THE ONLY WAY THINGS SHOULD BE and that every MMO should feel and play like WoW.

But I’ve gotten over it and decided that with the passage of time, enough people will burn out of this phase to populate other games, and one may as well look at the silver lining and say that the WoW zeitgeist at least introduced a ton more people than would have otherwise got into MMOs or games to the basic concept.

10) What effects has Warcraft had on your life outside gaming?

Not very much?

Perhaps providing a vague frame of reference or conversation topic, where one actually meets another person in real life who admits to playing MMOs and then it turns out that they only blindly and faithfully play WoW, and then we end up exhausting that as a subject because it’s either I smile and nod politely while they tell me all about the next piece of gear they’ve gotten from a random roll (sorta like being accosted by that stereotypical someone who just wants to regale you with all the stories his last D&D character got up to, though that’s never really happened to me)…

…or they try to get me hooked “You should play too,” which then naturally segues into asking why I don’t, and them blinking with uncomprehending eyes while I bite down on the words ‘endless treadmill’ and ‘hamster wheel‘ and try to explain the difference between vertical and lateral progression options, and inclusive versus exclusive mindsets, and how clever game design can affect the way players behave in-game.

The conversation tends to stop after that.

Uh, yeah. Not much.

On Fantasy and Reality (and Violence?)

A million stories tell us that woods are magic places... what the cat with a giant sword on fire is doing there, I dont know...

From as early on as I can remember, I have always grown up with the fantastic.

80s cartoons like “He-Man, Masters of the Universe,”  “The Centurions,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Transformers” and their attendant advertisements were always an important part of my childhood.

Were they violent?

Well, they did involve lots of battles against villains, and a truckload of laser blasts and rocket explosions.

A dozen years on, a class project involved another group of classmates who gleefully projected the number of laser shots fired and explosions and so on in just one episode of X-Men.

I think their count was somewhere in the 80-100 number range.

From there, I think they were trying to make some kind of point about how media influences our lives and our perceptions, and linking cartoon violence to real violence – you know, that thing that has been going on with video games and violence for the past dozen years now.

I remember being ridiculously skeptical because my biggest take-home from watching entire SEASONS worth of X-Men was that discrimination of the mutant or the outsider for the color of their skin (or how many arms they had) was unfair and hurtful.

This was also the same class project where my own group attempted to belittle Xena: Warrior Princess for being demeaning to women by camera angles that always insisted on a boob shot before panning to the face.

A couple of years later, the advent of popular internet revealed to our general knowledge how feminists and lesbian groups were praising the show for not shying away from using two females as their main characters and passing the Bechdel Test with flying colors… so you might indeed want to treat our adolescent attempts at matching our teacher’s assigned theme with a hefty helping of salt grains.

These days, I think adults too often project their own fears and interpretations onto the kids themselves.

Has anyone ever asked the children what they’re thinking?

One such person that did is Gerard Jones, author of “Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super-Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence” and he goes on to say:

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that young people emulate literally what they see in entertainment. That if they like a rapper who insults gays, then they must be learning hostility to gays, and if they love a movie hero who defeats villainy with a gun, then they must be learning to solve problems with violence. There is some truth in that. One of the functions of stories and games is to help children rehearse for what they’ll be in later life. Anthropologists and psychologists who study play, however, have shown that there are many other functions as well – one of which is to enable children to pretend to be just what they know they’ll never be. Exploring, in a safe and controlled context, what is impossible or too dangerous or forbidden to them is a crucial tool in accepting the limits of reality. Playing with rage is a valuable way to reduce its power. Being evil and destructive in imagination is a vital compensation for the wildness we all have to surrender on our way to being good people.

In focusing so intently on the literal, we overlook the emotional meaning of stories and images. The most peaceful, empathetic, conscientious children are often excited by the most aggressive entertainment. Young people who reject violence, guns and bigotry in every form can sift through the literal contents of a movie, game, or song and still embrace the emotional power at its heart. Children need to feel strong. They need to feel powerful in the face of a scary, uncontrollable world. Superheroes, video-game warriors, rappers, and movie gunmen are symbols of strength. By pretending to be them, young people are being strong.

Adults, however, often react to violent images very differently – and in the gap between juvenile and adult reactions, some of our greatest misunderstandings and most damaging disputes are born. Soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many toy retailers reported sharp increases in sales of G.I. Joe and other militaristic toys. But some of those same retailers also began pulling such toys from the shelves, largely in response to parents’ requests. Newspaper stories reported that many parents were forbidden violent toys and entertainment in their homes as a reaction to the tragedy. One mother said she’d hidden her sons’ toy soldiers because “It’s bad enough that they see the Army in the airport.”

Many of us worried about how we would help children deal with the terror of September 11, but when I went into the classrooms, I found that the children were far less shaken than their parents and teachers. Most of them talked about the horrific images they’d seen with a mixture of anger and excitement – and a lot of them wanted to draw pictures, tell stories, or play games involving planes destroying buildings or soldiers fighting terrorists. This isn’t a failure to react appropriately to tragedy: this is how children deal with it. When something troubles them, they have to play with it until it feels safer….

…Adults are generally more empathetic, more attuned to the greater world, and more literalistic than children. We are more likely to feel the pain and anxiety caused by real violence when we see it in make-believe. It troubles us to see our kids having fun with something we deplore. We fear that they are celebrating or affirming a horror that we desperately want to banish from reality. We want them to mirror our adult restraint, seriousness, compassion and pacifism. But they can’t – and shouldn’t – mimic adult reactions. Play, fantasy, and emotional imagination are essential tools of the work of childhood and adolescence.

If any of the above makes sense, I encourage you to take a browse through the actual book itself, recall and think about your own childhood and come to your own conclusions.

Personally, Gerard Jones’ words resonate a lot with me.

I remember my favorite daydream, an elaborate saga that would go on in repetitive vein fueled by the latest plotlines of the week’s cartoons and whatever books I’d read. I was a god on a spaceship.

My house was my spaceship. I’d jump onto the sofa and it’ll become the comfortable control center for taking off to the next planet or magical plane of existence. The balcony was the viewport, and of course, the spaceship had plenty of laser guns and was so shielded by godly power that it could dive into the sun and come out again.

As for godhood, I had to be, because gods are powerful, you know? They can do anything they want.

Except you know, gods also had powerful enemies, so there was a very fair share of getting weakened by a Kryptonite equivalent and getting captured. He, of course, had friends to rescue him from these perpetual predicaments. Godly disciples yanked out of the latest books to capture my imagination.

I don’t remember all of them, but I know the first was Lord Mhoram – out of the Stephen R. Donaldson Chronicles of Thomas Convenant series.

(Yeah, that series that has an anti-protagonist that dared to commit the r-word. I don’t think I even understood that part as a kid, just glossed over what I didn’t understand at the time.

All I knew was that I wasn’t at all impressed with the craven Covenant, and that Lord Mhoram was so much more a wise and active figure that he became my hero and favorite character of the series. Try as I might, through repeated attempts over the years, I could never properly get through the Second Chronicles after the series moved on past the age of the Lords.

I wince to think about what kind of trauma I might have suffered, if anyone had pulled the books out of my hands as a kid and told me not to read the dang things because OMG RAPE.)

Lord Mhoram was simply my wizard figure. He worked for me, because I was a god, you know – that standard narcissistic center of the universe reasoning that children often enjoy. He’d give advice and lead the rest when the god was otherwise (and frequently) disabled or incapacitated and get me out of a million and one scrapes.

I was a bit of a precocious kid, by the way. My mother tells me I was reading by the age of two. Something I naturally don’t remember but would credit her patience and willingness to teach and read with me till I picked up the habit.

Enid Blyton was entertaining me before and through the first years of primary school – groups of five kid adventurers (always five, for some reason) who would visit incredible places and solve mysteries that stumped adults, a fantastic tree that two kids would climb and enter lands of make-believe, often filled with delicious food, and so on.

From youth, libraries were exciting places, and I’d soon find myself exhausting the children’s section and wound up nestled away in a magic Dewey Decimal System number somewhere past 100 and just before the 400s (the Sciences, from which I’d also borrow tons of plant and animal books.)

Whoever thought to put Folklore in the 390s was a genius.

It was an eclectic mix of only two shelves or so, but I patiently worked my way through as many as I could decipher. Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights – a humongous tome that I’d never quite get to the end of, before running out of library borrowing time, tales of greek and roman myths and gods, tales of the devil and ol’ Nick and the common man taking them on.

The second disciple of my long and extensive imaginary childhood construct was Lord Aragorn.

Of course. How you can have geek cred if you didn’t read Lord of the Rings, eh?

My father shared his well-worn browned and very thumbed through copy with me, when he realized I was reading a bunch of folklore and fantasy epics from said library.

The first page contained his signature, a black ink scribble running to purple and green from the passage of time, with a date marked before I was born, to say when he bought the book. Marking a book like that was quite unthinkable to me at the time, but I found it fascinating anyway, to realize that my dad had a past that existed before I had even existed, and that this book was older than I was.

Naturally, the hobbits were too modest a hero to idolize when you’re young and small yourself, and my wizard needed a warrior to do the melee fighting, right?

Who better, than Strider himself?

(Sorry, Gandalf, Lord Mhoram’s cooler than you. You can come and play a bit part and guest star in my cartoon, no problems. Plenty of plotlines of the week.)

Sadly, I don’t remember the third any more, and I knew the fourth was a purely imaginary character that joined up with the group later, a sort of karate fighter that I named Tiger Khan (from glomming together a cool word and Ghengis Khan – don’t ask, I don’t know how it got created in my head either. Watching Karate Kid and Eye of the Tiger movies, perhaps?)

I’m sure there was PLENTY of play and pretend fighting through the storylines. I had my share of plastic swords and Super-Soaker Blaster types to use, after all.

When I played with LEGO, it was castles and knights, and then subsequently pirates. Much pirates. Pirates upon pirates.

I had two ships, and they’d clash forever, with cannons blazing and crew clambering aboard the opposing ship, lots of cutlass swinging and stabbing, little yellow figurines going into the water and getting sheared in half with only the tops remaining visible on the floor (“HALP! WE’RE DROWNING!”) while the two pirate captains would smirk and pet their red and yellow parrots with their hooks and stop by the local fortress to jail their captives. (Cue rescue mission later.)

Try as I might, I simply don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware that all my fantasies were exactly that. Just pretend. They weren’t real.

All they were, were simple joyous escapism. They were a place where exciting adventures could happen, in contrast with real life and grades upon grades. A place where one could feel powerful and in control, where kids are often just the opposite in reality, acted on by adults who had more authority.

The emotional content was the real reward, not whatever wrapping lay around it – be it sci-fi or medieval fantasy or cowboy western or supernatural fantasy.

Even then, I’d probably look pityingly on an adult that somehow got this confused.

When I was around 11, one teacher of mine took one look at the -cover- of the Blood Sword gamebook I had brought to school, The Battlepits of Krarth, that sported a slimy looking horror monster. Without even reading the contents, she did a double-take, took me and my friends aside and gave us a serious heart-to-heart talk about how satanic and dangerous ‘roleplaying games’ were, while we looked bemusedly at each other and tried to explain what an adventure gamebook was, and this particular volume’s foundings in folklore – she was an English/literature teacher.

Fortunately, confiscating student property on trumped up charges wasn’t a thing in those days, so I got to keep my book. Our entire class did get to sit through a Christianity video she brought to school after that, where we blinked amusedly at caricatures of American kids who dressed up in wizard robes, carried D&D books as a prop, and tried to sacrifice cats and summon Satan. Naturally, one kid saw the light of God and defeated the evil Game Master or something of that nature.

Leslie Fish – Gamers (As she says, I really wonder and worry about these people who think a game is real)

It makes me wonder why and how we come to differentiate the real and the fantastic.

Maybe the secularity of my upbringing helped?

Maybe it was just what my parents taught me?

I dunno. My mom believes in Catholicism, but she never imposed that belief on me or anyone else.

My father believes in UFOs. (Or at least thinks they could be a very real possibility. Why not? Is his line of thinking. He’s never really heard of Occam’s Razor.)

It’s especially ironic that we had a screaming argument when I was in my rebellious teenage years and I almost threw a punch at him (my only attempted real world violence against another person, only held in check by my mother. Thank you, mom) because he thought my highly valued comic book and roleplaying game collection indicated that I was lost in a world of fantasy and wanted to throw them out to ‘force’ me to live in the real world.

All I was really thinking of at the time was how much -real life- dollars that collection had cost me, how impossible it would be to find copies of them again, and how unfair it was that he had a roomful of DVDs (many of them with fantastic themes) while I apparently couldn’t be allowed to maintain a collection of what I enjoyed, because he specifically didn’t understand what they were, and feared what he didn’t understand?

My mom talked us down and the incident blew over. Logic prevailed over tempers.

Maybe, ultimately, I have to credit books and my mother for teaching me how to read them, so I could think for myself.

Googling up “how people distinguish real and fantastic” brought up this article about children’s beliefs in fantasy and magic and how theatrical plays may have an impact:

What might account for the age differences in children’s understanding of the reality-fantasy distinction? Anne Hickling at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and I have proposed that a number of different factors contribute to children learning what can really happen in the world, and what cannot. The first is increased knowledge. The more knowledge children acquire about objects in the world and their causal mechanisms, the better able they are to distinguish real from unreal events. A second factor is parental input and encouragement.

Knowledge is key.

Reading is the key to knowledge.

Or rather, exposure to information, with parental encouragement, rather than repression of what adults fear.

This post is a lot more personal than you’d usually see from me. Think of it as my little sort of Blaugust contribution, in the spirit of things, even if I really don’t intend to do daily posts or share too much personal stuff in my gaming blog.

It was written as a sort of response to Aggro Range’s “Rated M for Mommy” post. It’s not a criticism of any kind of parenting – I believe all parents have the right to do as they see fit for their particular household and context – but the story of the kid that had a screaming tantrum when he wasn’t allowed to play Call of Duty got to me a little.

I don’t know the context, if this kid really believes terrorists are going to come to get him and everybody else, if he couldn’t shoot them before they could, that really suggests something has gone awry with his ability to distinguish the real from the fantastic. Or maybe it’s just the only way he can cope with the reality that his oldest brother is facing real danger, to shoot pretend terrorists and exorcise the fear demons haunting him by doing it in a safe environment.

The whole patriotism jibe is not cool, of course. Seems to be a trend in conservative America now to accuse anyone with differing viewpoints of not being ‘patriotic.’ That’s a kind of groupthink that can easily lead to more dystopian scenarios – as reading or watching sci-fi stuff might teach.

The corresponding impulse to ban and prohibit games or media in response is personally worrisome to me.

It strikes me that forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, and that repressing and bottling up things without discussing them might just lead to infernos of rage or strong emotion that people don’t know how to handle later, if they haven’t had prior practice, with smaller emotions, in make-believe.

I am not going to impose this view on anyone, or say that there’s only one way of doing things, or that things SHOULD be this way or no other, because reality doesn’t work like that.

There can be multiple solutions to a problem that all work, and plenty of people have grown up with all kinds of parenting and turned out perfectly healthy individuals.

But I do hope this post makes all of you think a little, and explore different perspectives, and decide for yourselves, rather than indulge in knee-jerk reactions or go along with what the mass media tells us.

I leave you with this adorable cute video of a father playing Dark Souls 2… with his admirably precocious three year daughter, who also plays Portal 2: