Life — Social Gaming Climate

Ever since WoW: Classic launched, I’ve been spending practically all of my free time on it (writing and social life—or lack thereof—notwithstanding). And while I know I made a post about it some time ago, the game has had a lot more time to stabilize since then, and I have more things to say about it.

I was afraid that the nostalgia of socializing with people online and making real friendships would be unattainable in today’s world, both because of how gaming itself has changed and how much social media has grown to dominate society in the last decade. But I could not have been more wrong.

More than I could have imagined, I’m forging real relationships with the people in my guild. Receiving and returning favors, trading things we need, talking about random stuff, or taking pot shots at other people in the guild. Admittedly, I’ve practically learned nothing about their real lives, but the climate in Classic WoW allows for so much more of people’s personalities to show than the last several years of the retail game.

In a way that I have never before experienced, your character has a reputation in the space that they’re in. The people you interact with remember your name, so it pays to be good to others. And since the vast majority have the same mentality, (my guild especially,) social interaction in the game is just so pleasant.

We finished our first Molten Core run today, and while it wasn’t quite as impactful as it could have been, I couldn’t help but think of how many thousands of people had walked through those caves before me. How many inseparable groups of friends. How many memories forged in those lava pits.

And now I’m making memories of my own. Not with inseparable friends, but with people I can’t wait to get to know, for hopefully several months to come.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the meaninglessness of my existence. The knowledge that if I simply evaporated, life would go on without me, and very few people would be affected, especially in the grand scheme of things.

But when somebody in the guild needs water for their mana, or a portal to Darnassus, I try my best to be there for them when I can. It’s not that I’m eager to help. It’s that I want to be known as and remembered for my willingness to go out of my way to help people. I find that the satisfaction of helping is often its own reward, and Warcraft gives me a great outlet to do that frequently.

I think about the stories I’ve heard of the relationships that have been forged inside World of Warcraft. Especially the stories of people that are gone. Heck, I wrote one of those stories (partially inspired by real events, but quite fictional).

It’s amazing how easily an entire culture was able to be restored inside a fifteen year old game. It really encourages teamwork and friendship in a way that no other MMORPG has compared to, and for that, I want to thank all the people that brought it to life then, and those that resurrected it now. I wish I had been old enough to really enjoy and experience it the first time around, but I’ll take what I can get. In some ways, it’s keeping me together.

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 — Mt. Wilson Hike

I have a friend that is really into exercising and hiking. Outside of work, I would say it’s probably the thing he spends the most time on, with basic exercise equipment in his room and whatnot. He’s not obsessed with it—it’s not a thing he just talks about in casual conversation—but it does occupy a lot of his time.

Recently he made a post on social media about getting a group together for his second hike up Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in California at 14,500 feet), and wanted to see who was interested in joining him on his training hikes.

I don’t really spend a whole lot of free time exercising or even being outdoors these days, so I told him to add me to the list of invites for the hikes. So he did, and I joined him for the first hike: Mt. Wilson.

When I said I’d be interested in hiking with him, I thought I was signing up for a 3-4 hour conversation along some longer trails, but that is not what I got. This was an 8 hour hike with an elevation gain of 4,300 feet.

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The view from the parking lot: not our jeep. Also, the parking lot was already packed at 6am!

I didn’t have a national park pass, so I couldn’t park there, so instead I spent the night at his place and we carpooled over. The thing is, I got there around midnight, slept on his couch, and we got up at around 4:30am. Our hike (with a group of 4 people) began at around 6am. (Yes I started an 8 hour hike on 4 hours of sleep. I took what I could get.)

I was also very leery of joining him because for one, the weather forecast for that day had predicted showers over the entire week, and only the day before did that forecast loosen into noon-time sprinkling. The sky was overcast, threatening to rain at any given moment.

We had a good chat. I learned lots of hiking etiquette from the more experienced hikers (which was everyone), and even though it was early in the morning, the exertion proved to be quite a workout.

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It took us about 4 hours to get to the peak, and we were excited about the prospect of a cafe at the top. We got to the observatory before it opened, and when we did arrive, the people there told us it was closed due to the weather forecast (though it didn’t rain a drop the entire day). It was a bummer, because we had planned on treating ourselves to soda at the top.

 

And so we made our descent, and let me tell you friends, if you thought going up was bad, you have either never gone down for long periods of time, or your knees are better than mine (and let’s be honest, it’s probably the latter if not both). The way down was the more scenic route, with more creeks and waterfalls  alongside (or cutting through) the path. We added a mile to our hike to go to one particular waterfall (which was the main attraction for most of the people that came here). I stopped us on the descent a lot because I saw a lot of good photo opportunities. Also, I was low-key dying a little bit, but had too much pride to call for a real break.

As much as I really didn’t want to add another mile to the hike 6 hours in, I’m glad we went. It lead to a few really cool pictures. There were lots of people there, including a few kids throwing rocks into the water to make big splashes. One of them hit me with a rock instead of the water. It didn’t hurt, but boy did I want to kick his dad in the face for not stepping in and apologizing.

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At the end of the trip was a steep 400ft incline (I’d guess maybe 20-25°), and that last quarter mile-ish killed me. Imagine walking for 8 hours and then the last legs of the journey is a steep slope up asphalt—not even nice, packed in dirt.

I was sore for two days after the trip, but I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t for that last little bit, I would have been almost completely fine the next day or two.

So that’s it. I’m not a hiker, but this was a fun little thing to do. Some stats: Gained 4,300 feet of elevation over almost exactly 8 hours. Average pace was a 28 minute mile, but our best was 7:50 minutes. We covered 14.7 miles and burned 1,653 calories.

 

Me — Tempering Life Expectations

I’ve been working my way out of a depression the last few months because of a few things, but central to it was an increasing feeling that I’m never going to have my life where I want it to be. (Don’t worry, I’m okay now, for reasons I’m about to get into.) I still have a bad night every week or so, but a few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine, and he commented that life is just always bad and people have to make their own happiness amidst the bad. We all have stuff to go through. It’s a conversation I’m sure we’ve all had in the past, but I guess it was the right time for me, because it sparked some thoughts.

That “revelation” might seem obvious, I know. Life is always a constant battle as we try to position it on a precarious pedestal and hope the slight breeze doesn’t ruin that balance, and that’s after you find the right life and the right pedestal. I’ve started to think, probably realistically, that there will never be a moment in my life where everything is exactly how I want it to be.

Sounds sad, but tangential to this is the opposite effect. Life might never be perfect, but it can get pretty good, so its imperfections shouldn’t disallow you from appreciating the times when it actually is pretty good. And for me, that’s right now. I’m doing great, all things considered. I have two passion projects (sort of three, if you count the play I’m working on), I’m hosting a D&D campaign that is going really, really well, and my school and work lives aren’t tearing me apart, even if they are a constant source of struggle.

So just because I don’t make as much money as I’d like to be, or my living situation isn’t ideal, or my social life needs a ton of work, doesn’t mean I haven’t made any progress. This time last year I had no job, was actively struggling with friendships/relationships, and my writing block was just starting to take hold. I’ve made some good strides since then.

I think it’s time to stop putting unrealistic expectations on myself. I’m not going to fix my financial situation or my social life by this time next year. They might improve, but the problems won’t be solved. But hey, I’m doing fine where I am now, and I can’t discredit that. Of course, we should never stop striving for more, trying to make things better where we can, but being disappointed when perfection isn’t achieved is just going to ruin things at every turn.

Also, if you’re no longer satisfied with being in a good position in life, waiting for it to get better, maybe that’s also a sign that things haven’t been bad for quite a while, and if that’s the cause, you should be thankful for that. It’s easy to forget harder times when you’re living in a period of mediocrity.

Me — Being a Charismatic Introvert

My social life is weird. up until my junior year of high school, I was extremely introverted, only making friends when I needed to and avoiding eye contact with anyone I didn’t know. That changed when I was accidentally put in a theatre class and, well, I learned improv and became a different person. I didn’t gain confidence per-se (my natural intelligence has made me something of a narcissist, unfortunately), but what I did gain was the ability to be okay with looking dumb and having fun. As a result of that, basically the only friends I came out of high school with were the people I met through improv.

What this has amounted to is a sometimes overpowering feeling of loneliness in college, as I’m painfully aware that the three or four friends I actively talk to don’t even live within an hour’s drive. I still don’t like talking to strangers, but as a desperate attempt to make friends, and putting my improv skills to good use, I constructed a version of me for the purposes of meeting people.

Meet Kollin: the charismatic introvert.

From all angles that a stranger would see, I seem extroverted. I make conversation, ask questions, engage other people, and say hi to people I know just to say hi. I interact with people that, ideally, seems friendly, open, and inviting. Now, I’m on the inside looking out, so I don’t know how well this works, but this method was exactly how I met who I would currently consider to be my best friend.

I can’t put this mask on for everybody, as I don’t really find the will to open interactions people I have sub-par feelings towards. When I invented this personality, I basically made a good friend instantly, so I put it away again and returned to my “don’t speak unless spoken to” state, which is far more natural for me.

But the last few months I’ve been pretty lonely again, so I’ve pretty much been wearing that mask whenever I’m at school. It’s not a headspace I’m used to, so I have a hard time gauging the social situations it causes. I can’t tell if the people I’m talking to enjoy talking to me or simply respond because they’re being spoken to. Obviously, that distinction is important for my purposes.

Another thing about my social personality is that I really value open communication. Perhaps even overvalue and overshare. My inclination when I meet somebody new and graduate them from “person whose name I know” to “acquaintance” is to outright tell them I have a very difficult time socializing and making friends even if that doesn’t seem to be the case. I like my motivations and intentions to be laid out from the beginning, and the charismatic introvert sort of runs counter to that. For good or for ill, I’m not sure.

I feel like part of my problem is that my brain has inorganically concluded to simulate organic social norms. The only friends I’ve made “organically” are people I’ve known for 8 or more years, and some of my closest friendships were made because I made a conscious decision in my head to befriend them before we really knew each other (or before we even met in one of those cases).

I just… don’t know how to make friends. Does that make the charismatic introvert me a lie? Well, maybe. It’s certainly not my natural state, but my natural state also perpetuates bad behaviors I want to break, so here we are.

(Author’s note: Photo is unrelated. I just found it funny because it makes no sense.)

Improv 101 — Being Somebody Else

Every year, when I meet the new class of high school kids I teach improv to, I always give them a lecture. Most times I’m teaching it’s a gauntlet of “what game is he teaching us this week”, but the first week is always different, because I mostly just talk. About me. You might think that’s asinine or narcissistic, and well, maybe it is, but I think my story with improv is important.

I was always the introverted kid in class. Okay, I am the introverted kid in class, but in high school it was even worse. I was so bad I would be reading fantasy novels in my theatre class any chance I could, as long as the teacher wasn’t talking. And yeah, I got my book taken away by multiple teachers over my high school career. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly fast friends with anyone I met.

But then my soon-to-be improv coach started coming into the class as a guest teacher. He’d teach imrpov games just like on Whose Line is it Anyway?, and I loved when he came because then we’d get to play improv. You’d think the story ends there right? I jump on stage, come out of my shell through improv, then I started teaching, right?

Well, no. It took a lot more work than that. I wouldn’t even go on stage to play games when he asked. I just liked that he was there because I enjoyed watching improv, not because I wanted to do it myself. Me? An actor? Yeah, okay buddy.

A few months go by, and he eventually states that he’s recruiting students for an improv team. Nothing school related, but we would be joining a non-profit that helps high school kids perform on stages (most often by singing, but well, that part of the story isn’t really important). Against my better judgment, I signed up. I could watch more improv that way, at least.

And so, Kollin the audience member was forced to become Kollin the improviser. I’m not going to pretend I was the best on the team, (in fact I would argue against it), but my best moments tended to last the longest in our minds.

After a few years of our improv team doing great and going strong, old faces leaving and new faces joining, our coach told us he was moving. We had two options: hold our own or quit while we were ahead. We made the mistake of trying to hold our own. The only people that were left were just out of high school, after all, and neither of us had the resources nor the charisma to lead a team of teenagers.

But, I did accept the mantle of improv coach. And so Kollin the improviser became Kollin the teacher. Freshly graduated, I started joining my coach as he went into the high school to teach, and when he did move, soon it was just me.

A few years of that and here we are. An introverted Kollin standing on stage talking to a bunch of high school freshmen about what improv is. This is only the first half of the lecture, but I think it implies a lot about what improv can be. Yes, I’m still the introverted guy who won’t speak to a stranger unless spoken to. But through improv I’ve gained the ability to don a mask. The mask of who Kollin would be if he was extroverted. I wear it well. It suits me, in a way, and though I can’t wear it for long, people are often surprised when I tell them I’m introverted. I’m still working on being able to pull out that mask in non-teaching environments, but it’s the only time that version of me is really comfortable.

Improv really helped me find myself. For some people, it takes them out of their shell and they blossom into an entirely new creature. Sometimes it’s just a confidence shift. I think I might have changed the least of all the people from my improv team, but the new skills of being able to pretend I’m slightly different versions of Kollin would make people think I’ve changed a lot.

Improv changes you, but it’s always positive. I’ve never seen anyone negatively impacted by the experience, and though I’ve certainly seen people so embarrassed they’ve cried, they really did learn a lot and had some profound personality growth because of it. Improv is one of those things that I think everybody should try for a while. Even if it’s just a simple college class later in life.

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.