Finding my wings

When I was 12, I used to imagine that I had a pair of wings that nobody else could see. They were as tall as I was, the kind that rose to a peak just above my head and curved gracefully to a point near my ankles. These wings were feathered, white and pure. It never occurred to me to use them for flying; I just wore them about my shoulders like a cloak. I felt as if my feathery mantle was impervious to harm, and that I could tuck myself up in it and be completely safe. I also felt that I could flex my wings and move them about me, and even wrap them around those standing nearby.

In a recent update of Guild Wars, they released the wings from my childhood as wearable outfits for avatars. I couldn’t help but buy myself a pair, and I’ve started imagining they’re there again. It sounds ridiculous because they’re obviously not tangible, yet I found myself acting differently today, as if I really were striving to be worthy of wearing them. I’m not too sure why I wrote this, other than to say that they bring me both comfort and strength.

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The Bonds of a Charr

I had an elaborate dream about Guild Wars, and when I was telling Beth about it she convinced me to write it down. I’m glad I did, though you might notice it doesn’t perfectly correlate with the game (such is the nature of dreams. Also, it would have been ridiculous if Atakus was an omniscient wizard who could transform into a kitten.)

***

Gyron Burnteye limped into his hut, leaning heavily against the doorframe while his pupils expanded to adjust to the dim light. Aneiwa, his human wife rose to help him, slinging an arm around her strong shoulders and helping him to the bed.
“My leg,” he growled in the old Charr language, drawing up the material of his pants to reveal an inflamed wound. The edges of his dark fur were stained a worrying purple, and despite being weeks old it wasn’t getting any better.
“Gyron, it’s infected. You have to do something about it,” Aneiwa said gently, her eyes filled with concern. At that point, their ten-year-old human son walked in, a question dying on his lips as he saw his father’s injury.
“Not now Sam!” barked Gyron. Sam closed his mouth and left promptly, running out the back door. To his wife he said, “Get some bay leaves, red oak bark, powdered sage…” he rattled off a list of ingredients as she hurried to their small larder. Aneiwa sat by the bedside and began carefully mixing the concoction. As she was adding a bright green powder there was a knock at the door, and she looked at her husband questioningly. Uncertain, he shook his head. Against his wife’s protests, he forced himself to his feet and limped over to the window, peering out into the daylight. Aneiwa’s heart caught in her throat as her husband’s ears flattened against his skull unconsciously. Across the street from their house, Sam was talking to one of the Queen’s Men as four others loaded their rifles. Gyron had known the boy hated him, but he never thought it would come to this.

“Back!” he hissed to his wife as he considered whether he had time to arm himself. Before he could, the first of the men reached the open doorway and let out a yell of surprise as he was grabbed firmly by the jacket and hurled against the wall. The officer slumped to the floor unmoving as the shelves crashed down around him, a basket of cucumbers spilling across the floor. Gyron peered out the window to reassess the distance between the remaining men. The remaining officers were yelling now, their human words sounding harsh and cruel to his ears. They had fanned out, guns raised and were slowly advancing towards the open door. He had only moments to act before they were upon him, and his wounded leg was forgotten as he burst through the door and took the first human by surprise. He smashed the rifle from the man’s grasp with a terrifying snarl and struck him hard in the side of the head with vicious swipe. Without stopping to watch him crumple, he bounded to the next man and seized him by the throat. Gyron’s claws tightened and the officer’s scream died in his throat as he went limp. Gyron’s eyes were wild with rage as he looked for his next mark. An explosion cut through the daylight like a thunderclap as one of the soldiers fired. Gyron staggered from the impact of the bullet, and a moment later another there was another burst of fire and smoke. Gyron had no memory of falling but he found himself on the ground, blood trickling from his chest. Through the intensity of the pain, some part of him was aware of laughter before he felt himself being dragged, lifted and then shoved roughly into a tight space. The world suddenly went dark and he found he could hear only murmurs above the ragged panting of his breath. His heart sank as he realised he had failed, and that he would never see his wife again.

Atakus had just arrived in the great human city of Divinity’s Reach. He had heard about its grand palace and proud spires all of his life, and the first time he had glimpsed them from the road his heart had skipped a beat. He had been travelling for months to get here overland from the Fields of Ruin, a distant human settlement, but it had been worth it. He dreamed of finishing his studies as a lawyer in the The Reach, where he could finally gain the qualifications he needed to assist with the negotiations in Ebonhawke. To this end, his heart had lead his feet all the way to the University of Queensdale. Or at least, it tried to. Somewhere along the line he had taken a wrong turn, and he was now thoroughly lost in the slums of the city. He was deeply engrossed in his map when he heard the sounds of a scuffle, and looked up to see a dark-furred Charr kill two men in uniform.

At first he was alarmed by the violence and assumed that the charr was some kind of criminal being arrested by the Ministry Guard. But the way they laughed as they brought him down unsettled him, and he couldn’t help but notice a woman’s visage in the window, a haunted look upon her face. Some instinct inside of him told him things were not as they seemed and without thinking he sprinted after the carriage, catching it just in time to hang onto the back of it as it hurried through the streets. As Atakus clung on for dear life, he caught sight of the wooden trunk that held the prisoner (though it was barely big enough to contain him). He knew it was his imagination, but he could not supress the vision of the charr curled up at the bottom, alone and in pain. Absurdly, Atakus wished he could crawl inside there and comfort him. His fantasies were cut abruptly short as the carriage began to slow. The young student slipped off before they had quite finished moving and stepped away to observe their surroundings. They had drawn up in front of a grand building which read in gilded letters “MAGISTRATE’S COURT”.  Atakus slipped inside and joined the growing audience who had begun to gather at the sight of the carriage.

It was several minutes before Gyron was dragged before the court, his wrists and ankles bound together by heavy chains. He stood on his own in the centre of the ampitheatre, facing a raised dais upon which sat several councillors in their official robes. Central among them and raised higher than all the rest was a man whose smile curled at the corner of his mouth. The excited murmur of the audience hushed as he spoke:
“Do you know the weight of your crimes?”
Gyron looked at the ground in front of him, breathing heavily. Blood trickled from the side of his maw and dripped slowly to the wooden floorboards. The magistrate’s eyes hardened.
“Answer me, charr. Taciturnity will only worsen your fate.”
Gyron raised his gaze slowly, catching the minister’s eye and holding it for a long moment. The air was heavy with the silence.

“Your Honour,” called Atakus, breaking the tension like ripples upon the surface of still water. The crowd parted for him as he pushed his way forward to stand beside the charr. “Our friend may not speak English. I will speak on his behalf.” The judge started. This had never happened before, and the fool clearly had no idea what was happening. One of the guards moved to intercept the man but the magistrate raised his hand to stop him. This was an unexpected spectacle; perhaps the idiot would provide further entertainment to the proceedings.
“Very well,” he said sitting back in his chair and folding his fingers in front of him. “Let it be known that I am not an unfair judge. You may answer for him.”
To the charr, Atakus quickly said in a feline tongue, “I am a friend. I will help you. You must tell me what has happened.” Gyron couldn’t help a surprised flick of his tail as his eyebrows raised in astonishment. In short words Gyron clenched his teeth against the pain and explained how he was a gladium who had been outcasted by his warband after falling in love with a human. After fleeing to Divinity’s Reach, he could barely provide for his family. There was no work and no food for the likes of him. In desperation, he had begun stealing from a farmer in Queensdale, who had finally shot him in the leg.

Atakus hadn’t dared to believe the stories he’d heard from travellers on the road, but the truth was before him and he could not avert his eyes. In Ebonhawke, there was little love lost between the human and charr.  The two races had fought each other for generations, and there were still factions of separatists and renegades who were too hurt, too blinded by their grief to know anything other than war. But the Fields of Ruin were the forefront of a hard won peace, and Atakus had seen firsthand humans and charr working together. He had always believed that Divinity’s Reach would be a paragon of peace, but it seemed that the rumours of xenophobia were true. All he could see in this great hall of law was hatred, ethnocentricity and corruption.

“Well?” asked the magistrate, tapping his finger on the bench with impatience. Atakus swallowed. He stepped forward to face the council, standing between the charr and his judge.
“Gyron is innocent.” Gasps rose from the audience as the magistrate smiled a smile that showed too many teeth, his lips twitching slightly.
“He is a thief, and a murderer.”
“He is a victim,” Atakus replied, heart pounding in his chest. “He is a refugee who sought peace behind the walls of this great city, and all he has found was injustice and poverty. The government might tolerate the charr’s existence, but they will not support them as citizens, nor help them when they are starving. ” The councillor found he was stunned and then furious.
“The Government does not have the funds to hand money out to every beggar in the streets who-”
“How much gold does the city spend on plays?” Atakus asked suddenly, cutting him off. “How many billions of silvers are spent each year on festivals and feasts? Could not even a handful of coppers be spared to help an old man see his family fed?” He turned to face the audience as he continued his challenge. “Where do all those taxes go? Surely not to the pockets of those who collect them?”
The crowd began to murmur, and that murmur began to rise. Someone yelled something at the councillors that Atakus couldn’t make out over the pounding in his ears. People loved nothing more than to think they’d been cheated, and he knew he was winning them over. This was a dangerous moment: either he would break apart an ancient institution, or he would himself be broken.
“Now see here-” the Magistrate began, trying to regain his composure.

The courtroom exploded into a jumble of yells. Atakus returned to the benches where the public were able to view the proceedings of the court. In spite of it all, the crowd drew away from him, and he found himself alone. Not even the Magistrate would meet his eye, though he could feel wrath emanating from him like steam. He looked at Gladium Gyron, whose golden eyes glittered in the theatre. The old charr dipped his head slightly, and after a moment of surprise Atakus responded in kind. Whatever happened, both of them were bound now, and they would face the end together.

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.

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.

***

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

Sweepers and supporters

There are many different kinds of roles. Some people want to push their way to the front, to be pack leaders. Others are content staying wherever they are based on how people rush around them.

 

A very kind lady once described to me the concept of a “sweeper”. In the navy (I think), the two most important people were the leader and the sweeper. The leader’s role was obvious: to head the group, to issue commands, to keep everyone organised and disciplined and so forth. But not everybody realised that the sweeper had an important role: while all eyes were on the leader, the sweeper would be at the back of the group, making sure no one got left behind. She told me that they always chose someone with great compassion to be the sweeper, and that I had chosen that role willingly.

 

Through my recent exploits in Guild Wars 2, I’ve done some thinking about what sort of character build I wanted to create. At first I went with the tried and true philosophy of being able to do large amounts of damage per second (DPS) so that I could kill enemies before they killed me. After a while though, I realised I didn’t want to play this kind of build, nor was my character suited to it. Instead I created a build that took take large amounts of damage while applying boons to those around me. My philosophy was that I would draw the aggression of the enemy, weathering the blows and supporting my team as they took it down on my behalf. I also went with the (uncommon) build of being a healer, resurrecting people at a faster rate, rather than having a higher DPS or another popular skill set. I particularly enjoy mega-events where world bosses kill players by the dozen, and while I might appear to be on the front lines as an attacker, my secret role is to get everyone back on their feet before they taste death.

 

At the end of the day, I am much happier floating around in the background, working behind the curtains to make sure things go smoothly. I do not usually like drawing attention to my work. Instead, I draw a quiet satisfaction from seeing it done without anyone realising who did it.