Solo Player and Communicating in Guild Wars

I recently re-watched a good portion of the incredibly awesome anime Sword Art Online. Kirito’s experiences are powerfully nostalgic to me. As I mentioned a little while ago, I spent quite a lot of my childhood in the early hours of the morning playing RuneScape. I used to fantasise about it when I wasn’t playing, dreaming of the day when I reached Level 99 in all the skills (the first of any player) and people would be able to right-click my avatar and select “Bow to”, a special option they created just for me. I made friends online and invested much of myself into those relationships, but more often than not we would play in what I considered companionable silence. Yes, I’d see their name highlighted green to indicate they were online. But mostly I’d just do my own thing and work towards my own goals.

 

Having recently gotten back into the world of Guild Wars 2, I find that I am occasionally logging on late at night or early in the morning. Not out of any compulsion (although that certainly used to be a factor), but out of the pleasure of enjoying the game when I’ve had trouble sleeping, or as a guilty pleasure before bed. I play on an American server, so (with approximately 12 hours difference) there aren’t always many people who are online when I am. This is strongly reminiscent of the days when I’d sneak onto the family computer at 3am with no one to talk to apart from my American friends. The primary difference between now and a decade ago is the existence of a Guild Chat.

 

How does a humble chat-box revolutionise my online multi-player experience, I hear you silently ask? Well, The Wilderness Guardians, the RuneScape clan which I co-founded with my brother (who are still extremely influential in the game today) communicated through the in-game messaging system. We could talk directly to each other, or otherwise out-loud to any nearby players, and that was it. The only way we could talk to one another was by dropping whatever we were doing and typing it out. (Just as I left, they started using TeamSpeak, and I would often wake at 4am to hear my brother yelling at his subordinates.)

 

Guild Wars 2 differentiates itself with having a number of different conversation options. You can “whisper” directly to another player, as if communicating telepathically. You can “say” something out loud to those in the vicinity. You can announce something directly to the “map”, telling everyone in your world some message or another. You can speak directly to your “party” if you have something directly relevant to say to the small group you’re playing with. Or you can take part in your “guild” conversations, which in my case are frequently inane chatters about rare items, invitations to run through dungeons, or crude jokes about yiffing.

 

Why is this relevant? Well, logging on in the early hours of the morning can be an awfully lonely experience. I’ve almost always preferred playing games by myself – the single player experience has a magic in it that is deeply personal. Games speak to you, heart-to-heart. Multi-player games can be a lot of fun as well, sharing in a wonderful experience, cooperating or working against other human beings in a joined activity. But for the most part, I have always preferred walking the road alone and wondering in the majesty of a virtual world. Yet sometimes, aloneness can feel very lonely. Like Kirito, for all that made him different, his skill, his knowledge, his attitude, he enjoyed the companionship of those closest to him and he found the game was more rewarding as a result. Sometimes having that guild chat option can feel like, however lonely the road, there’s still a line that’s out there to tug on just to let people know you’re alive.

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Finding People to Connect With

There seems to be a distance between most other people and I. On some level, they are unable to relate to me, and I to them. All the friendliness, care and kindness in the world cannot make up for this lack of familiarity. Specifically, I’m having trouble connecting to my colleagues at work. I can (literally) hold someone when they are feeling vulnerable, I can empathise with them when they’ve experienced a great loss, I can laugh at their jokes and work hard and be the perfect sales assistant. But it does not mean they will like me. It confuses me how I can treat someone with great kindness and care my whole life, and yet those same people can take out their irritations on me whenever they’re upset.

As I have mentioned before, being liked by colleagues is an important part of working if you’re in any kind of team. Being favoured, particularly by management, leads to all kinds of favours and special treatments. More hours, convenient days, being allowed to surf the web, standing around talking instead of working, taking longer breaks and getting paid for them and so forth. These luxuries, while I don’t need them to draw gratification from the pleasure of working, are certainly convenient. But I seem to be treated with a kind of confused misunderstanding, a tolerance rather than a celebration.

And I can’t help but wonder: it is me or is it them? Eleanor Roosevelt is reported to have said: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people.” This is something that has really resonated with me. I know in my heart that I care about more important things than bouncy hair and expensive dinners and shiny cars, and that the ideas I think about are sometimes pretty big. Could it be that, as in the 41st verse of the Tao Te Ching, foolish people mock me for following a path of virtue which they do not understand?

Or is this arrogance entirely to do with my own ego and my difficulty connecting with others? Is there something fundamentally different about the way I think and who I am, and that difference creates the fear that leads to distance and distrust? I must confess, at times I wonder if I have some kind of social disorder without realising it. Am I just an oddball who can’t get along with others?

I lose sight of what’s what because the issue is too close to my heart. But I am grateful that not all of my relationships are like those I experience at work. I have a few friends who I dearly love, and who love me, in whose conversation I delight and whose ideas I admire. And it gives me hope that maybe it’s not just me, and that “my people” are out there.

Gosh, I do hope I’m not a socially inept weirdo. T’would be awfully lonely if no one appreciated the things about me that I love so much.

100 Happy Days Challenge

A little while ago I completed the 100 Happy Days Challenge. The idea of the challenge was to post a picture of something that made you happy to social media, or if you didn’t want to publicise it you could email it to the Foundation privately. “Cool idea,” I thought, “But not really something I’m interested in.”

Then I opened the website and the first thing it said was “Can you be happy for 100 days in a row? You don’t have time for this, right?”

And they were right on the money. Somewhere deep down, my attitude was reflecting the idea that I had more important things to do than express happiness. In a way, I was saying I was “too busy to be happy”. How crazy is that, right? I mean, if you can’t be happy now, when can you be? Sometimes no matter what’s going on in life, we just have to take a moment to smell the roses. (Especially when we think we’re too busy).

I decided to post my photos on facebook, using my phone to take the photo and uploading it with the hashtag #100happydays. I was really excited to do it, and I made the resolution to take photos of both objects and experiences that brought me joy in every day life. It did get a little uninspiring after I’d been doing it for a while, but I’d made a public commitment so I kept up with it. And do you know what I learned?

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Life is full of things that make you happy. I resolved never to photograph the same subject twice, so I had to actively seek out things that made me happy. As I went about my day, somewhere at the back of my mind was looking for things to revel in. And the closer I looked, the more there was to see. Some days I took several photos of different subjects and submitted them all at once.10551003_10154477471250220_807779086281073060_n (1) 20140805_10334420140421_200243

And what’s more, I know that I brought a lot of joy to other people as well! I got so many comments and likes on facebook from people who were cheering me on, who appreciated the things I expressed gratitude for, or who were just happy that I was happy. People I hadn’t spoken to much got to know me quite well, and a couple of them have even resolved to undergo their own 100 Happy Day Challenge.10294238_1412806575665907_8745887532024959992_n (1)

100 days might sound like a lot, but by the end of it I was so sad to stop. (I did stop, though, because I didn’t to lose all my friends by overloading their walls with an endless stream of cat pictures.) A couple of months is a great amount of time to set up the habit of practicing gratitude every day. It increased my awareness of the world and the pleasure I take from bearing witness to this miraculous ball of atoms we call earth. And, to sweeten the deal even further, there’s an option to have my photos printed in a book so I have a tangible reminder of the time I made the effort to express gratitude every day.20140430_105257

Happiness is worth pursuing, even (and especially) when it gets hard. Why don’t you make the time to try it too? If this is something that’s interested you, start it right now, this very minute. It can be tempted to put it off for another time, but if you can’t be happy now, when can you be? Grab your phone or camera and go take your first picture. And then link me to it! I’d love to see it, and to cheer for you in your own challenge!10403948_10154298618145220_8536667224944677238_o

Looking forward to seeing your photos everyone! Keep happy y’all!

Xin

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Addiction to online gaming

I’ve been writing a little on Guild Wars lately, and the reason for that is it’s resurged as an enjoyable, even important part of my life. This blog is a very general look at how I started getting sucked into playing as an addictive behaviour, how I realised what was happening, and how I drew myself out of it. I still play Guild Wars most days, but I no longer feel compelled to do so, nor am I particularly fussed if I miss a day. For me now, it exists as a wonderful and fantastic world to experience, and to share with friends (largely from America, where the server is based). But it hasn’t always been so, and it may yet change to addiction again. This is something close to my heart, and I hope that this blog helps others who are suffering from the same thing.

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In 2003, I started playing an MMORPG called RuneScape. In case you’re not familiar, MMORPG stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. This is a game where a large number of people can go online and play together, often in a fantasy/adventure setting. World of Warcraft (WoW) is probably the most famous of them, but there are plenty of other ones out there at the moment.

As I was saying, I played RuneScape quite a bit in 2003 when online gaming was just starting to flourish. I enjoyed it so much that I played it at every spare moment of the day, and often in moments that weren’t spare at all. I’d log on to kill greater demons for 20 minutes after breakfast, or set my alarm for 3am so that I didn’t have to share the computer with my brother. In one instance when one of my friends was having a bad day, I chose to stay home from school and go questing with her to cheer her up. I poured hours and hours of my life into the game, and almost as much into the clan (community of players) I was part of, posting on the forums and trying to maintain dozens of friendships. Eventually I couldn’t keep it up, and I finally realised what I had long suspected: that I was addicted to RuneScape.

There was no single moment where I went “Holy crap, I’m an addict”. Instead there were lots of little signs here and there, signs which you probably would have recognised but I was oblivious to. Addictive behaviour can often seem very appealing for a wide range of reasons – I had friends who wanted me to play with them, I was just a few repetitions away from gaining a new level, I really wanted that rare weapon that had a 1% chance of appearing and so forth. But at the end of the day, I was able to recognise that my life was suffering in exchange for the time and energy that I was investing online. I didn’t have any time for homework, I resented going to social events because it was taking away time I could have spent playing  (not that I had any friends outside of the game anyway), and my sleep patterns were abysmal.  It reached a point where I decided it just wasn’t worth it, and I decided to stop.

From then on, I swore off RuneScape and MMORPG’s in general. I was terrified of falling back into that pit of addiction where I kept playing, even though I knew that the rest of my life was suffering as a consequence. Even so, I still felt the ache of longing as my brother continued to play and my clanmates emailed me from time-to-time. I even agreed to return once or twice to help out with special events, but I made it very clear that I was only playing for the duration of the event and no further. My friends accepted it, I dropped out of contact with many of them, and I moved on to new adventures in my life.

I’ve heard the term “addictive personality” thrown around a lot. It’s a real thing, but I think a lot of people are using it as an excuse. They say, “Oh I can’t help playing six hours a day, I just have an addictive personality.” To me that’s like saying “Oh I can’t help having hypoglycaemia – I have diabetes.” If you know you’re likely to be addicted to something, it means you have to be especially responsible if you start engaging in the behaviour.

Even with the benefit of experience, gaming addiction is something that I am still prone to. Normally my obsessions are only a couple of days at the most where I’ll delve into an incredible world without compromising my other responsibilities (such as work, training etc.). But a few weeks ago I started playing a new MMORPG, and I noticed pretty quickly that I was spending way too much time playing and had lost interest in doing chores, hanging out with friends or spending any time with my girlfriend, Beth. I found myself thinking, “I don’t have to get ready for work until 2:30, so I’ll get up early and play as much as I can before then.”  But after Beth pointed out to me that she had only seen me for an hour or two a day for the entire week, even though we were living together, I realised that I’d once again fallen off the bandwagon.

After that I immediately took measures to limit my time online. I scheduled in other activities, like “Dinner”, “Spend time with Beth”, “Go shopping”. It seems ridiculous to need to lock in these mundane daily activities, but even so, the first few days were a real struggle not to use any excuse to jump back online. But I found that as soon as I did something other than playing, I was able to focus my attention on other things which I enjoyed even more than gaming. Through mindfulness, I could really enjoying cuddling and watching a movie rather than exploring a new part of the map. I could drink tea and read a book rather than crafting new gear. The virtual world, while beautiful and compelling, will still never be as rich or miraculous as the world we live in.

Addictions work by feeding into a biochemical reaction. Stress hormones build up as the desire to play increases. If you give in to that desire, you feel relieved or relaxed as endorphins flood your system. However, this relief is short term, and the moment you stop playing, the stress hormones start to be released again. You may not even enjoy playing any more, but those stress hormones make it seem really compelling to do it, and so the cycle continues. But if you can build up the strength of will to break the cycle, the stress hormones will gradually lower on their own and the compulsion won’t be as strong – it’s short term pain for long term gain. For me it was almost as if my Addiction had its own personality, and when I refused to give it what it wanted, it threw little tantrums, sulked for a while and then gradually faded into the background as I carried on with my day.  It wasn’t easy at first, but it was entirely worth it.

One of the most straightforward ways to tell whether an action is an addiction is if you know it’s causing harm but you can’t stop doing it anyway. If this post reminds you of anyone, yourself included, get them to ask themselves “Is this behaviour having a negative impact on my life?” If they find the answer is Yes, then check out this page here for more information. If you do decide to alter the amount of gaming you’re doing, talk to the people around you about what you’re going through and what you’re trying to do. Changing a lifestyle habit isn’t always easy, and you’ll find that their support makes a world of difference.

All the best,

Xin