Monday, October 31, 2011

Death Comes To Those Who Wait...

We've all lost people in our lives who have touched us at some point... right?

Family members, significant others, perhaps even children... sometimes all of the above. I am finding that the longer I live, the more aware I am becoming of my own mortality, and what it means not only to myself, but to those around me whom I call friends and family. Yet even with this sobering reminder, on this day of Samhain (that's Halloween to you modern folk), I cannot help but think that, perhaps like in the games I play... Maybe death is NOT the end?

Back in my death metal vocalist days, affectionately known as "The Drewcifer Era", I used to have this ritual at every show of screaming the words "Death comes to those who wait"! It became a tag line of sorts, as if the sight of a black death metal vocalist with a long goatee and LaVey-esque bald head was not disturbing enough. Back then it was mostly done for shock value... and boy did that ever shock people. As I grew older and started getting into video games, I started to gain a new value to death... since in games, death is hardly the end.

The first time I died in an MMORPG, was of course, in Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). I was about level 5ish (there were no real levels back then), and running around Theed, on Naboo, doing delivery boy missions. Yes, you heard right...  I was a "Fedexer" in that galaxy far far away. I am not quite sure what got into me, but I decided I did not want to wade through a gaggle of gnorts (little pseudo bunny/armadillo looking things), so instead I started pew pewing them with my little CDEF pistol. Unfortunately I missed the part in the game manual that stated that some animals have herd mentalities, and in short order I found myself dead, by bunnies.

2 hours into Star Wars Galaxies... GO ME!

It was embarrassing to say the least.

Since that first "death experience", I have died many many more times in that particular game, and of course in the many others I have played, right up to Guild Wars (GW); my current poison of choice. Now, with GW, I have the pleasure of not only killing myself, but all my other alts as well... an epic wipe to end all wipes! I do this multiple times a night... regularly!

The common denominator with all the games I have played is, once you're face down in the dirt, your game is NOT over! You always have the option to clone, or respawn... be reborn as you were when you died, at the closest "save point". Now that is a nifty little trick that I earnestly wish real life had! Imagine how many second chances you could get with loved ones if there was that respawn button you could push to bring them back to you? Yeah, I know... wishful thinking. All the same, there is so much I could tell my grandmother, my daughter Deanna, or Heather, or even my Uncle Billy- who passed on this past August (and was the reason why my summer blogs were written in Florida, and not home in PA).

I often wonder how different games would be if as a death penalty, you simply could not go any further. That's IT... You are gone... poof... end of game, unsub, no more for you. Of course we all know that would royally suck, so let's hope no gaming companies even get that thought in their heads. Speaking of death penalties... even in the games I have evolved with, those have changed. It would appear that gone are the days of corpse running. If you have no idea what corpse running is, let me summarize:

Your character just died and is cloned. You appear in your skivvies (because well, they could not make you appear naked and keep that T rating). You now have to RUN to your corpse, wherever you left it, to loot yourself and gather the items you had on your person before you died... You know, just the basics like clothes, money, weapons, etc. An annoyance? Indubitably! It only takes a couple of times, if that much before you learn to always insure yourself. (Another lesson I have had to learn the hard way in multiple games... Thanks SWG and EVE Online... not to mention the MAIN reason why I have life insurance in real life... Just in case). I for one, am glad to see corpse running go. I am certain there may be a few out there would wish it would remain, simply for the downtime factor, but you all are on your own on this one. I won't be rallying for the comeback of the corpse run.

I KNEW I should have taken that "accidental death and dismemberment" policy.

Ok, so no more corpse run... Well there is always "cloning sickness", which takes various forms in different games. Guild Wars, I think, does it the most hardcore; making it an aggregate each time you die. You generally start off with a 15% diminishment of your attributes, and it keeps getting bigger each successive time you die, to the max of 60%. Talk about an incentive to fight smarter! If you kill bosses, or large groups, you eventually whittle this down (or if you are lucky enough to find the trinkets that can wipe out death penalties all together). If you are really frustrated, simply use your map to teleport back to a town or outpost and you will be right as rain once more. The catch being, you have to start all over with whatever you were doing that kept getting you killed... Perfect time to redo your skillbar, and reformulate a strategy.

Yes, Chicago is one of the bears... Original, I know.

Usually I see a timer on the death penalty, in most games. X amount of time where you are not quite your full capacity, which is also a good time to relax a little and take that well needed bio break. (We have to eat and use the facilities after all)

Every now and then a game comes along to challenge what we know... and this time around it appears to be Guild Wars 2. As pertains to death, ArenaNet has purported that you cannot really "die" in the game (ask them, they hate using the word). Instead, when your health bubble goes down past critical, you fall to the floor in a last ditch effort to save yourself. It's called the downed state. It essentially amounts to being mortally wounded, with the caveat that you can get back up to fighting trim if you-

A- manage to kill an enemy with the skills you are given in this downed state before you "bleed out".


B- have someone around who can resuscitate you. (All players, no matter their class can do this... from level 1)

If none of the above happen, you go into a defeated mode. This "technically" would be what we gamers call death, but even so ArenaNet prefers to describe it as simply being unconscious. You then choose a spawn point nearby and pop back up. Is it semantics? Possibly... Is it annoying, probably not as much as a corpse run, or waiting for a timer to expire on your weakened condition. You rise up no worse for wear, with no after-effects of your... "near death experience".

In essence this would mean that there is no "true" death penalty in this game... That is if I am understanding this correctly (and feel free to correct me, in the comments if I am not).

But hey, don't just take my word for it... Here is what ArenaNet has to say on THEIR website about death penalties:

"Players who have recently been downed several times will take longer to revive each time. If no one revives you, you can spend a small amount of gold to come back at a waypoint. It's as simple as that, and why not? Why should we debuff you, take away experience, or make you run around for five minutes as a ghost instead of letting you actually play the game? We couldn't think of a reason. Well, we did actually think of a reason--it just wasn't a good one. Death penalties make death in-game a more tense experience. It just isn't fun. We want to get you back into the action (fun) as quickly as possible. Defeat is the penalty; we don't have to penalize you a second time."

Hardcore RPG purists may have a tricky time coming to terms with this new mechanic that seems to take all the hassle out of something so bothersome as death. It's unheard of! There has to be some kind of penalty!! Well, unless I am totally off base... Nope... No penalty. They did it this way to add more fun to the game, and reduce a lot of the tedious things that turn gamers off to MMORPGs.

Of course we are all still waiting for closed beta to test that theory... Hint hint, ArenaNet.

While death still comes to those who wait, it is apparently just a passing phase anymore. It's a shame real life could not operate this way, but then... the world is overpopulated as it is. I have always felt that those who die make room for those who come after. Might seem a little odd to think about it that way, but if as a species our job is to perpetuate itself... It seems only natural to me.

I only hope that when my time comes, if there is in fact an "Other side" (I have no concrete proof yet), I sincerely hope it looks like this.

Yeah... I could live here... What dreams may come...

If it does, I won't be coming back for another run!

A very happy Samhain / Halloween to you all, and try not to eat too much candy... What are your thoughts on death, whether ingame or as touched you in real life? 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I am Unique... Just like EVERYONE ELSE!

A long time ago, in a childhood far far away, I decided to beg my mother for her last $20.00 that week because something profound had occurred in my school. A couple weeks before, we had just gotten in about 4 or 5 of a brand new item known as the Apple IIe. All the nerds at the time were going gaga over this new bit of technology and the list of people signing up for "Computer Class" was long and distinguished. Thankfully, my mother decided it might be a good idea (translation: It will keep me out of trouble), and I learned how to program in BASIC.

The rest, they say, is history....

How it all began...

Since that time, my life has been changed dramatically, setting me on a path that would end up with me being a huge gamer geek, and tech guru of sorts. The by-product of this is of course, being labelled a geek or a nerd for most of my life, a moniker diluted by the "cool factor" of being a working rock musician. In essence, I have thus far lived a life that makes me unique... just like everyone else.

It's hard to say when EXACTLY I got into gaming... Perhaps it was when I first played Karateka on the Apple, or maybe it was the Pong game my dad bought for us one xmas, but one thing is clear. I have had a love affair with gaming since those mist enshrouded times in my past, and through said gaming I have learned a lot more about the human experience, albeit encased in the virtual one. Apparently we are a lot alike, us gamers. We are all at heart social beings, reaching out through this medium to form connections, even briefly to other people we have never met. We judge people based on their virtual actions (or lack thereof in some cases), and we discover a diaspora of psychological conditions in the people we choose to game with, even for a hot second.

It can be staggering at times, and I have to admit that there are often moments where in games that I play, ESPECIALLY MMORPGs, I opt to travel solo through the pixellated world... the hermit with +10 to dexterity armor. I have come to learn that for the broad cross-section of people who play games, in particular MMORPG games, we seem to fall somewhere in the three categories I am about to discuss below:

The lone wolves, the socialites, and the outcasts.

"Yeah Mom, me again... Yeah... top of the world again... Yes, I'll be careful coming down... Love you too. Bye Mom."

The Lone Wolf-

I walk alone... If you see me, it's once in a blue moon... Don't get attached, because I will be gone again really soon.

Lately I have found myself falling into this category. Perhaps it is because age and cynicism has pushed me to this point, or maybe I am just getting tired of the interaction. The irony of this is, if the latter is true... I should NOT be playing MMORPGs at all. I'd probably be better off playing single player RPGs. The reality of it is that, there are games out and games coming out now that cater to the lone wolf "crowd", allowing massive worlds for us to explore solo, and a plethora of content to rise up the levels, and experience MOST of what the game itself has to offer. This is a good thing! In my short time playing Guild Wars (since late June/early July), I have to say that I have had such a blast playing through the campaigns, and even more fun being able to group with my own alts and push the stories ever further. It may well be an altaholic's dream, as I wrote in an earlier blog! For those of us who are lone wolves, we KNOW there are many others in the world, but we often choose to distance ourselves, because nine times out of ten, the story and the exploration of the world the devs have made for us is more important than making friends and hanging out in xyz city.

In Rift, some of my fondest moments WERE being on top of a mountain no one had the cajones to climb, and finding a cairn full of elite items just for me. I explored so much of that map that I had the very edges filled in, and a screenshot of it shows as a chronicle of the places I have been, the monsters I have fought, and the things I have seen. For a lone wolf, the journey is as important, if not more so, than the destination... This is something I resonate with in real life as well, when I go into hermit mode to shut off the world... and simply BE. Friends and family hate when I do so, but were it not for those moments, I might have lost my sanity decades ago. As Guild Wars 2 slowly plods along to inevitable beta and release, the promise of a vast world to explore solo opens up to me once more, and I have to admit... I am excited to see Tyria, 250 years later.

"Can you guys play that one song again... You know the one."

The Socialite-

I am defined not only by who I am, or what I do, but by the company I choose to keep.

Any good guild leader is part socialite. The entire basis of guilds in games is the coming together of like minds for the express purpose of gaming together and experiencing what the virtual world has to offer en masse. Guilds come in all shapes and sizes; ranging from the close knit, real life family that plays together, to the 200+ juggernauts of pvp, pve, and raid nights. As I have stated in past blogs, I used to run one of the latter types of guilds. Sanctuary of Hope, formerly of the Naritus server on Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), was well known for its helpful people, its strong Imperial presence, and its ability to get the job done, and have an amazingly fun time in doing so. As a matter of fact, were it NOT for Sanctuary, and the guild I joined after Naritus died- FEAR, I would not have met most of the people on my Facebook, and Twitter friends lists. Some of these folks I have even met in person, and had the pleasure of running around in RL with! One of whom I even fell in love with, though that story had a tragic end, in her death years later.

Heather, gone but not forgotten... Everquest II will never be the same again.

As a socialite, meeting people IS the game. It is the heart and soul of MMORPGs, and a chief reason why some who otherwise might be awkward in real world settings, end up forming long lasting friendships from their games. Make no bones about it folks, one of the best ways you can meet people IS to play video games such as I play. If I told you how many couples I have seen come together in RL through gaming, or how many wedding ceremonies I have performed in the games I have played, you would probably not believe me.

When I was a child I used to lead "clubs" in school. My peers would sign up to be a part of the club, we would pool money together to buy things we needed (usually toys, soccer balls, occasionally food at the restaurant near my childhood home... aka KFC. This was back when kids could actually walk into a restaurant unescorted and sit down to have lunch with no one the wiser). Little did I know that would set the pace for the virtual me becoming a guild leader, and somewhat "internet famous" for my disposition, leadership ability, charisma, et al. The sad part to being such a socialite was that it eventually left me no time to BE a lone wolf, and I had to actually divorce myself from any and all guilds, just to be able to enjoy the game I wanted to play. With SWTOR impending, and GW2 not far behind I have already made it known that I do NOT plan on joining a guild anytime soon. My friends know how and where to find me... I am only a /tell away.

The Guild Wars krewe... Outcasts in Ascalon, Kryta, Elona and other fine places we get kicked out of.

The Outcast-

I really do not care what you think of me... I'm going to do what I do, and damn the consequences. QQ moar nub, your tears sustain me.

This category is one I have rarely even entered. The outcast carries with it a stigma that is worse than even being labelled a nerd in real life. The outcast is not only someone who may or may not have been shunned in real life, but also shunned by their gaming peers... Often due to their OWN actions, or some times misinterpretations thereof. Who knows why someone chooses to grief? Is it a cry for attention; as if they were socialites who have to resort to "bad puppy syndrome" to get some of the limelight? Are they lone wolves simply due to being anti-social in RL and in game? Are they truly sociopathic individuals who have luckily chosen the best path to keep themselves out of trouble... After all, who can arrest the dude who kills you over and over at the spawn point?

Whatever the case may be... get used to seeing the outcast. EVERY MMORPG HAS THEM. Some more than others (WoW, I am looking at you). Whatever their reasons are for running against the grain, you can be sure to run into them at some point in your stay on (insert game planet name here). Does it make them intrinsically "bad people"? I am not so sure about that. In my time gaming I have actually met a couple of would be griefers; outcasts even by their own standards, whom, upon further discussions, end up being average people acting out their frustrations with the real world, in this virtual realm where no one knows their name, and will shortly forget who they are anyway. I call this kind of behavior "internet muscles". It is not exclusive to gaming. I am sure everyone who reads this has met people like this who apparently type first and think later, with the goal of stirring that hornet's nest, then sitting back and watching.

Happens every day... With the relative anonymity that can be garnered here on the web, or in game, I am not surprised that people act this way. Of course in a perfect world, we would not have to deal with it... but then, even the virtual world is not perfect. The outcast is a reminder of this. The most ironic part of it, is that often times, the outcast is a mirror of the bad in ourselves... and THAT is the part we hate to see the most.

It's easy to vilify, but it takes real talent to understand.


As I look back on my life over these (almost) 41 years, I am constantly amazed at what I have learned about people, and the venues in which I have learned it. it comes as no surprise to me to see similarities in the circles I have been in... musically, game-wise, work related, etc. In just about all aspects of life you can find people in these categories, and every single one of us is indeed unique... Just like everyone else. So where do YOU factor in? Are you a lone wolf, a socialite, an outcast, or some of all? Sound off in the comments.

Somehow we looked more impressive in pixels... Go Figure.


By the way, I want to take a moment to give a heartfelt "THANK YOU", to my longtime idol, Steve Jobs. Were it not for you and YOUR peers, unique to say the least, I would NOT be the gamer geek I am today. May you sleep and dream in peace... and we'll see you on the other side, when our game is over. Thanks for changing my life.