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[personal profile] kaptainvon posting in [community profile] fanwow

I am always wracked by sentimentality, in large part because I demand to live in a context rich with emotional meaning. I invest everything around me with a narrative, or a place in a larger narrative, until everything is more or less humming with crucial purpose. You may be wondering, what does this have to do with Red Faction?

We're getting to that.

It was this way, even as a very young person. It drove people up the fucking wall, and factually speaking I know that my tendencies in this regard continue to have this effect on people. I understand now that while I do not myself require anything resembling a vacation, other people do from time to time need a vacation from me.

The tendency I mentioned is this: I have to know what something means before I know what must be done. That's as true when I pick up a tiny Lego person as it is when I pick up a controller, to guide this quarter's batch of sneering gladiators through whatever tawdry parable the design team cooked up after hours. I've been wondering why I can't find the game journalists are writing about when I consume their reviews, and the reason is actually very simple: we aren't playing the same game. I construct a lattice around everything, altering it, meeting its creators at some conceptual halfway point, taking responsibility for my own enjoyment.

-- Tycho, Penny Arcade.

I have the sneaking suspicion that this is how I work with the World of Warcraft thing.

It is not enough for me to power my way through areas, accumulating experience and shiny objects with my eye on 'reaching level 60 so I can start to play'; not enough to focus on the mechanics of the thing, the simple accumulation of mathematical weight to assure the most efficient distribution of fiery doom rained from the heavens.

Truth be told, the mechanics of World of Warcraft are fairly unsophisticated, at least as far as my preferred PVE play goes: occasionally a challenge, often a routine, disrupted by the occasional variation introduced by some new capability among the creatures infesting the environment. Some sort of additional level of interest is needed above and beyond the actual playing of the game.

I've looked for that level of interest in quite a few places. I've fallen in and out of casual guilds - after the initial flood of interest, I find that I'm often not terribly interested in the game-focused chitchat that goes on in a lot of guild channels. I've joined the roleplaying channels, but I've found that I'm not able to keep up with either OOC discussion or IC channel activity while actually playing the game... and I do sort of want to play the game, rather than use an instant messaging program, 'cause if I wanted to IM people I'd fire up MSN or something.

Actual roleplaying is... a rare experience, although every now and again I cross paths with someone who has flagsrp fired up and a character description written and fumble my way through an introduction (I am so so scared of introducing myself to people on the Interwebs) and attempt to type in character while playing the brute mechanically. Dedicated RP play feels like a closed system, plots between people who've been around forever and hang around on the RP forums... and I'm too much of a casual/dilettante WoW player to commit to it like that. I'd go so far as to say that I'm a sworn casual - I've seen people disappear for years in the playing of MMOs and being able to regulate my time and my level of involvement with the beast is something of a Thing with me. (Not a terribly successful Thing, since I'm writing this in a lecture, but hush).

So I sort of become a solo roleplayer. It's difficult to interact with others, although I have a series of gesture macros coded up so I can do more than just generic flails at other people*, so what I end up interacting with is a version of the game's narrative that's much more personalised than what's in front of me, woven around my character du jour's backstory and the quests I've chosen and places I've been.

Take Sybeth, for instance - my tiny Undead Warlock who, mechanically speaking, does most of her levelling in the Eastern Kingdoms apart from the occasional Warlock quest and occasional holiday from reason around Kalimdor (I admit to running Felwood and Dustwallow Marsh in their entirety purely because I like the scenery).

Narratively speaking? She was posted to Tranquillien because she wasn't welcome in Undercity owing to Cult of the Damned allegiances in her former life, travelled around the Eastern Kingdoms attempting to Prove Herself, and eventually ended up in Raventusk Village, where she earned a degree of forgiveness and the rank of Executor. Since then, she's been actively revenging herself on the Scourge, a process which will doubtless conclude with an assault on Scholomance. After the Lich King dies... will she go on to Outland, bored with the world now that her past is no longer a problem, or will she just ride back and forth in the old world, seeing what's changed after the Cataclysm?

Similar stories emerge out of all my characters - the Draenei Priest who makes a point of avoiding the Alliance and operating mainly out of neutral towns, or the Gnome Warrior who just wants his old workshop back and is willing to brain every trogg in the world to get there (they're in development - it took me half a year of playing with Sybeth to work out what I actually needed to contextualise the game, and I've only had these two lads for a matter of months).

Nobody I actually play the game with - mechanically speaking - actually knows these stories, and I suspect nobody would care - but it underwrites everything I do with my little pixellated people, everywhere I go, every quest I choose to steer her through or avoid touching. Levelling, for me, isn't just about chasing that final bar and the cursory 'gz' from my guildies - it's a story built out of chosen fragments, that I imagine someone else would have constructed quite differently.

* - what I should have done, perhaps, is rolled an Undead character with no jaw, and interacted entirely through this medium. Maybe I'll do that next...
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February 2011

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