Digital Wanderlust, or You Can Never Go Home Again

So, what happened during “Top priority – Rest my wrist” week?

Well, there was the mildly amusing and somewhat painful observation that as the wrist in question healed, other parts of my body started to take turns aching.

Apparently, this is quite normal and to be expected, as one overworks the other muscles and tendons in compensation for the nonfunctional one.

First it was the other wrist (too much button pressing and door opening presumably), then the lower back protested, and yesterday the neck decided it hated life, committed suicide and went into rigor mortis for 24 hours.

I can only conclude that I’m getting old(er) and my posture is fucked.

The good news is that amidst this tag team symphony of minor strains, I ate healthily, slept earlier, stretched -very- carefully and whatever was bothering me that day seemed to heal itself up by the next day or two.

I imagine that within my body is a little ragtag cartoon group of muscle-repairing cells in an ambulance racing from locale to locate, going “Can things STOP breaking here for just a day, please? Sheesh…”

Or maybe that image just comes from Ghostbusters: The Video Game, one of the many games I’ve been sampling over the last 2-3 weeks.

As I was telling Syl in the comments over at MMO Gypsy, I think I’m done with MMOs for the time being.

GW2 has been becoming less and less of a home, beyond the obligatory raid night with friendly, understanding but not-my-generation people, and the lack of new and novel content is killing my interest slowly but surely.

Most of the achiever content that I cling to as a lifeline when the explorer isn’t sated is either done, or is SO long term that the anticipated grindiness stops me from even contemplating it. I -could- do it, but when faced with the question of whether to spend 12 hours incrementing tiny degrees of progress in GW2 or use those 12 hours to play other games, read and watch Netflix, well, the decision is a no-brainer. There’s no one I want to impress with herculean feats of treadmilling in a constructed game anyway.

See, the more I think about it, the more I think the allure of the MMO comes from two things. The first is the idea of a home and a community, a place you want to spend your virtual ‘second life’ in, surrounded by people you’re happy to live amongst. Hence the themes of longevity, of “I could stay here forever!” being an important consideration when people evaluate MMOs.

The second is the feeling of expanse, of openness, of discovery over a new horizon that a vast and deep virtual world that you don’t understand well yet and want to learn more about. Hence why people lament when any MMO world feels small, constricted, not open and go chasing after procedural sandboxes.

The tragedy of the second is that everything closes up and becomes smaller over the passage of time. GW2 was an immense bounty of new discoveries when it first launched, but now my perception of its world has shrunk to waypoints whose surroundings I can readily recall at will. Don’t get me wrong, the convenience is great for revisiting, but the point is that it was a lot bigger in my imagination when unexplored than after the fog of war disappears.

A mapped world is smaller, no two ways about it. A mapped world is great for everything that comes after, exploitation of its resources in fulfillment of goals and so on. But a mapped world means you already know what is coming up over the horizon as you get closer.

The more I think about it, the more I think the age of MMOs is past. An MMO cannot fulfill both themes at once these days.

How can it? A handcrafted world is finite, limited by the number of developers that can work on it effectively. The number of developers is limited by the number of customers and revenue it can generate. The age of the one single MMO where everyone congregates to is past, everyone is spread out to a million smaller online games now.

Even if we hypothetically assume a mythical game that attracts even more numbers than World of Warcraft pulled in its prime, there must be a limit to how many teams of developers can work effectively on its world without it becoming a Frankenstein mess that turns away players, dropping revenue, which drops number of devs.

A finite world will eventually feel small. It’s just a matter of time.

So then, let’s go for the infinite world. Let’s go for procedural generation on a way more refined and fantastical scale than any singleplayer game currently existing and do it well. Online. Massively multiplayer.

Assuming such a hypothetical behemoth works magically and perfectly, and we have a virtual world on the scale of Earth to explore and colonize and exploit… isn’t it likely we’re going to run into the problem of “Where IS everybody?” “Halp! I can’t find players to play with.”

Given limitless lebensraum, people are going to spread out. Sure, there’s probably going to be clusters of people forming towns and villagers because people are social creatures and like to be near each other, but how far are these towns and villages going to be from one another?

I think of A Tale in the Desert as a good small-scale experiment as to what this mythical MMO is going to look like.

At first, it’s going to look very nice. People will cluster in their towns and villages, forming little metropolises of trade and civilization, while the more adventurous wander out into the wilderness and start the exploration and mapping process.

But then everything around the civilized centers will be known, and the explorers will either venture even further away or grow bored and leave. People attrition from real life all the time in games, so these villages will wind up with abandoned house lots, imitating a form of urban decay. Other players look around, realize their community is breaking up and will either leave the game or accrete to another community in-game, preferably the largest and most populated one.

It will take an act of God for the most social and rooted to their homes to pack up and move from what-is-known and move to lands unknown. (In other words, not bloody likely. Even a dragon invasion on the scale of the Cataclysm is more likely to just chase the homemakers from the game when they’ve had enough of large scale change, or make them more stubborn to rebuild where they’ve decided to live.)

So at most, the ideal MMO of tomorrow is a small known world of established communities with some kind of connected interrelation with the more nomadic explorers that venture into the always-shrinking-once-mapped unknown.

There are so many things that could wrong in this MMO. If the communities don’t need anything from the explorers, there will be no reason to explore. If the explorers don’t need anything from the communities, there will be no reason to have social dealings with them.

Maybe -everybody- wants to explore, and so there will be towns but no one’s in them because everybody’s out in the wilderness. Maybe the balance of self-sufficiency is such that everybody just trundles out to find a nice spot of wilderness for themselves – RIP towns and social communities. Maybe there is too much inter-dependency and reliance on others for today’s players to accept, so few people want to play anyway – RIP MMO.

Anyway, such an ideal hypothetical MMO is years from coming into existence. Much less ambitious fare will come into the picture first, and I’m not at all sure I have any interest in those.

Anything with Fed-Ex fetch quests and collect 10 bodyparts after killling 99 mobs is right out of the equation. So done with those.

Tropes like holy trinity combat, raids, dungeons are pretty likely to show up in MMOs because that’s what most players are familiar with and used to. They do absolutely nothing for me.

To add a little insult to injury, region-locking for most smaller F2P MMOs is a thing. It becomes a principle not to pay any money to companies who are content with smaller pieces of pie in today’s globalized internet-linked world.

Innovation is expensive and dangerously risky. Not innovating produces stale MMOs that enough people will play to keep a small company alive.

Personally, I’m done with stale MMOs.

So over the last 2-3 weeks, this was what I did instead:

Games Played

  • Endless Legend – up to turn 85 of a Broken Lords campaign
  • Deathless: The City’s Thirst – finished a playthrough
  • Learn Japanese to Survive – Hiragana Battle – got up to 15 Hiragana word/letters?
  • Crusaders of the Lost Souls – lost count of the resets, idols in the 100-200+ range
  • Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten – in some spooky cave levels
  • Human Resource Machine – got to puzzle level 17 or so
  • Minecraft: Story Mode – playing on mobile, finished episodes 1 and 2
  • Reigns – also on mobile, finished a playthrough, didn’t manage to trick the devil, but not for lack of trying, gonna restart and try again
  • Minecraft: Simply Magic modpack – was doing good fulfilling my nomadic urge to wander and explore, until the last update crashed the client and I couldn’t move back a version. RIP.
  • Minecraft: BeeHappy modpack – so now I’m growing bees in a skyblock map!

 

Books Read

  • Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone (Book 2 of the Craft Sequence)

 

Netflix Watched

  • Van Helsing – binge-watched the entire season 1, the zombie apocalypse with vampires instead of brainless zombies
  • Bitten – got up to season 2, episode 3, based on Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld books, the books are way better, but it’s interesting to see the casting decisions and how like or unlike one’s image of the characters they are
  • Minority Report – watched again for fun, looks so dated now
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – made it through episode 1, which was like floating through a drug-haze of surrealism. I am convinced it will all tie together in the end, but it’s such a hard slog at the beginning that it’s hard to continue.
  • Trollhunters – binge-watching like crazy, up to episode 17. I am totally going to buy a ton of troll toys / collectibles when they finally come out. Got so many 80s cartoon and Amblin movie nostalgia flashbacks while watching – intelligent not-just-for-kids plotlines, what madness is this?

 

endleg-brokenlords

In other words, I expanded inexorably through a fantasy landscape as a faction of fallen spirits encased in suits of knightly armor; juggled politics and morality as a necromancer lawyer negotiating water deals to prevent the desert city Dresediel Lex from drying up; and fought shadowy Hiragana warriors whose only weakness is enunciating the sounds they represent.

hiragana

Perhaps the most entertaining Spaced Repetition System ever created. This is ‘a’ – aka a man standing upright with two arms outstretched and a swirl of magic about him, going “Ahh!” Or maybe that’s just how I’ll ever remember what this word/character sounds like.

crusaders4

Earned 7.79 tredecillion gold; summoned barbarians and rangers and knights to fend off a rampaging army of undead revenants;

defenders

(while avoiding being traumatized by a ghostly barbarian’s manhood)

wrote spaghetti code to struggle to the next floor of a soulless office building;

hrm

went on a Minecraftian animated adventure to assemble the heroes of the Order of the Stone in order to save the world; lived and died as a lineage of 63 cursed kings making tradeoff decisions to keep church, people, army and the treasury neither too low nor too high; wandered the wilderness, made a cave in the side of a mountain and started learning magic; and bred bees.

bees1

Lots of bees.

bees2

Industrial apiaries filled with bees. (The ugly yellow block things.)

Feels like the journey’s just beginning.

 

Gaming While Not Gaming

What game can you play when your wrist hurts and you start feeling a dangerous tingle up your arm and fingers?

crusaders1

This game.

There might be some irony to this new year’s first game being an idle game.

It does, however, fit neatly into the interstices of my life at present.

Especially because I started experiencing mild carpal tunnel-esque / RSI-y symptoms two days back, possibly from too much posturally-wrong Pokeball flicking over the holiday season.

Voluntary enforced rest on the wrist to let it heal seems to be the order of the day/week/fortnight since I’m terrified of it progressing from not-that-good to worst.

This rather knocks off all action-y games that require heavy mouse clicking or click-and-holding from current consideration, as even ordinary work day mouse usage started to give my wrist problems after half a day in.

Fortunately, playing A Tale in the Desert way back when taught me the joys of Autohotkey and other such automation, so a quick download and one line text file later, and I am now using a spare key on the keyboard as my mouse click button for the time being.

Along this vein of keeping the strain on one’s hand minimal, this free Steam game that I downloaded on a whim comes in surprisingly handy (pun intended.)

Truth be told, I used to deride the idle game genre for being something akin to Progress Quest – ie. do nothing, watch numbers go up, feel oddly good for having done nothing.

The initial clicker/idle games I sampled did not buck this trend. You clicked all the buttons, bought all the upgrades, numbers went up exponentially, unsoweiter. No choice, decision-making or strategy came into play.

Apparently, the genre has moved on since that time.

Seeing a Steam friend “play” Clicker Heroes for days and weeks on end did not immediately change my mind, but did set it up for my eventual decision to *oh, what the heck* try out Crusaders of the Lost Idols.

I am glad I did.

crusaders2

I am by no means a connoisseur of this genre, so I have no idea if other idle games these days are doing what Crusaders of the Lost Idols does.

What Crusaders does differently from my imaginary concept of “do nothing” idle games is offer choice and strategy through the interaction of various characters’ skills/gear/other factors in formations.

Some characters strengthen other characters if arranged in a certain way or when playing together. Other characters are happier being alone or not surrounded by humans and so on.

Crusaders can be played fairly happily (and sub-optimally) by clicking all the buttons and watching numbers increment while leaving the game running. (And you can also turn it off and check back in later to see what your characters earned while you were away.)

The key is that it also possible to play Crusaders with an eye towards optimizing, with proper consideration of multiplier buffs that send your team’s damage ever skyrocketing high, and best usage of the gold earned per hour – what should you spend it on to give the most progress bang for the buck.

Some planning and strategy is also warranted. One character is often designated dps-er, while the rest of one’s formation becomes centered around either buffing that character’s damage or buffing gold earning rate.

I’m on my second run through, and the rabbit hole goes ever deeper.

crusaders3

When you hit a wall of where your current damage can take you, it is part of the game to reset and begin another run.

Each 500 levels of a character earns you an idol, which is kept throughout runs and buffs your dps and gold found.

This leads to ever so much number incrementing over time, and with larger number increments, you unlock ever more special objectives and formations that will no doubt shake up established strategies and encourage a different arrangement of characters.

I can easily see somewhat more dedicated than me math fiends setting up spreadsheet calculations to optimize every last drop of dps.

For me, it’s sufficient right now to just check in every now and then, setting stuff up with a few strategic clicks and decisions and then wander off doing more constructive and less wrist-intensive things.

Coming back to see how things have gone while I was away ticks off that MMO/RPG Progress Quest urge.

Actual gaming (aka choice and strategic decision-making) takes a couple minutes here and there.

The rest of the time, the game plays itself without me.

I’d previously thought this to be a rather ridiculous state of affairs, but you know what? Right now, at this current point in my life, it’s win-win.

Retrospective

If there’s one thing I would not have predicted, so many moons ago, it’s that raiding in GW2 would successfully kill my desire to blog.

Not in the usual “I hate raids” hermit-y grouch sense, mind you.

It was a combination of things:

  • Yes, there was the tension between the hypocrisy of continuing to raid…

(reasons: a) no Legendary armor alternative; b) the -need/craving- to see all content successfully completed; c) maintain network of -competent- players in one’s timezones for future content, outcasting = no more success, d) yeah, the challenge / puzzle inherent in difficult content is somewhat entertaining, even if the need for 9 other people’s schedules to coincide is not)

…while philosophically being opposed to the divide that raids create. (More on that later.)

  • There’s my chronic allergy to all things drama.

I had long ago resolved that I would never write in fine-grained detail about anything that happened (good or bad) in my raid group, or the people and personalities and politics and stories of any other raid group I heard about, for that matter.

The Oceanic/SEA community in any game is a pretty small one, and when you compress it down to people that want to raid, even -smaller-. The raid guild I’m in appears to have subsumed a fairly hefty majority of this population.

Hell, I would not be surprised to find a fair number of this group have experienced the same Age of Conan/Warhammer/Aion exodus as I, just spread across various guilds and organizations. Bottom line, this is a very tiny community. Hardcore players talk and know each other, stories can spread like wildfire.

Some people love gossip. That’s not wrong. I don’t. And I choose not to contribute to it.

This does, however, pose something of a challenge to writing when you’re consciously stifling a part of yourself and your experiences, editing before word is even laid out on the blank page, so to speak.

It may not have killed the idea muse, but it did steal some of the desire to even sit down and begin.

  • There was the lack of positive feelings about anything Guild Wars 2, or a desire to promote it by writing about it.

I don’t know if any of my readers were tired of it, but -I- was tiring -myself- with all the negativity and complaining.

So I tried the ol “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” routine, and what do you know… I ended up not saying anything at all.

Whoops?

You know, I don’t even think it’s the game at this point. I am sure many many people are discovering GW2 and playing it at different phases in their life and are having tons of fun.

-I- just seem to have boarded the down escalator to the burnout basement, and am just about treading water by raiding once or twice a week and then dropping the game like a hot potato before the burn hits the third-degree.

I was pondering why this was the case all throughout November and December, hoping to develop it into some kind of blog revelation. I did actually figure out -something- fairly revelatory, which is that…

  • The divide in GW2 has gone too deep. I can’t really relate to the current community. I don’t feel like a part of it anymore. This causes disassociation, from almost everything GW2.

In nearly every Reddit thread about GW2 lately, there is this constant conflict of “no, you’re wrong” sentiment from people in different camps.

I’m sick of it.

I don’t even care what the two camps support or hate any more. I just wish they’d stop sniping at each other all the damn time.

Except, of course, they won’t.

So the only way I’m not going to see any of their crap is to stop reading and stop participating in the community.

Hey, it works for me. It works for the argumentative guys. Maybe it doesn’t work for the devs, or maybe it does, but you know what, it’s none of my damn business.

So I’ve mostly stopped commenting on the GW2 Reddit, besides the odd craving to dispense sage advice to newbie questions or upvote-whoring sarcasm/jokes from time to time. I spread out and lurk in other friendlier Reddits and enjoy reading those posts instead.

On a less complaining but still worriedly alienating note, eavesdropping on much of my raid guild’s Telegram conversations (ie. a third party messaging app) also brought home some important thoughts to consider. Mostly, they ran along the lines of:

These are nice people, but these are not -my- people.

Let me explain. Age is a big factor. In the endless scrolling conversations of short pithy phrases, 90% of them Twitch memes or spamming of emojis (Telegram calls ’em Stickers, apparently), it is relentlessly brought home to me that I don’t get it, I don’t have the cultural context for this, we have moved from the age of the Millenials to Generation Z.

Being a cusper, I can usually get to grips with various generational tendencies without really 100% identifying with them, but you know, Gen Z has me beat. I have no idea what they’re saying half of the time. They’d rather use voice chat over the microphone than type anyway; reading is hard and text is for sticker spam.

That I can communicate enough to raid successfully with them is already a pretty hefty accomplishment, with a lot of generosity and goodwill extended across generation borders. (Hey, plenty of other groups will say, no mic=no join us, and so on.)

Then there’s time. Gen Z is in college. (Granted, half or more of my particular raid group is working, so we may be slightly older than average.) No, duh, why should we be surprised that the people with the most interest in raiding can spare (and spend) heaps of time in a game due to their real life circumstances?

I thought I played GW2 at a fairly hardcore level. The amount of time some of the people I eavesdrop on spend in-game boggles my mind. Not judging, mind you. I’ve had my heavy hardcore months in four years of GW2.

But lately, it’s just seeing other people do it that put a mirror in front of my eyes and the growing sentiment inside me is that I don’t want to spend -that- many hours in this particular game any longer, because I have other interesting priorities that would be shoved to the wayside if I did.

And there’s mindset. Challenge-seeking, continual improvement, competitiveness, optimal min-maxing, unsoweiter. Not everyone who raids is on one extreme – which is good, because otherwise I’d never get a spot.

There’s a spectrum. There’s people like me that espouse the above just long enough to break whatever necessary threshold there is to hit success before satisficing, and then there are the maximizers who never ever goddamn stop. (And those sprinkled in the middle, of course.)

Needless to say, satisficer and maximizer mindsets do not mix terribly well. I get where the maximizers are coming from, there’s a certain joy from doing what they do; it’s just that they do fail to understand now and again that others don’t share the same time or priorities as they – or perhaps they do, and they’re just willing to eliminate those others from consideration in their narrowing search to optimize further. Who knows. “Not my people”, so talk remains at a professional / acquaintance level.

For those reasons and more, November/December for me was spent in a sort of low-level gaming crisis of faith. I kept hoping for some kind of revelation to blog about, while experimenting in various directions.

Something did eventually come together, but strangely enough, I didn’t feel like I had the energy or motivation to blog about it until today, on New Year’s Eve.

It’s a combination of a few small-scale revelations, really:

  • Guild Wars 2 has become just another game among many. I don’t want it to be my life any more, aka not my “primary” game or MMO.
  • I may, in fact, give up “primary” game thoughts in order to visit more of my game backlog. Dunno. It may be just “play what I feel like” any given month and if something becomes primary that month, so be it.
  • I was getting really antsy about having too many tasks I wanted to do on my plate, and wishing that they were all magically done and complete without having to spend the time. An impatient pipe dream, yes. I needed to somehow resolve this so I could stop driving myself nuts.
  • Patient gaming is a thing. I ran into this concept idly trawling through Reddit – there’s a whole subreddit of patient gamers. They use the term mostly to describe those who lag months and years behind the wave of “new” before playing games. (Huh, I did that already. I did not know there were others like me. *subbed*)

What I’ve been doing this December is an odd foray into something beyond patient gaming – I would call it “slow gaming” except that phrase has been already snapped up by others to describe completely different things – slow-paced deliberate games, low-stakes idle interludes, a longer, sustained experience on an extended timescale.

It’s the last that comes the closest, the idea of extending the timescale of play.

You see, an inventory of tasks and projects suggested I had way too many priorities to keep in play at any one time.

I wanted to do stuff in GW2 like PvP more, learn/gear more classes for raids, collect legendary armor things, force myself to fractal, make legendary weapons, at the same time that I wanted to play Breach League in Path of Exile to death, continue with Terraria’s expert mode, re-visit Minecraft, dabble with other Steam games, not to mention catch up on some nostalgic gamebooks – digital and analog, think about solo playing some tabletop RPGs, catch up on digital magazines, read new books, explore interactive fiction, make my way through courses on Udemy and Coursera like programming and pixel art, exercise more, maybe with the help of Pokemon Go, prepare healthy lunches for work, find a new pottery teacher…

… clean house before the coming year’s super-early Chinese New Year.

Oh, and blog more.

Yeah, right. So going to happen.

I’m not a specialist. I don’t do deep-diving or seek mastery at one thing for 10,000 hours until I become an expert. Razor focus on one thing is not me.

Being a generalist, though, risks overwhelm. So here I am, idly flipping through one of Barbara Sher’s positive pep talk book for generalists with many interests, whom she calls “scanners,” looking for inspiration and advice. Then it hits me.

It’s not anything in the book per se, though there’s a lot of encouragement and cool tips and tricks that might work for some people or at different points in our lives. She suggests that certain scanners might be happy exploring different interests every month, or perhaps spending two years on one thing before going on to another.

The timeframe is too long, I think, and I have -so many things I want/need to do.-

But what if I bring it down to a week, and in that week, I don’t focus on one thing, but say, three things?

Three top priorities, in other words, and because it’s just a week, I can quickly elevate something else to be top priority the next week. The system supports fast iteration.

I can drop GW2 without too much guilt one week (beyond the bare minimum) and spend the time on other constructive pursuits; then the next week, I could PvP or catch up on Wintersday festivities without too much guilt that other things are not getting done.

Experiments in December have not been without its ups and downs (there was deliberate procrastination on one priority for at least two weeks, in part due to being plain exhausted from real life.) It’s a work in progress.

It does seem like something that might suit my particular patterns of cyclic interest fairly well, and more successfully, it has diminished the frequency of relentless restless “I wish it were all done, now” impatient thinking.

We’ll see how it goes for 2017.

In other news, I have run ManicTime (as introduced by Endgame Viable) for over a full year now.

jan-mar2016

  • Red – Guild Wars 2
  • Grey – Minecraft
  • Light Brown – Path of Exile
  • Black – Shadow of Mordor
  • Yellow – Stardew Valley

apr-jun2016

  • Dark Red-Brown – Total War: Warhammer

jul-sep2016

oct-dec2016

  • Green – Terraria

I chopped the looong graph up lazily, so there’s no more axis on three of the charts, but meh, it’s an amusing look at the games I spent the most time on this year.

There were plenty of less than 10 hour dabbling with other games, but I didn’t feel like mentioning those this post.

Big trends for me that I’ve noticed is that GW2 time stayed relatively constant across the year until it took a big hit in Nov-Dec during my little gaming crisis of the faith.

Total gaming hours also got whacked significantly in December (Nov was like a little practice run where I transferred my obsessive attention to Terraria before cutting back.)

Path of Exile is always something I can rely on to spread focus as well, played in spurts throughout the year.

Man, I want to play more Minecraft and Terraria. Maybe next year. 🙂