Old school nostalgia or not

Last night, I found out via twitter that my friend Collin was in town, and so, via twitter, I arranged to meet him for a drink. This is how I roll now. Collin and I go back a pretty long way in Internet time. I don’t know exactly when I first started reading his blog, but it was at least a year or more before we met in person at the MLA in 2006. Collin is a friend from another lifetime for me. He’s in my former field of rhetoric and composition, we used to blog together in the old days of blogging, and we used to play WoW together.

I’m still blogging (though not as much as I used to), but those other things? They’re mostly in the background. When I met some of Collin’s grad students and colleagues, I got a few weird looks, but not many. It does seem incongruous to most people that someone who started in rhet/comp, even getting a PhD in it, would end up teaching computer science in middle and high school. I contend that CS is not that different from rhet/comp, and that I use my skills from my PhD every day. I research. I write. I make my students write. I understand the importance of writing both as a skill in and of itself and as a process for learning a subject.

I’ve said before that I think the logic of writing, especially in the sophisticated argumentative style used in academic papers is similar to the logic of programming. Just think about an if statement. If some condition is true, then execute the code below. In papers, one often sees the forwarding of evidence in similar ways. If this fact or assertion is true, then you must accept the following argument. Now human thought processes aren’t binary the way computer conditions are, but the logical process is still similar.

It’s also true that the ability to communicate in technical fields is hugely important. In most of the jobs I’ve had, I’ve served as translated between techies and non-techies, something that is valued in almost every industry I know. I attribute those skills to my work as a writer.

Collin and I discussed a bit the bubble that academics are often in. They see things according to the logic of academia, unaware sometimes that the world around them functions on a different logic. One of the great things about blogging in the old days was that it brought a community of people together around blogging who might never have met each other. It looked something like this:


So academics were exposed to regular people and vice versa. As Collin said, the landscape has changed. There’s very little left of that old community. A few individual bloggers are left and some people still congregate around their blogs, but the interlinking, inter commenting atmosphere of the old days is mostly gone. Partly it’s a result of the commercialization of blogging and social media more generally. It’s also in the rise of twitter and Facebook. There’s sort of the same kind of community there, but it’s not quite the same reflective space that blogging was or is.

Another online space that’s changed is WoW. I joined just after the first expansion (after, I should note, I’d finished my PhD). I became part of a community who explored together and had common goals, from which I learned an amazing amount about who I was as part of a group. I learned, for example that I don’t like to lead, a surprise to me, and something I might not have recognized otherwise. I can qualify that a bit, and say that I don’t like to lead when I feel unqualified or unskilled, and I felt that way in game more often than not. In life, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t put myself into a leadership role when I don’t know what I’m doing. Or I should educate myself. That sense of community, and group dynamics is largely gone. It’s both because of people that have left, but also because of the changes made to the game which made casual play less fun, and made the singular goal raiding, requiring a kind of grinding many got tired of (including me).

I do miss playing WoW. There was a wonder and camaraderie about it that’s hard to find. Just writing about it here gives me a sense of nostalgia.

Not all change is bad, of course, but it’s interesting to have been involved in some things since practically their inception and see how they’ve morphed and impacted society. I wonder if people who saw the beginning of the automobile felt that way (feel that way? Are there any living still?). Seeing and talking to Collin reminds me that I value the connections I’ve made, in former fields, former jobs, former virtual spaces, and that I should continue to find ways to maintain them.

Gaming again

I confessed to Audrey at ISTE that I’d started playing WoW again. I have several reasons for doing so. One, Geeky Boy started playing again. He has a couple of local friends that play, and they’ve encouraged him. They do a lot of stuff face-to-face together, too, and if WoW can solidify their friendship, then I’m all for it. I might level a character on his server just for fun. Two, after I get my work done for the day, there’s not much else I want to do. I like the active nature of gaming–as opposed to watching tv or yes, even reading. When the family’s around, we go to the pool or into the city or some such, but if they’re not around, then I’m not going to do that stuff on my own. Playing WoW is social (when there are people on), which also appeals to me.

I’m 99% sure this won’t last through the school year as I’m too exhausted to do much of anything when I get home from school. All the guild stuff doesn’t start until 9:30, and that’s my bed time during the school year. I need to move to the west coast. ūüôā Also, the new content isn’t thrilling. There have been a couple of things that have impressed me, but in general, most of the stuff is the same with different costumes and colors. So I’m not drawn to the game for its content. We’ll see.


Gaming Together
Image by lorda via Flickr

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now. ¬†Remember WoW Wednesdays? ¬†I haven’t played WoW in over 6 months, which kind of makes me sad, but given how busy I am, it was the best thing. ¬†I may come back to it. ¬†I haven’t quit playing games at all. ¬†Those of you that follow me on Facebook may have noticed status updates related to the games I play there. ¬†They’re not as fun as WoW, but they are mindless and entertaining. ¬†Well, semi-mindless. ¬†I mostly play Cityville, which I like because it requires the least amount of bugging my friends to get to the next level. ¬†I can mostly manage my city by myself, without bothering my friends for stuff. ¬†I played Cafe World for a while, but it got to the point where doing anything required so much help, I gave up. ¬†It’s a very different model from WoW, where you really can play by yourself if you want, but the game is much enhanced by playing with friends. ¬†Being required to play with friends–and it’s not even with, it’s more like playing at or getting donations from friends or something–bothers me.

I like the open-endedness of Cityville–it’s not hugely different from SimCity, which I loved. ¬†The other thing I don’t like is the requirement to buy the good stuff–with real money. ¬†Cityville is the least onerous in this respect. ¬†I’ve never actually spent any real money on these games. ¬†My feeling is that they probably have enough data on me to sell that off for a good profit. ¬†Which makes my skin crawl just a little, but I try to ignore it.

I’ve also returned to an old game I played about ten years ago, Heros of Might and Magic. ¬†It was a Linux game, but it was eventually ported to Windows and Macs (in the fourth installment). ¬†Geeky Boy downloaded it the other day and we’ve all been playing off and on for the last couple of weeks. ¬†You can play together, but it’s turn based, so you wait for the other player to finish what they’re doing. ¬†I like it because it’s very goal-oriented, but pretty simplistic and the graphics are pretty good for their day. ¬†It’s a precursor to WoW and to games like Civilization. ¬†The simpler mechanics make it easy to say, watch tv and play at the same time.

Speaking of games, I’ve been reading Reality is Broken. ¬†I’m about halfway through, and while I agree with much of what McGonigal is saying, until I reach the end, I’m holding out judgement. It does confirm the human need for play, for collective play, even, something I know I get from the games I play. If you game at all–even just playing BeJeweled, it’s a must read. ¬†Though if I see one more reference to “gamification,” I might lose it.

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WoW Wednesday: Whither WoW

I think I played WoW over the weekend. ¬†But otherwise, not. ¬†Often, I play in that dead hour from 4-5 when the kids are home and being noisy and demanding, so that I can’t focus on real work, and it’s not quite time to start putting dinner on the table. ¬†This week, however, I’ve been doing “just one more thing” in preparation for something that’s coming up later this week. ¬†And, I know, I’m being all mysterious about it, but I don’t want to jinx it. ¬†You’ll hear all about it later, I promise.

So, WoW has been on the back burner. ¬†I’ve been thinking about it. ¬†I’ve been reading things here and there about new content coming out in the next expansion. ¬†But no actual playing. ¬†And actually, that might be a bad thing. ¬†WoW, and game playing generally, has always been about distraction, destressing in a way that’s fun, but still challenging. ¬†WoW is much less mindless than Facebook games and tv, so that my mind is still engaged just in a different way. ¬†Still, I think it’s also possible that I needed even more of a break and thus did not turn to WoW. ¬†Instead, I’ve gone on walks and vegged in front of the tv, passing out by 10 p.m. ¬†Man, I feel old.

I’ll get back in the groove, once all the hoopla is past.

WoW Wednesday: Addiction

First, let me say I’m not entirely sure that video games are an addiction. ¬†But I’m not ruling it out. ¬†If gambling can be an addiction, then perhaps video games can be too.

Yesterday, my husband sent me this article about how video games are designed to get people addicted. ¬†It’s a little reminiscent of the tobacco companies’ knowing that their products were addictive. ¬†The article notes that game designers often exploit the brains natural motivation and reward receptors, so that gamers are compelled to keep playing to get to the next reward. ¬†I wrote about reward and motivation myself without a single nod to the fact that the tweaking Blizzard does might, in fact, be intended to “get people addicted” to the game. ¬†Instead, I applied the in-game reward system to my real life, noting that I like small rewards along the way, so that, in order to get myself through an arduous task, I should reward myself with a little something along the way. ¬†Progress tracking was another important motivator that I could apply to real life.

My ability to step outside the game, to recognize what it is doing to my brain, probably separates me from the people who play games for days on end, even to the point of death, for a virtual reward. ¬†These people have lost touch with reality. ¬†And the question is, did the video games cause that or was there something in their psyches already that led to this disconnect. ¬†Would those same people have been driven to another addiction or problematic behavior if video games had not been available? ¬†In fact, this Time article notes that the problem of video game addiction among teens in South Korea may be due in part to long work hours and pressure put on kids to go to “cram schools” at night. ¬†Video games provide a way to relieve stress. ¬†It could have been drugs or alcohol. ¬†Some people just take that stress relief too far.

MMO’s like World of Warcraft do encourage long hours of play. ¬†Running a dungeon can take at least a couple of hours. ¬†A raid, even longer. ¬†I remember the first time I picked up a dungeon guide and the estimate it gave for one dungeon was 2 and a half hours. ¬†Whoa, I thought, I don’t have that kind of time. ¬†Well, things have changed a bit in the game and dungeons can now be run in a half-hour, though raids still take many hours, often spread out over multiple days to complete. ¬†But at least you can play for an hour or so and then save your raid and try again another day instead of having to do it all at once. ¬†Still, most people I know don’t hop on for an hour and leave. ¬†Most log on at the end of the work day and are on until bedtime. ¬†That can be a more than four or five hours. ¬†If you do that every day, is that an addiction?

Look at it this way. ¬†If someone has a couple of drinks every day, they aren’t necessarily alcoholics. ¬†I’m no psychologist, but I know that alcoholics can’t stop at one drink, and they often can’t go a day without a drink (even if they tell themselves they won’t drink). ¬†I once thought I was an alcoholic in college, so I vowed that I wouldn’t drink over winter break. ¬†I was seriously worried that I’d want to drink. ¬†As it turned out, I didn’t want to drink and I went around to holiday parties drinking Dr. Pepper, and felt fine about it. ¬†So, if you can’t go for a day without playing or can’t stop playing after an hour because you need to go eat dinner, you might have a real problem. ¬†And actually, better video games than alcohol or drugs. ¬†At least you’re less likely to harm others or yourself (despite some scary news stories, it really is rare).

For the record, I haven’t played WoW in three days. ¬†Real life has gotten in the way. ¬†As it should.

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WoW Wednesday: A Failure of Communication

I’ve had some rough PuGs in the last few days. ¬†In one ToC PuG where I’d taken my DK, no one admitted to not knowing the fight even though someone asked. ¬†When we all died in the middle of it, it was clear that not everyone knew the fight. ¬†Still, the leader only said to do one thing differently, which helped, but didn’t solve everything. ¬†That fight is immediately followed by another with no break. ¬†In the second fight, two worms appear and they each need to be tanked. ¬†As far as I could see, only one worm was being tanked. ¬†The other one I kept aggroing. ¬†So, naturally, dead. ¬†Also in that fight, there’s a complicated disease situation where when one gets the disease, you need to run to someone with a different disease to cancel it out. ¬†No one explained this. ¬†And I’m guessing that since a lot of people didn’t know the first fight, they didn’t know the second fight either. ¬†And the leader, who was one of the tanks, didn’t say, Okay, I’m gonna tank this worm, you, other tank, tank the other worm. ¬†Everyone just assumed that people would figure it out and/or do what was needed. ¬†In addition, the healers (both priests) were not using the most effective heals. ¬†When I looked at their stats, they both were using things frequently that one only uses every once in a while because they’re slow and ineffective. ¬†Still, we might have overcome that with a little communication. ¬†It was frustrating all the way around and about a half-hour or so of my time wasted.

My next failure was in HoR, a really difficult dungeon all the way around. ¬†I was healing. ¬†When I’d come in, the dungeon was in progress, and in fact, the group had just experienced a wipe after which the healer left. ¬†I was the replacement. ¬†My experience when I’m the replacement healer is that the healing was difficult. ¬†Sometimes it’s the case that the healer just wasn’t up to par, but usually, there’s an issue with the tank or the dps or something. ¬†And that’s what I found. ¬†People were taking too much damage early on and I couldn’t keep up. ¬†In theory, I should be able to heal mostly the tank with the occasional group heal or single target of someone who grabbed aggro. ¬†In this case, everyone was taking damage, a lot of it. ¬†And then, I was taking damage and before I could heal myself or shield myself, I died. ¬†Wipe city. ¬†Someone quit after this, and then we got a new guy and when he asked what went wrong, someone said it was a healer problem. ¬†And I said, well, yeah, the tank didn’t keep the mobs off me. ¬†But I wasn’t angry. ¬†I was just assessing the situation. ¬†So we gave it another try. ¬†Less damage early on, so I was able to keep up. ¬†But then the warlock took a big hit and was down and then everyone started taking lots of damage and again, I couldn’t keep up. ¬†Then I was feared, so couldn’t heal at all, and well, of course, we wiped. ¬†I’ve healed this before and I know it’s not supposed to be like this. ¬†Yes, people take some damage, but people are not supposed to be taking lots and lots of damage. ¬† I quit after the last wipe. ¬†But, despite the appearance that it was the healer (me) who was failing, I think this was, again, a failure to communicate. ¬†I couldn’t see everything that was going on, but I suspect the group wasn’t killing the mobs in the right order. ¬†No one suggested other strategies. ¬†Again, everyone assumed that people knew what to do. ¬†And maybe, I should have spoken up and said, hey, everyone’s taking too much damage; it shouldn’t be that way.

When I think about why I didn’t say anything, it’s probably the same reason why many people don’t say anything. ¬†Even suggesting that the fight isn’t going as it should sounds accusatory and some people, me especially maybe, don’t want to sound like assholes. ¬†But people should speak up. ¬†I should speak up. ¬†I should have said in the first instance, hey, let’s make it clear who’s tanking and let’s talk about the disease thing. ¬†And in the second, I should have said, I’ve healed this before and usually people don’t take this much damage. ¬†What can we do to prevent that? ¬†Sure, someone may quit over that, but in both cases I quit anyway, so I have nothing to lose. ¬†It’s interesting because I think in real life, speaking up about failures or mistakes have consequences that can be harmful to the person who speaks up or others and so, people tend to be reluctant to say anything. ¬†It’s why there are whistleblower laws. ¬†In a game, though, there are no consequences, or it’s an opportunity to see exactly what the consequences are. ¬†I wonder if WoW and games like it offer opportunities for people to test out behavior that’s risky in the real world and whether that translates back to the real world. ¬†We assume, for example, that people who are jerks in WoW are probably jerks in real life. ¬†Their game behavior is similar to real life behavior. ¬†But I wonder if people might be encouraged to do things, some of them good and some not so good, that they would never do in real life. ¬†It’s funny because I’m not particularly afraid to speak up in real life, but in game, I’m reluctant, and I don’t know why.

WoW Wednesday: Photo Op

There are some really interesting things you can get in WoW that don’t really gain you anything, but do something really off the wall.¬† Case in point, a trinket I got tonight.¬† Its only use–to turn you into a gorilla inside a ball:

WoW Wednesday: A Return to Questing

I’ve spent the last few months of my WoW time running dungeons and participating in raids.¬† When I came back from spring break, after over a week away from WoW, I decided to return to questing.¬† I leveled my priest so quickly via dungeons and pvp that I didn’t do very many of the later quests since I didn’t need them for the experience.¬† I discovered, in leveling tailoring, that there’s a design I can get if I do all the quests in Northrend.¬† So I decided to give it a go.¬† I used the same strategy I used for paying off my credit cards.¬† I started with the area with the lowest remaining balance, an area where I was about two-thirds of the way done.¬† It didn’t take long to complete it and I moved on to the next area, where I had about 60 quests left.¬† I am now about 3 quests away from completing that area and the next ones have more than that left.¬† It’s going to be a long road.

There are a couple of things I’ve learned along the way.¬† One, some of the quests are really fun and interesting.¬† I’ve never been one to pay much attention to the storyline of the game, but the last area I was in, Zul’Drak, had some pretty compelling stories to go with the quests.¬† It was also very well laid out, so that one progressed through the quests easily without having to cris-cross the area much.¬† Second, I learned that I feel compelled to finish something once I’ve gotten past a certain point and if there’s a concrete goal ahead.¬† Once I realized that I had less than 20 quests left, out of over 100, it seemed like a no-brainer that I should finish them.¬† Things I do in life are like that, too.¬† If I struggle too much at the beginning of a project, I’m likely to give up.¬† If, though, I can get over the difficulty and get to a point where I see the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m motivated to see the whole thing through.¬† The trick for me is to figure out a way, if I am struggling early on, to get past it.¬† Often this means breaking it down into smaller parts, asking for help, or reconfiguring the project.¬† When I move on to my next questing area, where I have 100 quests to finish, I’ll have to think in these terms.¬† Five quests a day, or one area a day or I’ll break up the quests with a trip into pvp or a dungeon.¬† WoW lets you see these things more concretely, by showing a number of quests left to be done.¬† Life isn’t always like that and it’s up to us to set the goals and try to reach them.

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WoW Wednesday: Raid Tanking vs. Dungeon Tanking

I’ve actually not played WoW for a few days. ¬†Life’s been busy and I just haven’t gotten back to the game. ¬†I’ve been tanking more lately due, in part, to a lack of tanks in the guild. ¬†In fact, when it came time to buy a shiny new piece of gear, I opted to get a tank piece rather than a dps piece. ¬†I still feel pretty awkward at it most of the time, but I’m getting a lot better. ¬†I was telling someone the other day that I felt like I was better at raid tanking than dungeon tanking and shortly thereafter, proceeded to fail pretty badly as a tank in a raid. ¬†It was my fault mostly as I forgot to set some things up for tanking (frost presence, for example). ¬†But, in general, I usually do slightly better tanking a raid.

In a raid, there are generally fewer groups of mobs the way there are in dungeons. ¬†Groups are my nemesis as I sometimes have a hard time getting them all to attack me instead of the other members of the party. ¬†This is especially hard when there are people in the group with super fantastic gear and dps numbers. ¬†Mobs tend to want to attack those people immediately. ¬†In raids, too, you get another tank, someone to help with all of that, so that when you do have groups, each tank has a task to accomplish, keeping mobs under control. ¬†Raids tend to focus on single, hard to kill mobs, and those, I’m pretty good at, most of the time. ¬†The difficulty for me comes when there’s a strategy involving moving around a lot or other special tasks. ¬†It just takes me a bit longer to get the coordination and the timing down. ¬†I’m 42, remember. ¬†So, three tries into a hard boss that requires kiting in a circle or taunting off of the other tank, I’ll get it. ¬†And I’ll get it the next time also, once I’ve figured out the strategy. ¬†I have to actually do it to understand it, get that physical memory in my fingers. ¬†Watching a video or reading a strategy helps, for sure, but I’m not going to be able to do anything the first try. ¬†That may frustrate the teenagers, but it’s fine by me and my guildies most of the time.

I like being able to help out the guild, and I as get better and get better gear, I am enjoying tanking more.  It has definitely stretched many of my abilities, both in game and out of game.

WoW Wednesday: Birthday Edition

I actually received WoW as a Valentine’s gift and a couple of years ago, my kids got me all kinds of WoW books, so gifts associated with WoW are tradition around here. ¬†This year, I got knives and Tivo, but the card–well, just look for yourself:

Birthday Card: Front
Birthday Card: Inside