Don’t Cross the Streams!

In a rare treat for you all today, Rowan from I Have Touched The Sky is making a guest appearance on this blog…

 

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Rowan on the far right. I’m the one in the center that Rowan’s Shadetouched Hound is sniffing at.

 

What, you thought he was going to post his stream of thought here or something?! He has his own blog for that.

 

When I was online the other night, I opened my friends list, expecting to toss and invite to my brother, since my Friend count was at: 1.  Turned out it was Rowan.   And we were actually in the same zone.   I told him later that is the MMO equivalent of seeing somebody you know in the grocery store.   So one thing led to another and we spent the night playing around in The Gloomy Woods (TM).

 

Anyway, it was a good time, and was a fun crossover type event for two people whose primary interaction is comments on each other’s writings.

 

That actually came together with another unique life event for me yesterday.  My awesome TOR guild, Beskar, has left me with many friends I keep contact with.  But yesterday was a rare treat – one of the guys I have known for over three years now (!) was driving through town on a trip and we got together for lunch and to see some of the sights downtown together.

 

We had a great time, and it left me wishing I had an opportunity to cross paths with more of them.  Some of them are simply too far away and/or live in small towns that I won’t travel to or near unless it is a specific trip to see them.  And some do not wish to be seen in real life – and I don’t want to be critical about that choice, because it is a perfectly valid one.

 

But…I have a feeling that maybe the biggest problem with internet friendships and acquaintances is that we don’t let them far enough outside the box.   Like the title of the post, we are afraid something bad will happen is MMO friend or FB friend somehow becomes RL friend.   Or vice versa – how many of us grew up scared to share our RPG hobbies with RL friends?   Which is scarier – inviting someone to church/social event, or asking someone out on a date, or inviting them to come play some DnD with you?  Or are those things, as I suspect, just about equal in the “nope, nope, nope” category?

 

And what happens when those interactions, already difficult in real life, have to cross into real life from cyberspace?  I friended two people from my World of Tanks clan on Facebook two weeks ago, and one of the guys jokingly said “Is this allowed?”  But we had a lot in common (his wife is a pastor at a church not far from a seminary buddy of mine) and got along well – why not?  I consider myself fortunate that in addition to my regular feed of English on Facebook, its not uncommon for me to see posts in Danish, Czech, Spanish, German, Arabic, and Urdu.  All from gaming connections.

 

Again, I’m not lobbying for everyone out there to knock down my door with Facebook requests.  I’m just saying its nice to see a trend of crossing streams in lots of different ways – cross game guilds and clans, social media contacts outside of games, the occasional real life lunch get-together or Con meet up.   There is always something refreshing about spending time with friends, no matter how you first met or what brought you together this time around.

 

So, unless you are facing Zuul on a rooftop at night with an unlicensed nuclear reactor strapped to your back…consider crossing the streams occasionally.  Its pretty awesome.

Day Four: MMO Memories

This is difficult.  On the one hand I could regale you with a ton of great stories, but that would bore everyone but me.   So I’ll settle for four good ones.

 

The Priest and the Paladin

My main charater in WoW was a Human Paladin named Kohen – a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “priest.”   The overwhelming majority of people I ran into did not know that – or if they recognized it, probably chalked it up as coincidence.   But one day in my questing, I ran into an Elf Priest – I don’t remember the specifics  -whether I bailed him out of an add or vice versa.  But he asked about my name – “Are you really a priest?”  I replied no, I just know Hebrew, I’m actually a pastor.  Then I said, I’m guessing you are Jewish?  “Actually,” he said, “I’m a rabbi.”   We had a good laugh over that, even more so when I pointed out that we had carried our religious stereotypes into the virtual world – I was a very western crusader and he was a priest for somewhat ostracized people of ancient tradition.  I wish I had thought to write down his name.  I’m sure its on my friend list somewhere, but I don’t remember now what it was.  Just think what a podcast we could have done!

 

Baby Aid

When I was playing EQOA it was in the month leading up to and the years following the birth of my first child.  It was a rough time for us, financially and emotionally, with a long distance move, job loss, culture shock, and several other things going on.  I got a private message on our guild’s forums from a husband and wife duo that played with us.   They let me know that in real life, they were actually managers of a Baby’s R Us store.   And if there was anything I needed – diapers, formula, etc. – to let them know and they would be happy to send me anything I needed so long as I was willing to cover shipping for it.  Thankfully, I never had to take them up on that offer, but wow.  Just offering it was great.  It drove home that what I wanted most in a guild was a sense of community and family.

 

When Bloggers Unite

This is still one of my favorite MMO memories.  This is the only time I have been side by side playing online with another blogger.   I just never seem to be in the right game or the right place or the right level or the right time.   I’ve been close – I joined Rowan‘s guild in GW2, and I’ve been in chat with Ysharros in EQ2.  I’ve extended invitations to play in WoT to Kirith and to Wilhelm.   But nothing has ever come to fruition.  It was fun running around with someone I was at least acquainted with, and to see our varying takes on our respective blogs in the days to follow.

 

Ding!

Hitting max level for the first time ever in an MMO.  An unforgettable event.

I could put a dozen others here.  Truth is I have a lot of fond memories in MMO’s.  Should I tell you about the early MMO games where dungeons were open world and quest drops happened if you needed the quest or not, and how that lead to awesome guild events where the entire guild would run a dungeon together, grabbing drops for everone?  Or watching retiring guildies throw themselves into the volcano outside Klik’Anon as a way to “say goodbye” to the game?  Or the time I got 8 kills in a WoT match and completely dominated?  Or the first time my brother and I, who grew up on PnP RPG’s got to adventure together in a virtual world?

 

If you get right down to it – these memories are the reason I play MMO’s, even down to the present day.  These games exist for making memories.  Everything else is just icing on the cake.

Saying Goodbye

I have to get this off my chest, because it hit me harder than I thought it would.  Six weeks ago, I lost a gaming buddy that I met back in Beskar.   And while the guild leader of Beskar, these days leading a crew in Guild Wars 2, has already written a fantastic memorial to him, I guess there was a part of me that wanted something for myself as a matter of celebration, reflection, and closure.   Though he was an “online friend,” those friendships can be as meanginful as our face to face ones, as Flosch has pointed out before.  And that is the reason why I picked TOR back up, and that is the reason I logged in and played all weekend, despite being mad as hell at Bioware.  TOR was the last place I “saw” him, and so that is where I wanted to go.

 

While his name was Mike, we often referred to him by his gaming handle of LP – short for Little Powell, a nod to his favorite Civil War leader (he was something of a history buff).  Without going into too many details, LP had a medical condition that meant, basically, that he was going to die within a few years of that diagnosis, and that it would be unpredictable.  His health was never good, and there was always the sense that each day could be the last.  His handling of that was, to me, the single greatest example of courage I have personally witnessed in life.

 

Because of this, he was often stuck at home, and so was light year’s ahead of me in the leveling game.  I still don’t have a character to 50 in TOR, I know at the time we disbanded he had at least 2, maybe more.  He loved crafting, and he loved PVP – the bigger, the more open, the messier, the better.  So while I talked to him every day for over a year and a half, I rarely saw him in game.  Maybe that’s why I needed to go looking for him there – at least in some spiritual fashion.   So I spent the weekend on Tattooine on my newly christened Sith, the name a hat tip to him, though he was a Mando to the core.  When I got to the Dune Sea, I remembered him talking about the balloon that flies over the zone and I thought maybe that would be nice, a chance to do something he had done and reflect and remember.   So I started my questing in the zone, figuring I’d run across the landing dock sooner or later.   And I quickly remembered something about the zone.

 

We know this is the deep desert and all, but if you could just make two trips instead of one, that would be great.  Mmmm'kay?
We know this is the deep desert and all, but if you could just make two trips instead of one, that would be great. Mmmm’kay?

 

The class quests will lead you around the zone in a counterclockwise fashion, while the world quest, common to all classes…leads you in a counterclockwise swing.   Genius.  In any case, after a full time of questing and wandering, both clock and counter-clock wise, I had seen the balloon…but never found its landing spot.   I could have kept looking, or wiki’d it I’m sure, but it was getting late, and somehow – it seemed fitting that I couldn’t catch up to the balloon, much in the same way that I just can’t catch up to LP right now.

 

So, I settled for returning to the wrecked space cruiser deep in the Dune Sea, and much as Luke would do, several millennium afterwards, gazing at the twin suns setting and wondering what the future will hold.

 

The lone Sith ponders the universe.
The lone Sith ponders the universe.

 

LP, you were a good friend.  Full of great advice.   If blur was the platoon leader, you were one of the veteran sergeants, equal parts gruff toughskin and kind denmother.   I’ve always wondered if you admired General Hill not only for his tactics and for the parts of his personality that he shared with yours, but for the ironic name he gave to his troops – the Light Division.   It didn’t actually fit, as big as they were, but one of his soldiers after the war, commented that it was a fitting name, “for we often marched without coats, blankets, knapsacks, or any other burdens except our arms and haversacks, which were never heavy and sometimes empty.”   You marched everyday with so little in your packs, and yet you made it work with what you had – and still had some to share with others.  Your stories, your film reviews, your outrageous avatars on the forums, the wisdom you shared in our emails – thank you for those.

 

I hope that one day I do catch up to you, in levels and in life.  For for right now, you marched too far ner vod, and you outpaced me.  And I miss you.

 

Ni su’cuyi, gar kyr’adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum.

 

“I’m still alive, but you are dead. I remember you, so you are eternal.”

Plays Well With Others

I re-learned a very important lesson this week.  Sometimes its not the game you are playing, its the company you are playing it with – and how you play it.

 

I really got back into Star Trek Online last year because of two things.  One was Rowen sounding off about the second anniversary of the game – a post that still makes me jealous, since I missed out on the Odyssey and Bortas classes, and both are quite nice.  And the other was a friend of mine who knew I was into MMO’s asking me if I had played it and would play with him.  I gave him the “whatever” but he persisted and I finally logged in and…well, stuff happened.

 

As it turned out, by the time I finally gave in and got my lazy butt online, his life was going through some shifts, and we never did get to play.  So the roles reversed and I kept after him.  And finally on Sunday afternoon, we got it  together.  In a rarity in online gaming, we just hung out at my house.  He played on The Beast (my Bulldozer/Nvidia equipped desktop) and I played on my aging laptop.  In the same room.

 

The classic muscle car of the Star Trek IP…

 

We had our hiccups.  We had set the day and time up with an eye towards getting our Ambassador class ship for the 3rd Anniversary party together.  But in what I would say was a rare mis-step for Cryptic, the 3rd Anniversary mission can only be completed solo.  Seriously. If you are in a team, you have to *leave* the team before you can enter the mission.  Still not sure what to make about that.

 

But hey, we weren’t going to waste the moment.  So with him still leveling at 24, I just told him I would tag along.  He was wanted to complete the daily exploration mission, so we jumped off to that.  We drew combat on the first unknown system, and he died in about three seconds flat when somewhere between six and eight ships spawned on top of us.  It took a minute to remember that we needed to hit the level matching button to promote him to 50.  Once we did that things were still challenging but much smoother – and to Cryptic’s credit, he earned the same XP that I was earning.

 

When I had asked him about ship selection, his only response was “firepower” – and he indicated I should bring as much as possible.  With my fleet, that means only one thing – it was time to reach for the HEC with its triple Dual Heavy Plasma Cannons and wing of Peregrine fighters.  I assigned the fighters to defend him, and kept an emergency heal on standby for his Heavy Cruiser, and it worked out pretty well.

 

To boldly get jumped by renegade Klingons...
To boldly get jumped by renegade Klingons…

 

After warming up on the exploration mission, we wanted to take on the next Romulan episode he had been working on, and I was able to easily cue it up for a “Replay” with rewards for my level.   That was a little tougher.  And you will think I am crazy, but at times it felt like we were in the middle of a JJ Abrams Trek movie, and I’m not talking about lens flare.

 

I remember at one point him yelling for help and desperately throwing power into my engines to break the tractor beam lock on me, so that I could get within transporter range and beam over an engineering team to assist in damage control.   And him coldly noting “its over” as an Orion battleship, its hull failing, tried desperately to escape the web of plasma fires and Tyken rift that we had caught it in.  And it wasn’t just the battle sequence.  It was the little things.  He was short a bridge officer, so I went through my personnel files and we talked about which officer to transfer to him (he opted for one of my human ones, complaining in a very un-PC way about the number of aliens on his ship, lol).   We talked shop on console set ups and somehow in the midst of all of it, were surprised to find him sitting at level 26 when we quit for the day.

 

Refitting between battles.
Refitting between battles…

 

My takeway was twofold.  One is that STO, despite some good features, like the level match and replay, its not a great multiplayer game mechanically – the missions require us to do the dialogue separately, and its possible to get caught in a 30 second timer for a map transfer when you haven’t finished up your part of the mission.  But all that fell away when we put two enthusiastic heads together.   The shortcomings in the game itself didn’t matter.  My second was that there is still something magical about playing together that typing and even the best voice comms can not replicate in a meaningful way.  The concentration, laughter, and that enthusiasm above set an atmosphere in the room that transcended words.  That’s not to say I don’t have some great online friends – but I was reminded that if I could play with those friends in the same room – it would be a whole ‘nother experience!I  ndeed, it has made me deeply miss the few occasions over the last year or so when my dad and brother and I played World of Tanks in the same room!

 

But mostly I thought,  as we played – “this is why this is fun for me.”  This is why these games are my hobby, my fun time.   That’s not to say I wasn’t having fun before.   But something in the game time yesterday made me sit back and enjoy all those joint game sessions *that much more*.

 

So..play on people.  Enjoy your time this week.  Now excuse me while I go grab my Ambassador class.  I’ve only been waiting for it since before STO’s launch…