Playing As Intended, Nothing to See Here

Updating the blog is hard when there’s nothing new to say.

For the last week, I’ve been heavily playing two games as intended – the well-trodden routes that everyone should be familiar with.

I don’t think it’s terribly exciting to anyone else when you increment a level number, is it?

Path of Exile

Hype is super-ramping up for the Forsaken Masters release, and I’ve been playing the crud out of it as a result.

My ridiculously masochistic low-life dual-dagger first-build-ever summoner Shadow made it to level 65, on the back of a whole lot of Swan Song videos.

It’s at this point that I decided I was officially hitting the next ‘gear wall’ – there are a ton of things that I would love to five and six-link, assuming I have the gear, and assuming I even have the gems – which I don’t, since I’m staunchly anti-manual-trade (don’t try to change my mind – I didn’t use the trade channel in the old MUD I played, I didn’t trade for a thing in Spamadan in GW1, I hate text barter trading with people or bots, period. I’m still enjoying Path of Exile fine, and willing to pay more to increase stash size to play with my own self-found ruleset. Everybody wins, except the people who can’t tolerate someone they don’t know and will never meet – since I don’t group – playing less efficiently. Deal.)

This sounded like a good time to wait for the Forsaken Masters to see if they could help out on the less RNG gearing front, so I did.

In the meantime, it was time for a little easymode.

Obviously, not at all current-and-updated easy, because I’m busy noobing it up here, but a Geofri’s Baptism – a two-handed maul unique – dropped and was burning a hole in my stash.

And I was doing pretty well with a super-tanky molten strike / ground slamming Marauder  in hardcore mode previously, albeit -very slow and steady because hardcore mode = don’t die – so for casual fun, I made a new Marauder with a similar build in the standard league and dumped as much nice stuff as had accumulated in my stash onto him.

Guy whizzed past the levels in like 3 days.

Level 55 now and still climbing.

To the tune of Mythbusters videos mostly, since I’ve exhausted all the roleplay ones. (Anyone know any other entertaining roleplays in the vein of ItmeJP’s stuff or Will Wheaton’s Fiasco? They have to be watchable, not unedited – it’s boring as fuck to watch ordinary people um and ahh and hesitate for minutes attempting to tell a story.)

I did suffer a few deaths, the first and stupidest one due to getting chain stunned by a mass of bird-like rhoa (what is it with birds and stuns, GW2’s moas also daze…) and that was eventually fixed by picking up Unwavering Stance. It comes with the drawback of not being able to evade enemy attacks – but I figure I’m not gearing with any evasion to begin with, so whatever. 19% evasion or less seemed fine to trade off for not being stunned ever.

The Marauder side of the skill tree really looks a tide more organized to be newbie friendly than the Shadow side.

Went for all the life, and armor, and resistances and strength and two-handed maul damage stuff and seems to be working out fine.

Picked up the Resolute Technique keystone since Geofri’s Baptism couldn’t crit anyway, and one may as well experiment with consistent sustained damage on what is intended to be a more robust type of character.

It was around the 50s and entering Merciless difficulty that the gear wall started to make itself a little bit more felt – though in this case, it mostly means I have to stop playing braindead run-in hur-durr kill-everything and kite a bit more with groundslam, or use doorways and corners as chokepoints, or even *gasp* put a rejuvenation totem behind me to buff up my life regen and keep the hp reservoir full for long enough to wreck the onslaught.

I’m seriously playing with only 4 skills here. Groundslam AoEs everything in a cone, molten strike for single-target with collateral fire projectile damage, I picked up Warlord’s Mark as a curse since I got tired of the NPCs using it on me to such great effect and a little more leech couldn’t hurt, and rejuvenation totem for the times when a flask won’t cut it.

Groundslam all the things. They stun and pretty much sit in the cone.

Groundslam all the things. They stun and pretty much sit in the cone and die, with only a few managing to close in.

Molten strike spam with a rejuv totem sitting pretty.

Molten strike spam with a rejuv totem sitting pretty.

It… can be a little boring.

(It’s certainly a change from the tension and challenge of the noob Shadow, where it’s a mad juggle of summons in succession for long enough to dart in and out and hit things with daggers. Still, variable difficulty that one can pick at will by changing characters ain’t bad.)

I have Searing Bond slotted, mostly out of a morbid curiosity to see how high the dps goes as the gem levels. I generally don’t use it except when I’m just playing around. It looks like a totem-based Searing Bond Templar might be pretty fun, but apparently it’s also going to suffer a little dps nerf in the Forsaken Masters patch (aka less than 14 hours away) so we’ll see. Filed away for ‘play later, probably when no longer fashionable, because one is slow and late to everything.’

Geofri’s Baptism finally got replaced around level 53-54, with a very ordinary, but four-linked magic Dread Maul, crafted for physical damage increase.

A chance Ledge run for fun dropped a unique Dread Maul, which made me stop and stare, incredulous at how RNG -actually- dropped a weapon that fit the character I was playing at the time.

Naturally, once I id’ed it, it turns out that Murphy’s Law struck again.

voidhome

Decreased experience gain? Reduced item rarity? Is this thing for real?!

Some googling and research later, it turns out that opinions are mixed on this highly interesting unique.

On the plus side, folks were saying that this is a great farming weapon, when you don’t want to outlevel a map too quickly, and are going for currency. Instead of item rarity, put on item quantity and just hit things and watch stuff fall out of their pockets, essentially.

Someone else suggested that this was a good weapon to put on weapon swap – which made a lot of sense to me, since my second slot had been sitting empty for the past 50 levels – and that it was good for boss-killing, wail away until the last sliver of hp, then swap back to normal weapon for normal loot drops, and for bludgeoning one’s way past difficult levels for newbies when you’re only concerned about progressing through the locations and quests, rather than racking up xp or loot.

Which all seemed fairly logical, and what-the-hell, I had it, so let’s try it out.

The dps on this thing is CRAZY.

That 50% increased attack speed essentially doubles your dps, and the mana leech means you pretty much do not run out of mana. Gone was the regular needing-to-quaff-a-mana-flask-every-now-and-then.

I ran around the Ledge farming map like a lawnmower, holding down the ground slam button, giggling like a maniac.

Fun factor-wise, this thing gets a thumbs up from me.

Frankly, after thinking about it, if I’m killing things twice as quickly or faster, 44% reduction in experience gain simply means I’m gaining xp at about the usual pace. Ie. a necessary balance.

It turns out that between some other chance buffs on the items, I’m only at a -5% item rarity, so it’s not -horrible- horrible, I still pop rares now and then, but maybe less than previously. Anyway, the character wasn’t built for item farming as the main purpose – I don’t exactly own a surplus of Increased Item Rarity and Increased Item Quantity gems to begin with, so it’s not a major breaking point.

In a way, it’s kind of interesting that this sort of unique exists – where it isn’t a straight up across the board improvement – that forces you to think about tradeoffs.

I settled for putting it on secondary weapon swap.

If I could get by with normal experience and item rarity with my normal weapon, then everything’s good.

If I can’t, it’s nice to have a cheatmode weapon standing by, just in case.

Guild Wars 2

Over in wood-farming land, I faithfully farmed up Foxfire Clusters for seven days and sold a ton of them and made a lot of gold…

…before deciding today that I could no longer wait -another seven days – for the next stage of the time-limited backpack, and correspondingly spent a lot of gold.

Well, easy come, easy go.

Virtual currency is for spending and all that.

I guess I’ve discovered that my willpower limit is around a week.

I faithfully built the Cultivated Vine from scratch, producing a plant food of each type per day, and using all hoarded materials in the process.

There was a time when I was faithfully charging up Celestial quartz crystals, so there were 10 standing by and ready. I’d accumulated 100+ Sunstone Lumps, so no problems on that front either. I’d jumped into T6 Dry Top on the first day Dragon’s Reach Part 2 launched, and bought all the recipes and clay needed for the clay pot, etc.

Unfortunately, after the first stage was made, and I was left holding the next stage’s Pet Seed, I realized that I hadn’t -quite- planned long term enough, having staunchly tried to avoid reading the Dulfy guide for the backpack.

I did have 48 Foxfire clusters, ready for the Mist-Infused Clay Pot, and the next 7 days of Piquant Plant Food.

I didn’t have enough clay for another clay pot, and organized Dry Tops seemed to have dried up in favor of the Blix farm. Bah.

I didn’t have enough charged quartz crystals, I’d need another 3-4 days, AND I’d seen how much sunstone lumps were going for and converted everything I owned and offloaded it to make $$$ fast. I mean, what better time to make a serious profit on lowbie material hoarding?

I had 12 Pristine Fractal Relics standing by in the bank – turns out I actually do run more fractals than the few complaining that they’re ‘forced’ into the activity and scared of grouping, which is quite incredible considering I’ve only stepped in there twice or thrice in the last few months – and a crafted +5 infusion that had been taking up a bank slot since the Thaumanova Reactor fractal days.

And I really couldn’t deal with the thought of slowly waiting another seven days for freakin’ plant food before I got my hands on Mawdrey II. That’s seven days of bloodstone dust eating. (In return for crap greens, sure, but the prospect of freeing up inventory and bank slots is super appealing.)

So I talked myself into buying 7 of each type of plant food, a clay pot and a grow lamp.

I figure I should be able to sell off 7 plant food in the coming days, albeit at ever-decreasing prices, and only be short a couple gold when all is said and done. That’s seven days of not-obsessing over Mawdrey, and more potential earning power by being able to focus on other things.

The clay pot, one might as well eat as the cost of saving geodes for the next Ambrite weapon skin, assuming I ever find a T6 Dry Top again.

The grow lamp is the only one that kind of hurts a bit, but well, if I run around, mine nodes, and sell off all the watchwork sprockets and sunstone that pop out, it might offset the cost just a little. Anyway, spending 10-20 gold doesn’t sound that bad to speed up the whole process.

mawdrey

All that rationalization of spending later, it sure is a cutie.

I haven’t even decided on a character to put the vine on yet. Maybe I’ll check the sylvari necro later.

But it ate 150 Bloodstone Dust today, and I’m happy.

.

In other news, I haven’t done any of the Challenger Cliff Dry Top achievements, nor the hard mode Living Story achievements yet.

I just seem to be spacing out the content over time, given that it’s still going to be weeks before the feature patch, and months before the Living Story comes around again. Permanent content, ho.

I bit the bullet and did a few more PvP matches yesterday and today and picked up the last 9% on the Balthazar backpiece reward track.

(It was weird, I was on a big PvP kick for a while, and then I just sort of couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm for walking into a match and getting mauled. It’s funny how people give up and stack teams so quickly.

I braved Solo Queue for two matches, and turned up on the mauling side for once. That was nice, in terms of how we simply dominated the other side and stayed on point – though I couldn’t believe I managed to 1 vs 2 on home point and win, they must have been quite new – but I’m sure it was very much less enjoyable for the other team. So much so, one of them quit part way through, when the score was 250 vs 55 or so, and things only got worse for them from there.

Then I got impatient waiting for solo arena to pop, and went for the shameless hotjoin to speed up the daily. I ended up finishing the match and the daily with like 0.1% left on the backpiece track, so I had to sit through another match. Naturally, the randomly hotjoin server was already stacked, and I was desperate enough to join on the losing side for that smidgen of 191 rank points that would knock me over and earn me the backpiece.

That went as horrifically as expected – turned up on home to get ganged up on 3 on 1, went far since everyone appeared to be having fun executing the rest of my team on home and had a fun 1 vs 1 for about 20 seconds before another guy showed up, and then another. All not my team, of course. We started 1 man down, and were 3 vs 5 by the end. Only reason I stuck around was for the last teensy bit of blue bar to finish up the backpiece.

They really need to figure out more fun PvP gamemodes. Control point capture is only fun when both teams are communicating to their teammates and playing for points as intended.)

I pop by for the Triple Trouble wurm every day or two, jump by the odd world boss for a free rare and have ventured back into WvW for an hour or so each time (slow and steady so as not to burn out again.)

I still intend to get around to leveling the engineer and the elementalist and key-farming, though Path of Exile is sucking up my time and attention right now. (ALL ABOARD THE HYPE TRAIN, we’ve missed some of that adrenaline surge.)

I’ve not finished dress-up on the sylvari necro – still some dreamthistle skins worth a ton sitting in the bank, that I guess I’m just going to burn making him look pretty – and I think I’ve finally accumulated enough charged cores and lodestones since launch to make a Foefire weapon, but haven’t got around to checking that yet.

I dunno. I’m generally content and chugging along, with plenty of stuff on the to-do list.

I don’t get all the latest Reddit bruhaha about the Super Adventure Box, after what essentially amounts to a misreading of an amateur interview conducted by fans. “We can’t talk about that now” isn’t the same as “No, you’re not getting that ever” and doesn’t warrant collective hysteria or childish tantrums either.

All it means is that they don’t have the scope or schedule or resources to get around to it yet, or haven’t worked on it to a stage where it can be announced, and/or have to follow and respect Anet’s very draconian PR and community interaction policies (which sadly, make quite a bit of sense when you see the current example of how overblown some fans can get) and somewhat misguided and out-of-touch marketing department (given the prior track record of all their ad campaigns and marketing promotions. It’s sad when third-party Kongzhong does better marketing.)

Just take it for what it is, some clear statements about what’s being worked on, and what’s not yet being worked on and put on the back burner. Sheesh.

There are other games if you’re burning out of GW2. Take a freaking break. Go play Wildstar or Warlords of Draenor if that’s what’s calling you.

Come play Path of Exile if you want to be all excited with expansion hype. (It’s free too!)

Go muck around in Archeage and have fun – up until the point you get repeatedly mauled on multiple traderuns and lose everything and say ‘screw this’ I suppose.

Give the damn devs some time to build stuff, and come back and enjoy it when you’re ready.

And if you’re not willing to leave, this is the BEST time to start hoarding up materials in preparation for the -next- craftable thing they launch that’s going to skyrocket other raw materials in price.

It’s going to happen for sure. It’s just a matter of what.

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: