Drowning… But in a Good Way…

What do I do now? Let me count the ways…

GW2

Draining half my resources appears to have successfully rekindled a fire in me to start making a list of things to do (which will also coincidentally earn some gold, plus some that might take the stockpile in the opposite direction.)

I need to get my new-ish asura warrior to a waypoint in every map that has a dungeon, as he is the one character that is 100% meta compliant (as opposed to 95%), and more importantly, isn’t overloaded with 101 “fun” fireworks, tonics, spare gear sets and assorted Silverwastes junk. That kinda gets in the way of the ideal “zoom from dungeon to dungeon without pause and earn tons of gold” routine.

I suddenly have the intense craving for a number of Scientific weapon skins from the Black Lion vendors (or TP), which means I either need a ton of gold, or convince myself to spend the equivalent of a month’s subscription on being sorely disappointed on Black Lion’s Chests (or trade in the equivalent sum for gold, which would guarantee at least one skin) and/or farm Black Lion Keys and trade time instead of hard currency. To even figure out where to begin, it seems like a good idea to watch a video of all the skins first and prioritize “must-haves” versus “nice-to-haves.”

It occurs to me that I have a number of basic collections and left over collect some coin or badge or other item from Dry Top/Silverwastes that I have yet to complete. Those should be far easier mini-milestones or goalposts for the feeling of mini-wins than building a legendary…

Speaking of which, I have now used up my two Gifts of Exploration from world map completion, which means another alt has to circumnavigate the globe at some point. Each map is another potential mini-goalpost.

Speaking of alts, not only do I have alts that should be brought to level 80 -some- day, I had the vague desire to take nifty screenshots of my characters and discuss my relationship to my in-game avatars in similar fashion to Rowan Blaze, who has also been inspired by Syp to wonder about how various players fit on the roleplaying versus puppeteering spectrum with regards to their characters/avatars.

And and, if I want gold, I should really get on Silverwastes chest farms or an easy world boss train cycle to replace all those ectos nommed up by Kraitin.

Steam Sale

I have been feeling a little more financially solvent recently, and this has manifested itself in an enthusiastic attempt to clear my Steam wishlist (which dates back to 2012 and earlier.)

I haven’t completely lost my mind or loosened my purse strings entirely, but I decide it was time to actively re-look at the wishlist and ask myself hard questions as to whether I really wanted to ever play the game and/or buy it when it reached 75% off. (Yeah, my wishlist is mostly to keep track of when games I’m interested in hit that threshold.)

It helps that I’ve now decided I can watch and enjoy Youtube videos via streaming to the TV, which then helped me throw out some titles whose setting and potential story intrigued me, but whose gameplay I was left very hesitant about after seeing other peoples’ reviews. (Solution: Find a Let’s Play of the game on Youtube, watch someone else play through it for me while I do other constructive chores around the house.)

Other games, I decided to toss entirely, like Dungeonbowl – where the vitriol about it being horrendously buggy and not having any singleplayer worth speaking of suggested that I’d never actually play it (may as well just cut out some paper miniatures and play my own solo game via tabletop rules if it’s that bad) and the Walking Dead Season 2 – its setting/theme/characters just doesn’t strike a note with me, for some reason.

(I valiantly struggled my way through the first Walking Dead, alternately bored with the mundanity of everyday America and uncontrollably metagaming every time an obvious “no-win” moral dilemma scene/scenario came up. I limped my way through two or three vignettes of 400 days, and then decided there was just no way I could stay interested in these characters, which were either fated to be killed horribly by some other mortal or mortal turned zombie. Nihilism / Anomie 1: Jeromai 0. Except I guess I also win by choosing not to buy or play any more goddamn seasons.

Perhaps I’ll keep an eye on Tales from the Borderlands once it finishes, that seems a little more lighthearted and up my alley, as opposed to something like *ugh* Game of Thrones, which doubtless contains more blood-grimdarkness-politics-nowinscenarios, I’m guessing.)

Despite those that didn’t make the cut, there were a LOT of suddenly-now-75%-off games on my wishlist that were mostly under $5 that didn’t have any obvious reasons for why they shouldn’t be bought and given a try…

Self-control 0, Steam 1 (or 19, rather:)

whatselfcontrol

(Plus a few more in the $10 range that were just too tempting, solid reviews though.)

So…uhhhh… yeah… I need to find the time to install and at least -try- the games for an hour or two. No plans to complete them entirely, but I really should play them and have fun with the lot.

It’s only Day 3 of the sale. I’m doomed.

Free-2-Play Games On the To-Try Someday List

I mentioned my new TV channel surfing habit of flipping through “recommended”  Youtube videos, right?

Some random dudes made a Top Ten list of Free 2 Play Steam games, that probably turned up on my suggested watching list because they mentioned Dota 2 and my TV channel surfing account has a bunch of Dota 2 related channels on subscription, and I suddenly accumulated a list of free-2-play games that I ought to try for fun. After all, they’re free and on Steam, right?

Warframe, Robocraft, and TERA are all stuff sitting in the back of my mind, poking me every now and then that I should make a go at them, if only for a night to get some initial impressions.

They mentioned Marvel Heroes, which is one of those games which are just so colorfully attractive in terms of IP, and yet equally intriguing to me is the “Is this all there is to it?” question that hits me every time I dive into it. Kill a metric ton of PvE mobs that put up no fight whatsoever, accumulate many numbers on many things, find increasing numbers and wear those things to kill even higher metric tons of PvE mobs that put up no fight whatsoever? Surely there’s -more- to Marvel Heroes than what initially hits the casual eye… (who knows, I’ve never made it beyond the second story mode difficulty because it got so damn boring and I end up diverted running cycles through Midtown Madness instead to increment higher and higher numbers.)

Then they talk about Path of Exile, and I’m like, YEAH, THAT GAME IS AWESOME. And I’m SO going to be back when the Awakening expansion is finally done and I get to play Act 4.

And they close with the utter king of Steam Free-To-Play games… Dota 2.

Dota 2

Uh… right. I was supposed to be playing a match every day.

Except I got busy, and then distracted doing a whole bunch of other stuff.

I still -do- intend to keep playing it, and learning more, of course.

And apparently they’ve JUST announced a rework of their client, calling it Dota 2 Reborn.

Which is kind of awesome, in more ways than one.

Being all newbie and stuff, I’m especially intrigued by the advertised new tutorial, as well as the feature that will allow one to “demo a hero” to try out their abilities and practice last hitting, which seems like a quick and convenient way to get a feel for various heroes and learn their abilities, as opposed to having to click a bunch of buttons to start an entire bot match just to do so.

Seems like next week, they’ll make some kind of announcement regarding custom games, likely building it in as part of the client’s UI and streamlining the process of downloading/trying out/joining custom games, which might make the subgenre more popular and possibly attract more folks to work on such stuff, potentially yielding all that player-generated content that saves the devs from needing to focus on such things.

(Hey, maybe we’ll eventually see a few maps/modes that support singleplayer gameplay, which would be amusing to try out. Casually skimming the existing list of custom games reveals a great deal of apparent junk, but also a few intriguing sounding maps, such as survival against various enemy waves or a new map that is almost RPG-esque in its looks but presumably plays like a normal MOBA. Presumably good stuff will rise to the top in time.)

Regardless, there’s plenty of extra shiny that seems to be coming Soon(TM).

Gratuitous Screenshots of a Real Life Kind

With this many games that I could be playing, what have I been doing instead these past weekends?

Playing tourist in my own country.

Beyond visiting various heritage enclaves (Chinatown, Geylang Serai, etc.) and sampling all the highly recommended food therein, the family finally got around to visiting one of the newer attractions the other day – Gardens By the Bay.

dragonflylake

The infamous boat atop the Marina Bay Sands, as seen via the Dragonfly Lake in the free public areas of the Gardens.

To my surprise, it was a lot better than I expected. Seems several years passing has given the plants a chance to settle in and look a little less sorry.

supertree1

The iconic, yet rather weird-looking, Supertree structures.

Ostensibly some sort of marriage between urban modernity and nature, the outer layer is covered by a vertical garden and apparently lights up like a Christmas tree at night (something I have yet to get around to seeing.)

We found ourselves more impressed by the “green” sustainability story around these structures. There are apparently photovoltaic cells atop them that store energy during the day and provide the power to light themselves up at night (and maybe a nearby fountain or two.) Some of them help to vent air out of the cooled conservatories (aka giant greenhouse domes,) yet another plant-like function.

supertree2

The lighting’s poor in this one, but hey, there’s actually plants managing to ascend and partially cover the horribly bare purple and green metal “fake branch” canopy on this particular Supertree.

I suppose they might actually look tree-like in another decade or so… assuming the vines don’t barbeque in our tropical sun and wilt, falling off the structure (seems someone may have been a tad idealistic in hoping the plants would cooperate regarding this design.)

The cooled conservatories, which are ticketed, were really quite nifty.

Ah, the irony of the tropics. In temperate countries, people build greenhouses to keep their plants warm and create humidity. Here, we air condition the greenhouse to make it cooler and more temperate.

The Cloud Forest aims to simulate a tropical or subtropical environment at higher elevations, atop mountains and so on. So only the temperature is cooled and the humidity is left to run hog wild.

cloudforestwaterfall

A seven-story concrete structure covered by plants to simulate a “mountain,” er… “a hill,” er… ok, ok, a “mound.”

cloudforest2

It really is pretty though. And the cool, damp environment is extremely pleasant to walk around in, as contrasted with the outside weather.

We managed to be in the right place at the right time to catch one of the scheduled mistings.

cloudforest3

Feeling a little like stepping back in time to the Jurassic.

Then I turned around and went, “OMG, GW2 god rays!” (sure sign one plays too much) and started snapping like a madman.

cloudforest4

*dreamy sigh* Right out of an Anet landscape… Heart of Thorns, eat your heart out.

bromeliad

This bromeliad was pretty cool. Looked to be one of those that form its own mini-pond community, aka a tank bromeliad that has a phytotelma. (Ah, the things one learns from Google and Wikipedia.)

pitcherplant

A rather sizeable pitcher plant.

pitcherpond

A metric f–kton more pitcher plants.

waterfall1waterfall2

Amusing myself with different shutter speeds.

I managed to burn through a new set of batteries (forgot spares) before we even hit the Flower Dome, which left me a touch sparse on good pictures.

The climate in there was glorious though. The air is run through some sort of dehumidifying system, along with being cooled, and it absolutely felt like walking around in a temperate country. Definitely going to revisit again. Cheaper than an air ticket.

flowerdome

I’ll just leave this photo here which seems to encapsulate most of its contents. Brilliant succulent garden, a collection of baobabs/bottle trees, a lot of plants enthusiastically blooming.

Oh, ok, maybe one more. Because I love these little critters.

stoneplants

And this is a gaming blog, right? So here’s your mini-game: how many stone plants are in this picture?

(Stay distracted. Kthxbai. Back later with actual game stuff. I hope.)

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:

GW2: The Value of Virtual Currency

I’ve always found games that offer a way to swap between a cash shop bought-for-real-life-money currency and an earnable in-game one rather fascinating. (As a layman observer anyway – I’d make a poor economist or statistician.)

Partially because it enables me as a player to make the decision to trade up my time or my cash for similiar benefits, but also mostly because it allows me to roughly peg a value on items being sold for the in-game currency in terms of real life money.

It’s kinda the same comparison as “Should I buy a $25 mount?” (or say, spend it on five starbucks drinks or 2-5 indie games instead) just a few more steps further.

(For the record, for me specifically, the coffee and the other games would win. The intrinsic enjoyment inherent in the latter beats any urge to prance around showing off to other people something shiny to make them envious, when other mounts are just as functional… and that thing looked hellaciously ugly to me – gimme a flying lava dragon on fire, maybe THEN I’ll have a dilemma.)

Some other people go even further and start pegging in-game currency earning rates with real life money equivalency at an hourly rate. Which is rather ruthlessly logical and makes a certain kind of sense.

Except I think it fails to take into consideration the kind of experience you’re having for that hourly rate. If your work is crummy and soulless, one is going to have a more miserable time for the extra cash you ‘earn’ versus leisure time spent/’wasted’ playing a game for enjoyment. If you’re grinding dungeons or farming mobs to the point of it feeling as crummy and soulless as work, then please examine if your days and nights are best spent ‘working’ at the game and in real life. (And if your work isn’t crummy and soulless and tires you out at the end of the day, you’re having a ball working overtime -and- earning lots of money to happily spend on the game, then I want your fucking job.)

Anyhow, Puzzle Pirates was interesting to me because I wasn’t willing to put down more than 3 bucks for a couple of Doubloons, and preferably spend no real life money at all, but I was quite content to “grind” out a couple hours each night a gold haul in pirating booty and exchange that for Doubloons until I had enough for the modestly priced badges that unlocked other aspects of the game.

My main purpose there was simply to get a taste of everything and practice puzzling, for free if at all possible, so it worked out well for me to stand around in rags with holes in it (swabbie pirate style, y’know) and offer up the in-game cash that was a byproduct of my game experience to others who were a lot more committed to the game and willing to feed real money into it.

Spiral Knights made me get the calculator out.

Pretty much anything you want to do in Spiral Knights will cost you some amount of Energy. If you’re a very casual player, you can wait out 24 hours for 100 ephemeral Mist Energy to recharge, but past a certain point, you’ll find you’ll need more than that (to craft better weapons/gear, or start a guild, etc.) and have to get it either via cash or by trading the in-game gold for it. I was okay with the concept, likening it to a sort of arcade game which costs you a quarter for each play and so on, but I wanted to figure out if the amount I was being charged was reasonable before I even gave them any real life money.

Now, the most expensive way to get Energy is to buy it for $2.45 which nets you a mere 750. Each “map level” you play through in Spiral Knights will cost you 10 Energy to experience. That figures to 3.27 cents per map. (That’s before calculating any potential returns from the gold crowns you earn while playing through it. I wasn’t, as I didn’t want to make myself ‘expect’ to earn a certain minimum sum in order to break even.) I was okay paying that amount for the experience of playing the game, assuming I played through 10 levels, that’s about 30 cents for some entertainment. Seemed reasonable to me.

The fun thing with Spiral Knights is because nearly everything costs Energy, you can put a dollar value on it very quickly. The death penalty in Spiral Knights occurs when you revive, as it has an associated Energy Cost. Depending on the tier of difficulty you are at, the first death and revive starts out pretty negligible, and then steadily ramps up to a frankly insane and uneconomic $3.27 (or 1000 Energy) by the 8-10th death. The interesting thing is where each player chooses to stop in the middle, of course, and whether they stop only when they run out of Energy for good.  (And I’m sure kids who have their Energy bought for them and people who don’t think about these things and just buy it when they run out contribute a huge amount to Three Rings’ coffers from this death tax. For the record, I back out after the third death most of the time. Repeating the level grind just means more opportunities to earn in-game cash rather than spend real life money.)

Want to start a guild? It’ll cost you $1.64, or 500 Energy. You can craft Tier 1 and Tier 2 weapons for free by waiting for your Mist Energy tank to refill each day, but at Tier 3 and up, it costs 200, 400 and 800 Energy respectively plus some amount of in-game gold crowns (which again I didn’t bother converting as I just wanted to get a ballpark feel.) That means a T3 item costs 65.4 cents to make, a T4 item $1.31 and T5 $2.62.

That last bit took a while to swallow for me. Facing the prospect of spending 2 odd bucks for a top of the line weapon, and possibly thrice that for an equivalent armor, helmet and shield meant around $10 for a max level character, assuming no experimentation with other weapon playstyles (and I love experimenting and playing around and didn’t want to be taxed that badly for it.) Was this a game I wanted to invest time and money in, knowing the ballpark ranges of how much it might cost at the top?

In the end I decided it didn’t seem that over the top in comparison to other blatantly pay-to-win games where a really good sword might cost upwards of $50 or more. (Won’t find me in those, ever.) And that I’d re-evaluate as I got closer to tier 5, as there was plenty of other content in between where I was starting and where ‘max’ might be.

Ultimately, I ended up dilly dallying around T3 with an odd T4 weapon here and there as the difficulty peaked, and I’m quite content with where I am and what I paid for the period of time experiencing the game, with the option to go back and play, only paying money when I decide to actively enjoy the game again.

With prior experiences like that, you’ll find that I’m quite comfortable with the concept of the Currency Exchange in Guild Wars 2, where players can exchange gold for gems or vice versa.

It’s a good way for players with too much free time and players with too much spare cash to trade with each other the scarcer resource, with developers taking much of the profit in cold hard cash for designing a game experience worth spending time on.

What is currently now perplexing me in GW2 is the surfeit of choice of things to spend $$$ on, and in which currency should I be doing it in.

Y’see, after very patient daily farming for an hour or two in Southsun and selling off most of the T6 materials (mournfully watching my Legendary hopes recede further into the distance), the odd rare collecting here and there, and selling off all the heavy loot bags that drop in WvW for me, very steadily, day by day, my banked gold increased by 2-4 odd gold until my short term goal of hitting the Golden title was reached yesterday.

(This is, of course, absolutely nothing compared to how much the dungeon farmers and TP traders make daily, but on the other hand, I’ve not gone insane, burned out on the game or become even more misanthropic from partying up with people I can’t stand, which is a net positive.)

Bottom line is, I now have 200 gold that have fulfilled their purpose screaming “USE ME” in the bank. And I’m pondering what to do with it. It’s not like it’s earning any interest in there.

A wise trader would naturally say, invest the gold in something, so that you can flip stuff on the TP and make your money work for you and all that sort of thing. I admit to being mildly interested in learning how to dabble with that sort of thing, but a casual look at the TP suggests there are already TP flippers in residence in many niches, and that I might lose money making unwise speculations while trying to start out. Still, it might be worthwhile reserving some amount of gold towards learning how to invest/speculate/sensibly gamble.

On the completely luxury spendthrift other hand, I am still watching prices for the Molten Firestorm miniature. What can I say. I have developed an unhealthy obsession about it. I blame spending way too long a time breathing in those lava fumes in the Molten Facility. The buyout prices are hovering around 72 gold. Take the current rate of approximately 3 gold for 100 gems, and you’ll find that this completely unnecessary and fairly useless (but prettily animated and fairly heftily sized) item costs an equivalent of 2400 gems. Or $30.

DUDE, THREE YEARS AGO YOU MADE FUN OF PEOPLE BUYING A $25 SPARKLE PONY. If you buy a $30 mini-robot, even with in-game cash, you’ll never live it down.

So… yeah. I could buy all the baby miniatures for less than that, and I haven’t bought any of ’em because they ain’t cute enough for me (the lion cub’s not too bad, but I’m waiting for the kitten to see if it tempts me.) As much as I would get a kick out of having a Firestorm the size of my Asura running around with me, shooting off its cute rocket jets, I just cannot bring myself to buy it at a $30 equivalency value. Which makes me a little sad, but possibly not as sad as I would be if I bought a $30 miniature and had the other voice in my head make fun of me daily.

A third more insidious voice in my brain points out that I had been overlooking something. When I buy stuff off the TP, I generally want it -now- and thus am very used to using buyout prices to benchmark my willingness to buy. In this case, the voices have a consensus that $30 is too much, no matter how fucking awesome I think that mini is. But if I put up a custom order, and the custom orders are hovering at around 55 gold (most of them flippers, I’m sure), ie, 1834 Gems, or $22.93…

Oh. So now that’s -less- than a sparkle pony (barely), with in-game currency, and it would be up to fate whether anyone would be willing to sell one to me at that price.

That is somehow slightly more palatable. I am not sure why.

Thing is, there’s plenty of other things I could be using the gold for.

I -could- spend all of it on a quest to build my Legendary and probably still need a shitton more gold to do it, which seems like pointless treadmill running to me. I’m already somewhere between 50-100 T6 materials just playing the game how I like it, so in about twice or thrice the time period I’ve spent, I’ll fill up to a stack of 250 without really noticing it that badly (and I do quite enjoy materials farming in peace and quiet and have learned a bit more on how to go about it since Southsun.)

I kinda want a really posh magic find set of armor and weapons and runes and all. That is, exotics and Ascended quality. With a similar Charr cultural look to my berserker set. Other people are running around with 400% mf in Southsun and I’ve been hovering at 300% in my cheapo rares, feeling somewhat inadequate and not as efficient as I could be. That would cost gold too.

I’ve also been dabbling with my extremely crummy thief in WvW, which I decked out in level 80 rares just to get a feel for it before deciding to go condition or crit. Fights are… not going so well. I’m not used to thief timing and playstyle to begin with, so it’s been uphill going with comparatively poorer stats. It’s been sufficient to see potential promise but it looks like I’ll have to invest in exotics and superior runes to get a proper baseline. So that would take gold too.

I -could- buy both a condition and crit suit for him so that I can keep swapping traits for 3 silver. But a) that would be very annoying without a way to easily save specs. b) they’ll soulbind to him and be useless for any other character, and he’s a bloody huge Norn, which is making me think is at least -some- of the problem of not being that stealthy for a thief. (Don’t ask me what I was thinking, it seemed like a good idea at the time.) So maybe one suit and build is good enough for him and I should make a new Asura thief too to try the other type of build.

Character slots cost money too, y’know. An altholic’s brain never rests, and has been desiring a female Norn warrior, an asura thief, mebbe a Charr thief, an asura mesmer or elementalist or both (asura master race! furry charr at heart!)… you get the picture. For 24 gold each, that seems okay to help unlock more character slots, rather than paying 10 bucks each time because I’m still reserving my rl cash budget for the Consortium pick and/or logging axe (if they ever show up.)

I got a bank slot that needs unlocking too. And one more bag slot for my asura, who keeps filling up with loot too fast in WvW and has taken over as my primary there, while the Charr is relegated to PvE. That’s 30 gold to gems.

Put like that, I can see 200 gold disappearing in a hurry. Just got to figure out which to prioritize first.

Decisions, decisions. Which would you guys go for first, and why?