Life — WoW: Classic

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have any interest in playing Vanilla WoW again when they first announced it. After so many years of updates and so many quality of life changes, I wasn’t convinced that nostalgia could save it. There was just so much that the original game was lacking that current players take for granted. Despite this, I knew I’d give it a try just for its own sake.

It’s odd to think about, but how many games are out there that were released specifically as an older version? Even old games that are re-released get remastered with better graphics and less glitches, but WoW Classic required an enormous amount of effort to unmaster. They didn’t even “digitally remaster” the graphics or anything like that, because obviously they wanted it to be as faithful to the original game as it could possibly be.

And, for good or for ill, I’ve been playing it a lot. Nearly all my free time has been spent playing it, (though I’ve still been taking time to keep up with writing projects, blog notwithstanding) and there’s something that I didn’t expect WoW: Classic to revitalize…

Back in the early days from 2004-2007, I would say that World of Warcraft became popular for two reasons. The first is that mechanics-wise, it was the best of its time. There’s little question about that, all you have to do is look at the numbers. But more than that, it was a great way to socialize. After you got home from work, you would log onto the game, see all of your friends online in the guild, and chat with them. Hang out with them. The game made it so easy to connect with people—as well as make new friends.

Fifteen years later, with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., we are so globally interconnected that people have rekindled relationships with friends they otherwise never would have met again. (For example, I’m Facebook friends with my best friend from 2nd grade, whom I haven’t seen since.) So, at least in the retail version of World of Warcraft, you really don’t need to talk to people. Partly because the majority the content can be done on your own (or at least it connects you to strangers automatically), but partly because the online connections you have don’t need to be done through an MMO like WoW.

This was my main concern. “You can’t restore a game to its original glory when its glory was so contingent on a tight-knit community,” I said. And I still think some of that is true, but oh boy did I underestimate the players.

In a lot of ways, playing WoW: Classic is like stepping into the past. The chat channels are always full, strangers are constantly inviting you to their parties and guilds, making the same jokes, you name it. If you log in at 5pm realm time, you have to wait about an hour just to log into the server I’m playing on because it’s full. In ways I can’t quite put into words, and in ways I certainly didn’t expect, I feel like I’m once again exploring a world with other people. Something I haven’t really felt in probably any other MMO.

This isn’t a review. If it was, I would tell you how awful the quest design is (which is actually worse than I remember), and how much time you have to waste running back and forth from Point A to Point B to get pitiful amounts of money and experience. I’d tell you how everything is hard, and since there’s so many people around, you have to compete against those around you just to get to the next quest, or how you constantly have to fight your inventory just to be able to maximize profits when you get back to town.

I’ve also been struggling with finding a good game to play lately. I needed a time sink so that I can watch YouTube streams and listen to audiobooks, but everything I had been playing was either tired or too high maintenance to multitask. So this came around at the perfect time.

Me/D&D — A Love Letter to Critical Role

Dungeons and Dragons can be played a myriad of ways. I’ve read someone describe it as “being the main characters in a fantasy novel”, but it’s even more open-ended than that. It can literally be anything you and your friends want it to be, it just so happens that most people value simplicity over anything else, and so they more or less stick to the rulebook (which, as Barbossa would say, are more like guidelines—especially the Dungeon Master’s Guide). I came to a realization about Critical Role today, and I thought I would share that realization with all of you in the form of a love letter… Buckle up, this one is going to be a long one.

268x0wCritical Role, a weekly livestream of D&D I’ve already dedicated one full post to, does just that. They play with the rules that they’re given, and only on rare occasion does the dungeon master, Matthew Mercer, ever cook up a new monster or a new character class/subclass. I would go so far as to say that they play a very vanilla version of D&D, and the only thing crazy about it is how gifted the players are at pacing out story beats and telling the tale of a group of people rather than getting from Point A to Point B. Of all the D&D streams I’ve watched in the past, that’s the #2 reason to watch the show.

What’s #1 you ask? Well, before I get to that, I want to step back and talk about why I personally love it so much. Not as the critical observer as I often am whenever I’m consuming media, but as the fan. As Kollin.

I’ve been watching the show since it aired 3 years ago now, and this only dawned on me today. Critical Role encompasses every aspect of my personality, and encapsulates everything I want to have and be. (If you’re lazy, just skim the paragraphs ahead—the bullet points are in bold.)

For starters: storytelling. Obviously, I love stories. I’ve fancied myself a writer for nearly a decade now, and I specifically love epic fantasy. I grew up with World of WarcraftLord of the RingsDragon QuestOblivion, etc. The romanticism of picking up your sword and shield and going on an epic quest is something so inexplicably baked into my being that I literally cannot describe why I love it so much. It’s simple, easy to understand, yet its breadth is endless. In order to tell a complex story in such a world, you first have to start simple and show the audience this new world—explain its rules—and seeing a world where our impossible becomes their mundane is always fascinating to me.

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That ties into the concept of what Dungeons & Dragons is. It is a literal, mechanical fulfillment of the Hero’s Journey. You kill monsters, you level up, you achieve goals, and so on. I love watching or being somebody who has nothing inevitably challenge literal embodiments of evil. By then, you’ve really learned about and grown with the character, and in many ways you’ve watched their life go by. What I like about D&D is that victory is not guaranteed. If I had my way, I would even go so so far as to say that it is less likely than defeat, for how can victory feel empowering if you feel it was given away? (Now, a Hero’s Journey and storytelling clearly go hand in hand here, but I think the distinction is important. Not all D&D needs to be a journey, and not all storytelling is D&D.)

116curiousbeginningsAs for aspects specific to Critical Role, and to explain why it holds a special place in my heart over any other D&D show, the first component to this is the cast of the show itself. Every player in the game is a notable and respected voice actor, and I knew over half of them when I first tuned in (by the sound of their voice if not their name and appearance itself). These people have all had a hand in creating the games and shows I’ve dedicated so much of my life to (the aforementioned World of Warcraft is certainly pretty high on that list). So because I recognized their voices, I was already familiar with them. I already know these people, and this is an opportunity to know them better.

But even more than that, they’re all actors. I’ve been a part of the theatre world for six years now (which is crazy to me), and it literally changed my life. I tell people I was the kid that sat in the back of class reading and hoping nobody would talk to me. They’re always surprised to hear that because I’m so outspoken (they don’t realize that all that’s changed is that I now sit in the front of the class hoping somebody will talk to me). It didn’t necessarily make me more confident—I’m lucky enough to have pretty much always had that—but it did teach me to have fun by not caring about looking cool, stoic, and professional. I’ve found that people will hold a lot of respect for those than can throw caution to the wind. It’s a skill not many have. So watching the cast put on silly voices and make dumb jokes really speaks to me. Not because I’m an audience member admiring their skills, but because I’m a fellow performer that appreciates their techniques and the obscure theatre-related jokes they sometimes toss out at each other.

Lastly, and by far the most important reason that this show is the best—these people are all best friends. It’s really heartwarming to watch a group of people have a blast with each other. To share in the absurd humor as well as the very real tears that have happened over the years. You see people who so overtly love each other and the community they’ve created, and watch as they empower each other every week, and it maxresdefaultreally has an effect on you. It’s really difficult not to feel like part of the reason that they do this show is for you—and not in that “we do this for the fans” sort of way, but in a genuine way. They show fanart on stream and have hired fans to be part of the tech and have quite literally built a community founded on love and respect for one another as much as D&D. Sure, not everyone is as loving or respectable as the cast, but the vast majority of voices I’ve seen in the YouTube comments or on Reddit have been supportive and, in general, awesome.

I have a lot of dreams for the future. Some of them I know I will never achieve, simply because it’s not what life has in store for me. But if I have one goal, it’s to be happy. And every week when I get home from work or school to watch Critical Role while relaxing with a cup of tea, I can’t help but think.

One day I’ll have that sort of life. I don’t envy them for having it, because I’m grateful that they’re willing to share it with the world. And one day I’ll surround myself with people who bring me nothing but joy and we’ll share tears of both joy and pain. I may not be there yet, but if they can do it, I can do.

Me — Outer Perspective

Lately I’ve been giving thought to the perception I give off to people. This isn’t abnormal, as I’m constantly looking for ways to improve myself, but this time it’s a bit different, because I’ve been thinking specifically about how people perceive me as well as how they feel when they’re around me.

I’ve always considered myself a nice person. I think most everybody does. But I would also be the first to admit that I can be a bit egotistical to the point of being annoying. Sometimes I don’t even see it, and that’s the thing I hate most about myself. I’ve been told I’m so self confident I’m intimidating to talk to, and that’s the opposite of what I want.

It’s hard to change aspects of your personality that you can’t readily perceive, but what I’m trying to do is frame things in terms of how somebody might feel based on their being around me. I can compliment somebody all I want, but it won’t mean anything if they feel inadequate. And believe me, I do know what that sentence sounded like, I’m just not going to spend time trying to rephrase it.

Ideally, I want to people to be totally comfortable around me, tell me when they’re upset, and not have to worry about what I think of them. I want to be somebody that’s confident enough in themselves that people can look to for advice or solidity. When we part ways, I want that person to feel better about themselves than they did before.

These thoughts come in conjunction with a few things I’ve seen on Reddit in addition to the overall theme of the current Critical Role campaign. Leaving things better than when you found them is a noble legacy to pursue, I think.

Also along these lines, (and a quote from Critical Role): “People aren’t good or bad, they’re just people.” While I don’t wholly agree with that statement, I would say one thing in favor of it. I think a lot of us like the people we surround ourselves with simply because we’re social creatures and people are often nice to those around them by default. The people in our lives aren’t really special, the only meaning we attach to them is because they were there. If I had less siblings, my life wouldn’t be better or worse, it would just be different. With that logic, I can’t honestly say whether my life was made better having had them around me, because there’s no way to know.

That said, I’d like to be different. When I’m gone, I want people to think about the lives my presence had enabled them to have. I want them to feel like my being there made a positive impact on their lives. If I did die today, I bet people would say that, but I wouldn’t be so ready to say it’d be a true statement. So whatever my actions, however I pursue my own happiness, I hope I can bring others with me on my way there, that maybe they wouldn’t have been able to achieve otherwise.

Going to Portland, Oregon (Part Two)

I talked about my general experience of my few days in Portland this past Saturday. I didn’t give any specifics, though, so here’s my travel log!

Friday:

Okay, well, the plane landed around midnight, so mostly the four of us hung out with each other before going to bed. Not much to say there.

Saturday:

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The entire city is just built around crazy architecture like this. It astounds me that this is just normal.

The first thing we did the next morning was go see the Saturday Market, which is right next to the Columbia River. There’s all manner of shops for handmade rings and pendants, dyed shirts, various mediums of art, and of course, food. I was pretty impressed by a couple of street performers, though. Their whole shtick was hyping up somebody jumping over random audience members, but they were funny and charming while they did it. It reminded me a lot of the shows you can see at some of the Renaissance Faires I’ve been to. What astonished me most was that they didn’t ask for volunteers, they just pointed at people and pulled them out of the audience and into the performing area. I found that very interesting.

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At the Market I found one shop of this guy that does amazing art. His name is J. Slattum, I recommend you go check it out. I had a hard time picking which painting to buy. I decided to go with the one that initially caught my eye.

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All three of us surreptitiously took a picture of the other two in this spot, which I think is really funny.

The Saturday Market also has an amazing view of the Columbia River as it looks out into the other side of the city. I’d say the picture below does a good job in describing how I feel about Portland. It’s just a wide, green, flat, and much less dense San Fransisco. As a result, absolutely gorgeous.

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Even the normal train offers amazing views. You can see Mt. Hood in the distance here!

We went swimming in Lake Oswego afterwards. None of us had been swimming in a long time, and it was freezing, but we all immediately decided to swim to a buoy and back as practice. Well, the agreed upon buoy was about 200 feet away, and against the

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We were at a public park (that, unbeknownst to us, was closed at the time) in the middle of a bunch of way too expensive houses.

current. I’m not a strong swimmer, and my costochondritis meant that the cold affected my ability to breathe more than it would most, so I’ll admit I did get scared on the way back. I was so tired I could barely swim, and I never learned how to float on one’s back. I considered asking for help, but they probably weren’t much better off. I didn’t go back in the water after that, my legs ached so bad.

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Pretty sure this is a bald eagle, which I have never seen before. It hung out with us all day. Super neat, and even from this distance it was clearly so much bigger than the average crow.

After the lake, I was really tired. Both of the friends I was with are very extroverted people. They cannot get enough of sightseeing and talking and being social. We planned on going to a bar where a friend’s band was playing, to which I requested to stay home at the apartment. Upon my insistence, they left me alone and I got some writing in, as well as some much needed rest. I have never experienced anything like this trip before. Being so far away from any family and not having any time to recharge hit me harder than I expected, and for the first two days of the trip I was emotionally drained.

Sunday:

Sunday morning I was excited because that was the anticipated hike day. As much as I love going on walks and hiking, I don’t do it in Southern California because if I go outside I’ll start melting (and yes, before you comment, I have been to Arizona, and yes, I do hate it). I was excited about this hike because it would be going through national forest, and it was up near Pittock Mansion, too. Incredible nature scenery and majestic architecture? Yes, please. (As a side note, it didn’t rain at all while we were there. I’m both slightly disappointed, because I love the rain, and also relieved, because it would have made sightseeing a lot harder.)

As you can imagine, I took a ton of pictures here. I won’t talk about them, I’ll just leave them here for your viewing pleasure.

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Apparently a famous sign, but I’d honestly never heard of it.

After the hike, we went into downtown to explore. We mostly walked around and did some sightseeing, from going to Killer Burger, to walking by some landmarks, to going into Powell’s (a 5-story bookstore of which I took zero pictures), to getting donuts at Voodoo Donuts.

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I’d imagine that Portland is a great place to film a great many types of things, from fantasy to noir to everyday sitcoms. At least, it would be a great place if there weren’t always so many people walking around all the time.

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Even the car ride home in the middle of the night was beautiful.

Monday:

IMG_20180604_084402637 (Monday Bricks)

Monday morning I had a breakfast date with my grandpa, because he lives in the area and I don’t get to see him very often. (And, to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a genuine one-on-one conversation with him.) Getting up as early as I had to was about as difficult as I expected it to be, but the quiet atmosphere and a good chat was nice. Some familiarity in such a foreign world was a treasure to have.

On Monday and Tuesday our two “native” (they’ve only been here a little while) friends had work, so it was up to me and my travel buddy to find places to see and explore. It didn’t occur to me until Monday that everything in Portland can get away with being made of bricks, because there’s no fault line right under it. I know it’s probably stupid to you, but I thought it was interesting that everything is made of bricks here.

IMG_20180604_132858423 (Monday Park)

Monday was mostly walking around the city, because we honestly didn’t have much of a plan of where to go. We walked through a park multiple blocks long, right in the middle of downtown, which was cool.

At some point we visited Pioneer Square (in the day this time), and we grabbed some brochures of interesting places to visit for tomorrow.

After that, we went through some suburbs. I think some of the best pictures of the trip came from there. I would kill to live in a place that looked like that.

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On this walk, attached to the gate in front of somebody’s house, was a little box with some books inside. It was one of those “leave one, take one” situations, and I found it fascinating. Inside it was a copy of the first book of the Mistborn series, which made me really sad because as much as I wanted it, I had no book to trade. My travel buddy convinced me it would be okay to take it, just for the story of how I got it.

I thank her immensely for the permission to do that. I would have left it and regretted it if she hadn’t been there.

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We came across an old thrift store of lamps & furniture called “Lounge Lizard”. Awesome place, and it reminded me of the singing improv game of the same name. She had never played it, so I showed it to her on the way back home. As much as I don’t like singing in the presence of others, I rather enjoyed it.

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We headed back into town to have a late lunch at the Old Town Pizza Company, which was a restaurant that was repurposed from an old hotel. Apparently, the booth where you order food is the same concession stand from the original establishment in 1880, which is insane. I didn’t take any pictures of this place, because it was super dark, so enjoy this picture stolen off the internet. We actually almost sat in this booth, but decided to eat upstairs because… well, upstairs.

At about that time our friends were getting off work, so we headed back home, then went back into town to get ramen before playing a drinking game to Disney’s Hercules. It was a great conclusion to an awesome day.

Tuesday:

Tuesday was very similar to Monday, except this time we had a plan for places we wanted to visit. I’m sorry to say I didn’t take many pictures of Tuesday because I was a bit jaded,

We headed into town, ate fries in a park while listening to live violins, then went into the city proper.

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We stumbled across the Church of Scientology, which was… interesting. My friend convinced me to go in and check it out, and boy. They showed us a machine that could “read your thoughts”, which really just detected the presence of electrical signals when you think. The fact that the lady advertised it as borderline magic was insane to me.

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“Psychiatric drugs: Take one!”

After that, we went back to Powell’s, because it was on the way to a place called the Cookie Dough Cafe. Imagine an ice cream shop like Baskin Robbins, only they have vats of raw cookie dough instead of ice cream. (Okay, they also had ice cream, but mostly it was cookie dough.)

It was so thick, that a $3 single scoop of cookie dough was almost too much for me to finish, even though I had eaten very little that day.

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Our last stop for the trip was a brewery called Steven Smith Teamaker. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was lovely. They had a selection of nearly fifty different kinds of teas, and you could buy a flight to try any four. I did this with the resolution to buy the best one, and while I don’t really like green teas, I was surprised when it turned out to be my favorite.

Tuesday Tea

Portland was magical. I learned a lot about the world and myself, and made lots of memories I’ll cherish forever. The day I got back I was hit with a severe… homesickness? I’m sure lots of people are familiar with that feeling, but I had never felt that before. I’m glad that emotion didn’t persist, because it made the following Wednesday and Thursday pretty hard.

Going to Portland, Oregon (Part One)

I went on my first official vacation a few days ago. The plane landed late Friday night and I went back to California Tuesday night. So I thought it would be fun to talk about the trip. In the interest of going to bed at a reasonable hour tonight, I’ll split this post into two. Part One will cover my general experience, and Part Two will be the specifics of what I did.

Side note: Get ready for a long post with lots of pictures. I took an uncharacteristically abundant amount of them. Almost 300 in just 4(ish) days. From the time between the first and last picture I took, my rate of picture taking was around .25 per hour (or 1 every 4 hours depending on how you want to frame that ratio).

IMG_20180603_143148248_HDR.jpgIt’s worth noting right off the bat that I’m very introverted and basically don’t ever leave the house if I don’t have to. Having said that, I wanted to make 2018 memorable by making big changes to my behavior. I don’t like Southern California (it’s just way too hot), and down the road I want to move away from the desert, but I don’t want to move too far to require a plane to see family. Basically, this just means going north to Northern California or Oregon, so visiting the state seemed like a good place to start.

I’ll just tell you right now, I loved it. I only spent time in the Portland area, but the whole place is gorgeous. There are more trees in the densest portions of downtown than there are in some of the parks I live near. To sum up my experience of what Portland “is” in three words: “weird, green community”. And yes, that’s a double entendre.

IMG_20180602_141234693 (Saturday Market).jpgPortland is weird, because people just… talk to each other. In Southern California, conversations with strangers only happen when they’re obligatory, and it’s literally the same conversation every time. If an alien was teleported into LA with no understanding of the English language, I would give him a list of about 5 words/phrases and any surface level conversation would sound normal: “Hi”, “How are you?”, “Good”, “Have a nice day”, and “Thanks”. He could pretty much dictate those phrases at random to a stranger and they probably wouldn’t notice.

IMG_20180605_142405103.jpgIn Portland it’s different. I’m not used to just chatting with cashiers about my cool shirt or Steven Universe or, well… anything. It’s small talk, yes, and I thought I hated small talk, but there’s something about the easy and simple connection strangers are allowed to have that is amazing. We got into a literal argument with some guy over which of us was next in line, because everyone involved was trying to be polite and have the other go first. Spoiler: the guy ended up storming off to force us to go first, so he won. The next day, we walked by homeless people getting tattoos done on the sidewalk, and the people I was with at the time struck up a conversation about fashion. It just boggles my mind, and yes, before you ask, that circumstance made me very uncomfortable.

The city is also very transportation friendly. $5 will get you an all day train ticket, and you can use the trains to get anywhere in Portland within an hour. I got the sense that, depending on the traffic, it can actually be a lot faster than driving, especially since you don’t have to worry about parking or gas. Most of the time, the trains weren’t even that busy, my friends and I almost always had a row of seats available.

IMG_20180603_212008967 (Pioneer Square Night).jpgPortland is also amazing in that everywhere you stand, you can take a great picture. You’re also within an hour of both downtown and giant national forests, even if you’re right in the middle of the city. Plus, Mt. Hood is always in the distance, and having seen a genuine mountain, I now understand that feeling of “I wanna go there and do that”. Another thing to note: living in Earthquake Land also makes me unaccustomed to actual architecture of brick and stone. I’ve seen pictures, but man, the older buildings in the city look incredible.

So, in conclusion: Portland is incredible, and I’m going back someday.

 

Me — Kindness Towards Strangers

I was driving around the other day. One of the two days we had rain in the last several months. I had just gotten gas, and was on my way to a friend’s house when I noticed a girl using her backpack as an umbrella as she walked down the street. The high school had just gotten out of class, and I imagine she was probably walking home.

This situation upset me a bit, because as a person, I’d have liked to stop and give her a ride home. I wasn’t in a hurry, and her walk seemed rather unpleasant. But society has taught both me and that girl that that is inappropriate. I could not be kind simply because it would have put me in a position of power, and were I a worse person, something bad could have happened. There was nothing I would have been able to do to help her outside of driving to the store, buying her an umbrella, and bringing it to her.

The worst part is, if I had pulled over and managed to convince her I was trustworthy, the conclusion to draw from that would be that she is too trusting a person. Sure, I would have just driven her home (or wherever she was going) and been about my way, but wouldn’t that give her the impression that the world is a better place than it actually is? If the person pulling over to help her was anyone other than me, whom I would claim to know somewhat well, I would advise against getting in the car. So if I had helped her, and everything went well, I would only teach her that it’s okay to do that, when it’s not, because any time you put yourself at the mercy of a stranger is an extremely dangerous risk.

I think the takeaway here that our society (at least where I live) is very distrusting of strangers, and in some ways that’s a good thing. But in this case, it means that kindness cannot take the simplest, most direct route. It’s a shame, but it’s probably better this way. I imagine any times and places where this situation would be innocuous would also end up getting a lot of people hurt.

Obviously, I’ll say that kindness is something our world could use more of, but I think that statement will always be applicable. We simply have to find appropriate ways of doing it that don’t teach strangers the wrong lessons. Also, another thing people don’t seem to realize about helping strangers is that it makes one feel better about oneself. This is another can of worms, but I don’t believe in altruism. I think people do selfless acts because it allows them to feel better about themselves. At least, I know that’s why I do nice things.

So maybe helping people shouldn’t primarily be about forcing other people to trust you in order to prove your intentions are virtuous. Maybe we should focus on doing little things that allow both parties to walk away happier.