Phenomenal Cosmic Powers

So, I've been playing a lot of World of Warcraft lately, which explains why I haven't been blogging much: I've been too busy dying a multitude of horrid miserable deaths in far-off imaginary lands at the hands of a host of assorted gruesome creatures, including giant hairy spiders, tunnel rat vermin, these things called "troggs" that look awfully like some of the salespeople I support, and squirrels. (Well, OK, technically the squirrels haven't killed me, but I know they want to. Squirrels are evil and I hate them. They have too damn much power.)

Even though I heckled G for years about his on-line gaming, I've found it very easy to get sucked into WoW. This is probably primarily because of the character I've created, who is -- let's just face it -- so many kinds of awesome. She's a gnome mage, which means she's about 3' tall with purple pigtail puffs and she's totally action-packed with magical superpowers. No leprechaun, this chick: she could completely kick your ass while you were telling her how cute she is and patting her on the head.

Of course, one of the reasons I like playing with this character so much is because I envy and admire her. She is still a "baby" in relative game terms (Level 16, out of 70, and with hardly anything fully learned yet, although I am becoming quite the virtual bassmistress, thankyouverymuch), but she has skills and abilities that I really wish I could have in real life. I mean, it's hard enough to be fighting against the forces of evil, asshattery, and stupidity every day -- and not necessarily in that order, either -- and while it would not automatically be any easier to fight the good fight with magic, it would certainly be more interesting. To wit:

Flamestrike. A spell my mage has that does damage to all enemies within a certain radius. I would love to use this on those days when everything converges on me at once -- emails, phone calls, retarded questions that I have already answered 847,000 times, lame jokes from my cube neighbor, etc. When I hit my breaking point, I could just channel the spell, scorch the earth around me, lay waste to everything in my path, and then go have a cigarette and some Spiced Wolf Meat and regenerate.

Frostbolt. Another spell, which causes enemies to slow down, giving you time to cast additional damaging spells before the bad guys can hit you. I like to think of it as a sort of forced "stop and think" -- like, when I have people arguing with me about why they think something is wrong even when I know it isn't, I could stun them with this spell and then use the slowdown period to hit them with a massive logic bomb and explain why they're giant flaming moron assholes and I am right and they should shut the hell up already.

Polymorph. Oh my ears and whiskers, one of my very favorite spells, even though I don't use it quite as much any more, now that I am levelling up and getting more health and magic powers. This spell is kind of ... ultra-extreme evasive maneuvers for total chickenshits, which lets you turn enemies into sheep for a short time so you can run away (screaming optional). I already know on whom I would use this spell most frequently: my "favorite" salesperson who insists on referring to me by my initials and never by my name oh my heavens such HAAAAATE. (And I can make a very cozy home in the janitor's closet.)

Of course, knowing these fantastic powers exist in WoW and not IRL certainly makes it more difficult for me to get through most days. I have replaced my sincere desire to stab people in the head with a mechanical pencil and make off with their wallets with the sincere desire to Fireball the hell out of them and then loot them for copper and quest items, which is progress of a sort, I guess, but it still suggests that I need to wait a little longer for the mood stabilizers to take full effect.

And also: all the Gnomeregan engineering in the world cannot gerryrig my company's systems into working correctly.


Doers of Dorkcraft

If the on-line gaming community or MMORPG'ers or whatever the hell they call themselves ever does a Google search and they end up on this blog, I expect a flaming raft of shit for things I might have said in the past that were not entirely (or, ahem, even at all) complimentary of what passes for a "hobby" in those circles: namely, sitting in front of a computer for countless hours at a time, vacant and vapid and vacuous, clicking oneself into oblivion while perpetuating what to the uninitiated such as myself appears to amount to nothing more than a giant electronic circle jerk.

But that was all before I became an on-line gamer myself. Er, sort of, anyway.

My very first MMORPG experience came via a friend on the SDMB, my very favorite source for almost all the information I need. We were in a thread about the late un-great TV show "Pirate Master" (blech on a stick, by the way) and somehow I ended up checking out and ultimately joining this awesome game called YoHoHo Puzzle Pirates. (I link to it on this blog, over there on the left, in case you find that you are interested.)

Although I should backtrack a bit and say that I partly joined, at the beginning anyway, out of spite. G is a gamer, and his friends are gamers, and he spends hours at a clip playing games that I don't understand and will never be good at. Counterstrike, and Team Fortress, and I don't even know what the hell all else. He got a special set of "cans" so that he can lurk up there in his den with his headphones on and talk to his buddies and have fun without me while I sit on the couch and pout, all lonely and with nobody to fetch me juice from the kitchen because I'm too spoiled to do it my damn self.

And I'm not a big fan of shoot-'em-up games, anyway, because I am highly suggestible and get nightmares, plus I don't really see the point of blowing other people's virtual heads off. Why? Are there prizes for winning Counterstrike? Does that game even have a story? I mean, some of the stuff that comes out of on-line gaming is hysterical and fantastic and I love it, like "im in ur camp killin ur dudes," and also "the cake is a lie," and the occasional "Leeroy Jenkins" -- but even then, I have to use my Google-fu a lot so I don't look like a giant clueless tool (any more than usual).

But Puzzle Pirates is altogether different. For one thing, the game is mostly puzzles (duh), not shooting -- although as you get better at it, you can progress to games where you have to shoot things. Cannons, mostly, at other people's ships. And the puzzles are all based on things that hypothetical pirates would really have to do: bilging, sailing, carpentry, shipwrightery, rumbling, sword fighting, drinking, carousing, playing spades. (Well, OK, maybe the spades are more purely hypothetical than other parts of the game, but still.)

And also, there are the people. I have been lucky enough to have only dealt with really nice people in my experience with the game. I'm sure YPP has its fair share of jerks and buttheads, but so far so good, for me. Only once has anyone made me cry, and I'm pretty sure that was a 13-year-old kid. My crew has been awesome, patient, teaching me what to do and how not to behave, and just generally not caring if I "level my druid" or not, as long as I show up and have a good time and help other people have a good time. I even placed in a couple of contests, including one where I wrote about Mother Teresa in an adventure with pirates. (Total fiction, of course.)

So ... not to make this long story any longer, but I think I finally understand what all the fuss is about. I know that hardcore gamers probably think that the YPP people -- "puzzlins," I believe my husband called us, once -- are lametards or whatever. And, exactly: whatever. (I don't care how lame he thinks I am, anyway, since I know what's really on his iPod.) I'm an old woman who never did this kind of thing before, and because I got my foot in the door in an environment where I felt safe and comfortable and encouraged, I am willing to try other games too. Which is kind of the point, right?

My heart will always belong to YPP, whatever I do, because that's where Pondera is, and my people, who know strengths and my skills and my language. (LOLcat.)


Dark and Stormy

Sometimes, on days like today, when the weather is weird and I'm not sure what season it's supposed to be and I'm overextended and under-rested and having a bad hair day and the afternoon just will not end -- sometimes, on days like today, I find myself struggling to live with myself. Maybe it's nothing, maybe it's normal, maybe everybody hears a random Warren Zevon song on their iPod and they start wondering whether the world would be different if they ceased to exist. Disappear, never to be seen or heard again. Not suicidal or anything, just ... existential.

I often joke that when I am no longer of this Earth, I will be driving the bus directly to Hell to assume my rightful place at Satan's left hand. Fire and brimstone do not scare me; I have lived through the Presidential administrations of two different Bushes, one of whom could not even successfully run a baseball team. Billy Joel and I are in agreement: "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints; the sinners are much more fun." And I already work in some super-secret Ninth Circle of Hell, the one reserved for middle managers and the designer of the collapsible cubicle wall and the inventor of Muzak.

And it's not like I expect to go to Heaven, either, to join in those pinochle games in the clouds, where one great-grandmother can give me shit for not knowing how to cook a two-minute egg and the other can raise holy hell because I wantonly leave the house without applying lipstick. Much as I would love them, I just don't see myself strolling around inside the Pearly Gates having spirited (heh) debates with my father-in-law about the merits of the designated hitter while my grandfather plies me with shots of blackberry brandy for a change.

What I think I am most afraid of is that nothing comes after -- that I will spend an eternity in an infinite abyss of nothingness, of desolate loneliness, where I won't remember anything or anyone I once knew. No cheesesteaks. No Mexico. No "War Pigs" or Weird Al or "What A Wonderful World." No dragonflies or daffodils or Dutch-processed cocoa. My disembodied soul will also be disemboweled, directionless. Dark, and oh so very alone.

And what I know I actually fear, more than even that? Is that sometimes, on days like today, I will feel all those miles and all those aeons and all those metric tons of solitude when I am still here. This is what depression feels like to me.


Miscellaneous Memory: Inspired by "Lay Your Hands on Me" by Bon Jovi

In October of 1988, when I was in 8th grade at Shawnee Intermediate School in Easton, Pa., I got caught passing a stack of papers to Christy Miller after French class. It was our French teacher, Mrs. Shelosky -- she of the freaky rutabaga obsession and the "vim, vigor, vitality, Geritol" cathchphrase -- who snagged us. We were on our way out of the room, on our way to wherever we were going next, when she stopped us.

Christy had the papers in her hand. We were asked what it was and we both stammered. I don't remember what we said we were doing, but I know we had a French vocab test coming up, and I'm sure that Shelosky thought we were trying to cheat somehow. We weren't, of course -- I didn't become Queen of the Nerds under false pretenses or through subterfuge. But we couldn't exactly own up to anything, either, because ...

... well, what I had given Christy was about 20 handwritten pages for a "book" that we were working on. And by "working on," I mean that I was writing it, and she was the editor, or whatever you call the person who makes you do all the heavy lifting and then stands back and admires your handiwork. At any rate, we were both terrified, because this "book" that we were "working on," what Mrs. Shelosky had intercepted, was: SMUT.

There's no other way to put it, really. Long ago and far away, back before I ever had a boyfriend unless Bill Sauerhauffer counts -- and I don't think he does because our entire "relationship" was limited to passing notes during 7th grade study hall and once (!!) sitting next to each other in the auditorium during play practice when neither of us was on stage -- before I ever kissed a boy or held his hand or anything else, I was attempting to become the next Catherine Coulter.

For the record, I don't think there's anything wrong with bodice-rippers. I mean, they're not real or anything, but they're certainly a better way to pass the time than, say, trying to have a séance in the rec room and almost setting the entire house on fire, or cooking meth in the basement, or anything like that. And they're definitely amusing, because where else are you going to learn clever euphemisms like "quivering turgid manhood"?

Back then, in 8th grade, when I was bored senseless all the time and so I was reading everything in the house including the backs of cereal boxes and of course every single book my mother brought into the house -- well, Jackie Collins novels were not exactly on the list of recommended reading for school, but that didn't stop me. I had made my way through practically the entire "historical romance" section of the Palmer Library, since even then I did not have a life of which to speak.

But of course having my parents' permission to read that stuff did not mean that they ever expected me to write it. Certainly not because I was a good Catholic girl. And most certainly not at that age. Not that they would have had anything to worry about at that point, because even though I was writing amateur soft-core porn, it was terrible amateur soft-core porn, and anyway, my character wasn't the slutty one. (Yes, even in fiction, I was still a virgin.)

I actually stopped writing for a little while after getting caught, because I spent 24 hours worrying about what kind of trouble Christy and I were going to be in, and while I figured I could reconcile what I did with my parents -- "Look, it's only a book, it's not real" -- I had no idea how I was going to explain myself to the 8th grade principal, Mr. Kish. I didn't have to worry about that, though, because instead of reporting us to anybody, Mrs. Shelosky just asked when she was going to get the next chapter.