Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Teh Interwebz kill!!1!!!!


Every once in a while, a story surfaces which chills a gamer to the core. Sometimes driver support for a beloved piece of hardware is discontinued. In some cases, a new expansion pack promises to trivialize everything one has accomplished in game to that point. In more than one case, a thread on a message board "outs" a popular female character as being, in fact, a dude.

In the case I linked above, someone sat in an internet cafe in China playing video games for three days and then fell over dead. According to the story, there were unsuccessful attempts made to revive the man before most of the people playing along side him packed up and moved to the internet cafe down the street (I assume) out of respect.

Anyone remember (way back in "the day") when people talked about "cyberspace" as a place to go from time to time where one could assume a different identity and live a different and parallel life? I've heard another term lately and I'd like to share it.

The alternative to being logged in and actively pursuing a virtual life (be it Second Life or World of Warcraft or Grand Champion Bejeweled) is starting to be referred to as spending time in "meat space". Meat space is where most of us have families and jobs and interests outside the world provided by the programmers. And, more and more often, it fills a subordinate role in the consciousness of a lot of people.

When I vacate this weak and fleshy shell and log in to my game of choice, no matter what time of day it is I see the same people online. They play constantly and I have to wonder if neglecting their meat space is having an impact on their IRL lives. More, do they care? 

The article didn't specify which game the man was playing. It also didn't say that he had three max level characters and was probably running a lucrative Alchemy/Herbalism/Dark Moon Faire card scam through multiple virtual identities and had banked a few hundred thousand gold. At least, that's what I'd do if I planned on killing myself through gaming for three solid days.

It is painfully easy to lay the blame at the feet of the game. It is, in my opinion, much more accurate to find fault with the dead. If I play a game and decide I need sleep, I sleep. If I get hungry, I grab some food. If I get thirsty . . . I drink too much Diet Coke to ever experience that sensation for more than an uncomfortable moment or two. I suppose thirst is answered by reaching less than a foot to where my beverage is mounted. At all times. Must save Coke Reward Points.

So. This guy sits in a crowded internet cafe for three days and no one notices until he dies. Aside from the obvious tragedy, this also lends fuel to the idea that people become too involved in online games and forget the world around them. It gives credibility to the thought in the media that gamers are an anti-social bunch with no idea how to interact with real living people. In short, it makes defending games harder for those of us still listening to the noise about gamers in meat space.

This is the truth: When I was little, defeating the evil necromancers at the end of Keep on the Borderlands merited a trip (outside) to someplace for burgers and a long round of cola toasts to our success as a group.

In high school, when one of us made it to an unknown, high-score level in Super Mario Brothers during lunch, we all stayed to watch even though it meant being late for class.  

When my group of total strangers on EverQuest banded together for a 15 minute attack of a monster we all needed to kill, we stayed in touch in game until all of us had moved on with our lives. Except that one guy who I believe still plays.

When I played the PlayStation 2 with my daughter and she (through savant-like button mashing) managed to pull off finishing move after punishing finishing move with her deadly pig-tailed avatar and severely pwnd my own, her trash talk was delivered with the dignity and grace of a seasoned warrior -- And in-person, human to human as all trash talk should be.

Gaming is an inherently social activity. Gamers are just like any group of people whether they are lawyers or actors or doctors or cable repairmen -- a very loud and awful minority possesses the ability to make the rest of them look like total asshats.

What do we do about it? I'd like to suggest that those of us who game invite a non-gamer to play a little. Don't drag them on an end-game raid first off. I'd suggest a button mashing fighting game or maybe something where cars are raced against one another. Let people see how much fun it can be to sit with a friend and enjoy a game together.

Just remember, their thumbs are not like our thumbs. Try not to be too mean when you completely pwn them.

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