The Real Escapism

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I’m not the sort of person who is afraid of being alone. Much to the chagrin of my friends, I will often do things that allow me to sit and enjoy something entirely by myself. I sit for hours at both home and my job, just passively watching things go on around me. Movies, dinner dates and sightseeing are all things I’ve done lost in my own thoughts.

Gaming nowadays goes roughly the same way, almost in defiance of how social video games have innately gotten. There’s endless titles that have single-player narratives but still allow global text chat, voice chat, cooperative play and random matchmaking. The act of playing a game can be just as social as anything else we choose to indulge in.

However, as I grow older, I find that my gaming habits have changed. As Ian Williams remarked on a recent episode of Justice Points, we don’t need MMORPGs to fill that social void when we’re constantly interacting with social media. Social media has let me lapse into a solitary lifestyle while the gentle pings of Twitter keep me company whenever I decided to tab out of whatever I’m doing in Diablo III or Hatoful Boyfriend. I can even enable my app to pop Mentions out as tiny boxes that I can read without even leaving what I’m doing. Having others rely on me to keep a game experience going is often tiresome for my mercurial attention span – sometimes I can hyper-focus for hours at a time but most of the time I just want to come and go as I please.

Enter Eidolon, a game I feel strongly about despite having only played a handful of hours. I have barely scratched what promises to be a deep narrative experience, only to just wander lonely and quiet, gently surviving. I watch the sky change color and clouds roll by. I climb to the top of cliffs to look out across the horizon. I pick up tinder and mushrooms. I orient myself using a compass I found from a glowing green cube.

There are no social options in this single-player game. There’s not even any other people as far as I know and I find that the best part. In this low-poly post-apocalypse setting, all I encounter is the occasional animal (dangerous or not) and snippets of what people left behind. I could sit doing nothing, just looking at the stars and the game would not mind. As long as I have enough food to keep myself from starving and a fire to keep me warm, I could go on like this forever, criss-crossing this ruined stretch of the low-poly Pacific Northwest.

It isn’t that I eschew the comfort of others, far from it.

When I used to have anxiety attacks about my own life, I used to imagine leaving everything behind. Whether it was driving out to the ocean in a car I didn’t own or leaving my body somewhere, the particular act of dissociation gave me a little control over my feelings. The open road has been a call for many people but I mostly just wanted to drift from whatever particular circumstances I was in at the time and felt chained down by.

What the game offers me so far is that same freedom to leave the trappings of being – I have no body or presentation in this game. There’s not even the ubiquitous “pair of hands” that so many other games have, I am a ghost wandering the hills. My experiences with other genres have been tied up very heavily in how I look, and one of the drawbacks of that is that it does remind me how, even though I am almost the lowest bar to clear in terms of representation (white cis female), there’s still quite a lot lacking. There’s also just how weighed down I can feel by how much even my gender matters in the video game sphere. Everywhere I look, someone is reminding me that I am queer, feminist and a woman and everything that means. Expectations and micro-aggressions are their own suit of armor and my spaces have gotten more hostile as of late.

Video games have long been the province of escapism, full of power fantasies and highly idealized versions of self. Exploration mechanics in games are the antithesis of that in a lot of ways, they beckon you to enjoy being somewhere versus someone else. For me, the chance to be no one is enticing, to not matter in the slightest. I simply wake up in the middle of a forest and the only question I have to answer is, “What now?” It’s a way to gain the feeling of being lost and happy about it without some of the concerns that do come up if I wandered outside of my house.

The choice to matter so very little is an odd one, but it is less stressful, even for a little while.

 

 

 

 

Escape Velocity

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Thelma and Louise picture courtesy of the Screenlines blog.

Sometimes you just have to trick yourself into thinking you’re going on vacation and while no one is paying attention, pack your car and head west.

It’s weird to think of leaving a game and its attendant community with the same gravitas as other more serious topics, but given how often World of Warcraft resembled a small town at times, it is an apt description. For a population of 7 million, it was incredibly insular in that regard. Instead of doing things for World of Warcraft, it’s been nice to focus on other things, particularly things that interest me, no matter what they are. I’ve been catching up on more television and movies with my boyfriend, as well as trying out way more games. Not having to maintain an audience who only care for me to talk about WoW means I can talk about anything I want, and interact with whomever shows up to listen.

I never thought I’d leave Warcraft. I thought about the day that I’d just end up being done and turn off the lights, wander away. I didn’t realize that it would really be me watching my pretty consistent enthusiasm for a game being ground into dust and my attempts to change things being stymied as I realized that a giant company doesn’t really have to care. Warcraft, and Blizzard if we’re being honest, is so massive that it has its own gravity. You either roll in towards it or in my case, work up the energy to fly away. It is a funny business attaching yourself, limpet-like, to one game and one game only and the whole method of criticizing the one thing you’re so intimately connected with. People resented me for my criticisms, but those same people were the ones I had to impress and cajole into listening. I grew increasing frustrated when I realized the only thing that kept us talking to each other was a thing I was growing to hate. I was playing the same game that I had come to despise over a number of months, wishing it would get better and then watching it get worse. I definitely wasn’t making any progress, and I wasn’t getting any better at what I was doing. I also was becoming a person I really didn’t like – resentful, angry and generally just bitter.

Everything looked like it would be better once I put enough distance between myself and Warcraft.  The reality is that it is and isn’t. I am a small country mouse in a big city now. (I would imagine some people would term it as “little fish in a big pond” but I am not nor consider myself such. I just know this is a different culture now where the land is way more unfamiliar.)

The larger gaming community is confusing and it’s been odd to disentangle myself from one population of people with a significant sexism problem only to run straight into watching the paranoia, misogyny and schisms happening all over due to gamers being angry that women like making games and writing about them. It did remind me though that trying to attack the problems with one game left me not focusing at how it’s a deeply connected issue to every other game that’s been made and the people who play them. It also showed me that the despite all of those fibers crossing back and forth, capital-G gaming is content to not overturn the rock that is MMORPGs and the shit that goes on there. This is one of the reasons that MMORPGs have such a weird, impenetrable barrier around them; they are a genre of game so all-encompassing and socially engrossing that it’s very hard to get out of them long enough to try other things, and the audience is okay with the larger world ignoring them.  MMORPGs are hard to understand unless you’re in the thick of it. Having been there, I understand that it is extremely hard to leave, and extremely hard to peer into it without feeling confused.

I guess this is at least one thing I do understand, this liminality. There’s a difficulty in making a promise to yourself that forever means just that, the end.  It’s hard to change present tense to past, to put down the road lines as you’re driving, trying not to outpace your expectations by the reality of the situation. I keep moving forward and away because it’s not cool to look at explosions. It’s also hard not to sound dire when I don’t even know if I’m running from, or to somewhere

Some days, it feels like a little of both.

 

 

 

Cannot Be Tamed: A Questionnaire

Since everyone’s been filling out Jasyla’s really cool gaming questionnaire, I figure I might as well too. This week has been full of shit, so doing something a little less depressing and a little more fun might be in order.

When did you start playing video games?

If I had to be entirely accurate, it’d have to be when I was very little. My parents both worked full-time and would take me to a babysitter where I’d spend my entire day. When I was a little older, I would only be there in the morning and afternoons to catch the bus to school with the other kids and get off the bus there. My babysitter, having to watch a ton of little kids (while also having kids of her own) was smart and did things like let us watch The Princess Bride over and over and when the first Nintendo came out, got one of those. We’d huddle around the controller in the basement and play Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. None of us were good at it at all.

What is the first game you remember playing?

Pong for the Atari. A family friend had an Atari and that is literally the first game I can remember at all, way back when I was 4 years old.

PC or Console? 

PC all the way, mostly because I’ve never owned a console. I’m one of those rare gamers who didn’t have the bright idea to beg her parents for a console. I didn’t understand that that is how video games worked – I could play them at my babysitter’s house and I guess that was enough. When I was finally old enough to purchase one for myself, I had fallen out of keeping up with console video games, meaning I was culturally behind many of my peers until I got into video games on the computer. In the interrim, I had played such vaunted PC titles like Myst and Seventh Guest though. When I finally started playing WoW, that seemed like the easiest method of playing games, since I’d always had a computer.

Shoutout to that “dropping a guy from a parachute onto a haycart” game that was on Apple IIe computers as well as Carmen Sandiego!

XBox, PlayStation, or Wii? 

No one idea. Whatever one plays the best games, I guess? I’ve been considering getting a 3rd or 4th generation console lately and I cannot really discern the difference other than Wii is more for kids/family games from Nintendo.

What’s the best game you’ve ever played? 

I haven’t really played enough to develop a Top 10 list in my head but probably pound for pound the best game is Portal. I feel like it was a cultural touchstone for me in a way other games really haven’t been. Second to that is Gone Home, followed by World of Warcraft.

What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?

Hell Cab. Though a close second is watching my boyfriend play the newer Duke Nukem game.

Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.

Final Fantasy VI, but I am probably not the target market for older turn-based combat RPGs.

Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.

Final Fantasy X-2, which makes no sense if you think about what I literally just answered before this one. The costume changes relating to the classes was really appealing, even if I wasn’t sold on the combat. The story was light and fun and made me forget I was playing a Final Fantasy game.

What are your favourite game genres?

Action adventures, puzzlers, atmospheric/emotives, and sandbox or exploration games. I also love things that are slightly higher on narrative, and slightly lower on combat.

Who is your favourite game protagonist?

Visually, it would have to be Red from Transistor. I love red-headed women characters in most things, even if they are extremely overdone as the “well we need to make a woman look different but we can’t deviate from having only white women in video games” character. As far as character goes, my favorite would have to be Commander Shepard, even if I’ve only played a bit of Mass Effect. The idea of writing a character that is both customizable to the player and also without gender restrictions is really appealing. Though, I’m not sure who plays Commander Shepard as a dude, because I don’t feel that’s really canon at all.

Describe your perfect video game.

It’d have to be something cute with a really gripping story and lots of open-world exploration and also smooching women. I’m not hard to please.

What video game character do have you have a crush on?

  • Red – Transistor
  • Lara Croft – Tomb Raider
  • Commander Marjhan – World of Warcraft
  • Lilian Voss – World of Warcraft
  • Kasumi Goto – Mass Effect, Shadow Broker DLC
  • Kuradoberi Jamu – Guilty Gear X
  • Talim – Soul Calibur
  • Felicia – Darkstalkers
  • NOT WILLOW PAPE

There’s more, I’m sure but I haven’t had a lot of coffee yet. Stay tuned to watch this list mysteriously grow larger.

What game has the best music? 

Right now? Wildstar. Behind that would be World of Warcraft.

Most memorable moment in a game:

Figuring out the ship puzzle in Myst and hearing the ship raise out of the water and turning around to see it come up, with all of its’ Quicktime movie glory.

Scariest moment in a game:

Probably any time my internet connection or computer blacked out without reaching a save point. I don’t really play a ton of scary games. Ever. At all. Glibness aside, maybe the first time I saw Pyramid Head and decided that I really wasn’t a horror game person.

Most heart-wrenching moment in a game:

The letter where Sam tells her sister that her parents pretended like her coming out didn’t even happen in Gone Home. This hit me right in the “feels” for a lot of really personal reasons.

What are your favourite websites/blogs about games?

Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Forest Ambassador and any other personal blog that does good critical analysis, like Clockwork Worlds. I don’t visit a lot of websites about games.

What’s the last game you finished?

I am a terrible video game finisher. I do not finish a lot of games. The last one I outright finished was Transistor.

What future releases are you most excited about?

  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Splatoon
  • Red Hood Diaries

 Do you identify as a gamer?

That’s a really complex question and while I do in some contexts, I don’t in most others. It’s very hard to couple “feminist” with gamer and not have people look at me sideways or disparage me for my choice of stomping grounds for activism. Gamers have a lot to answer for lately, especially where it concerns women, representation, oppression and misogyny. But the personal is political and so I stick around and try to look at games as a place for media criticism and consciousness raising. But gaming is a hobby to me, not an identity. I’m a feminist woman and that is a far more important identity to carry around with me than gamer.

Why do you play video games?

I play video games for the same reason that I read books, watch movies and TV, and generally interact with media. I love stories, I love new worlds, I love learning things and I love escapism. I like getting caught up in something that is bigger than myself and my singular experiences. I like challenging myself and I like picking apart other people’s ideas. Gaming gives me the ability to mess around with control and narrative in a dedicated space in a way other media doesn’t usually. Interactivity is a novel concept to me.

Goodbye (For Now, In This Particular Way)

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It’s not the end, not really.

A lot has changed since even the last blog post here. Funny how things can spin off of orbit when you’re not looking, but I need to be honest, I’ve been slowly rolling out of Warcraft’s gravity for the past 6 months or so. What makes me sad is that I didn’t want this to be the way it all fell apart – I wanted that day to be graceful and far off in the future, when I was good and ready to put the game away because I had outgrown it, that it no longer satisfied me and I wanted to move on to something else. What’s sad about that is that honestly, a bitter and slow decline would have been easier to brush off. Being forcibly ejected from something I have loved for so long means I look back on all the time I spent with regret and my present time now with confusion. I was moderately happy before Blizzcon, even with some of the problematic behavior. But it’s hard to take a good look at a property and realize that you don’t really factor into it at all, no matter how happy you’ve been in that world.

I know some people have called me “toxic” or “extreme” in terms of my particular strain of feminist critique, but at the end of the day, I am a nerd just like the rest of you and feeling shunted off to the side awakens some pretty old, dismal feelings. I have played World of Warcraft for 9+ years because I really and truly loved it. I became friends with my now-boyfriend here, I was part of the same guild that I first joined in Vanilla until now. I have thousands of screenshots, memories and achievements. I was a World of Warcraft player long before I was truly a feminist. I met amazing women via this game and it’s what lead me down that path in the first place. So in that way, the intense irony of that ideology making me realize that video games are still a hostile and alien place for marginalized people is not lost on me.

It’s just sad.

Still, I can’t say World of Warcraft is a bad game. It’s not. If it was, I wouldn’t have stuck around for so long. It has a great many stories and places that I wish I could relive over and over. It has a lot of people who worked on it/are working on it that truly love the franchise and truly put an amazing amount of effort into it and have made me feel like part of the community. To Tseric, Caydiem, Ghostcrawler, Nethaera, Zarhym, Terran Gregory, and Helen Cheng, thank you for making my tenure with Warcraft so pleasant. Even though some of you haven’t been at Blizzard for a while, your presence left an indelible mark on me.

To my guild, Northrend Commonwealth, I will miss you. Granted, I have most of you friended on Twitter and I suspect we’re going to be friends well into our twilight years, but you made being in a guild amazing. Not just present members, but everyone who helped me out from when I was just a tiny mage wearing INT/SPI gear (back when that wasn’t good, before it was good, then bad again). To my raid team who took me to Molten Core and beyond. To everyone who showed up on the guild’s doorstep four years ago and made it what it is today.

To everyone in the World of Warcraft community, I salute you. You have made my time as a Warcraft blogger and podcaster special and it’s been wonderful getting to break down the game with you all, sharing the highs and the lows. Some of you don’t particularly like me much, but I see it much like being a family, except now I’m not innately responsible for your well-being. Maybe I never was.

That screenshot up there was taken in 2006, after I had started raiding Onyxia and Molten Core. Featured is Bunny, my first epic mount and second mount ever. I spent so much time grinding out Ironforge rep with runecloth and Alterac Valley just to get you, and you are still one of my favorite mounts, even though I haven’t ridden you in a long time. I figured it’d be fitting to go out the same way I came in, in the spot I promised myself I’d settle Aislinana down in for a long winter’s sleep. I used to climb around here when I was level 10 and it was impossible to get up here unless you were a good wall-climber and jumper. I used to take people here and it was my special spot. Now anyone can fly up here but I still consider it a place that’s just uniquely mine. Funny how that works.

I tried really hard to believe that if I was a strong enough person, it could fix things. The world is far more complicated than that.

Anyways, I’ve put off the inevitable with more words that necessary. I will see you folks around. The blog is staying, even if I will not be covering Warcraft explicitly anymore. I will still be around, for better or worse. You’re not rid of me yet. This was just a eulogy for something that should have never died.

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– Nico, otherwise known as Aislinana the Gnome

 

 

 

Draenor Rock City: The Exclusionary Nature of Nerd Cool

Tzufit and Apple Cider look forlornly at the Dark Portal.

Written by Apple Cider Mage and Tzufit

If you had asked us last week what sorts of things Blizzard could do that might make us feel like World of Warcraft isn’t a game for us, we might have made some comment about treatment of female characters or perhaps the ongoing sexism that women face from other players. We probably wouldn’t have said, “They could make a show about middle-aged men designing motorcycles.” So when Blizzard dropped the announcement that they were partnering with American Choppers for a strange web-series that would document a competition to design a sick motorcycle as an in-game mount (what, another one?), we were glad that we weren’t the only ones going, “huh?”

The more we thought about it, this confused us because it was yet another tone-deaf offering that pushed us farther and farther away from World of Warcraft. Jokes about mid-life crises aside, it’s hard to be excited about the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion and WoW in general when you feel like you don’t belong there.

Because WoW is an MMORPG, feeling as if you belong in the world is exceptionally important, arguably more so than in any other genre of video game. In years past, we have drawn our excitement for new expansions by thinking about the things that our characters will do and see, the places they will explore, and the new challenges that we, as players, will experience. In recent weeks, people who used to see themselves as curious about the world we are about to inhabit now have a hard time picturing themselves there. We find ourselves traveling to an alien world, and yet the alienation we feel comes not from Draenor but instead from the people who have created it.

While we cannot know precisely who has their hands in every pie at Blizzard, it seems like the public faces and taste-makers of World of Warcraft often gravitate around fairly similar themes that they consider “cool.” Draenor, more so than any other expansion, feels saturated in these ideas, despite protests to the contrary. The particular rally point in this case has indubitably been Y’rel, a strong Alliance Joan of Arc-type. Yet, everything we’ve seen thus far, from new extra beefy mob models to some alpha dialogue is oriented around a hyper-masculine world that is brutal, savage (as we have been told ad nauseum) and inexplicably full of rock star pyrotechnics. When we saw the art piece of all of the warlords lined up like a gruesome metal band, there was an emotional distance between Chris Metzen eagerly throwing up the horns and us looking on in confusion. We’ve seen fun and goofy inclusion of these ideas before, but the tone now feels very serious; it’s a weaponized barrage of these concepts to the exclusion of everything else.

This nerdy (but still male) idea of “coolness” isn’t a unique problem to Blizzard. Big creator names in nerd culture are still predominantly male, which has been true since long before “nerd” and “geek” were a persistent cultural identity. You have Tolkien, Lucas, Martin, Whedon and, for our purposes, Metzen. Nerd-dom has been retconned into a male space, a refuge for the those who did not fit the traditional image of masculinity, but who enjoyed Dungeons and Dragons and got thrown into lockers because of it. The duality of this background is that for all of the underdog position that nerd men have had most of their lives, many of them still enjoy the benefits of a patriarchal culture that nurtures and comforts their tastes and desires, often to the tune of millions of dollars. For a group of outcasts, loners and misfits, they have, especially in the 2000s, enjoyed a renaissance period. When you combine that with a fairly critical ignorance (or even outright hostility) to other people who are not considered the marketable norm, your fantasy world, much less are suddenly devoid of people outside of that nerd paradigm.

The problem with nerd culture and the belief that only men are considered creators is that it reinforces that the only stories worth caring about are for men, by men, and in a way that is cool to other men. It’s a rigid set of interests that tends to not consider much else outside of it. The worlds themselves sometimes involve a realism and grittiness that is at best, voyeuristic – it’s easy to insert things into a fantasy world to make it more real when it’s not a reality you have to confront on a regular basis. All of this is nerd men and their creations revolving around power and cachet – the stoic, grizzly hero flanked by compatriots and female love interests. In the case of Blizzard, a lot of it looks like muscular brutes, heroes of light and rock guitars.

What seems apparent to us is that some of Blizzard’s content creators are still finding the same things cool at 40 that they did at 15, and though their customer base has matured, their interests are showing their age. No one faults content creators for having inspirations, but when you achieve a level of success that allows you to create content for literally millions of people all over the world, isn’t it reasonable to ask that your inspirations grow to reflect the diversity of your audience? It seems equally reasonable to expect that this is not only something Blizzard should consider but rather something they for which should actively strive.

How we’ve seen people typify this cultural problem within Blizzard and throughout Warlords of Draenor is one of marketing, and we don’t believe that that’s entirely the case. Marketing is a symptom of the problem. The primary issue is a concept and an atmosphere that people are struggling to see themselves in. Is it so terrible to ask for inclusion? Is it so terrible to be afforded even a fraction of the same consideration that a particular segment of nerds have enjoyed for years in WoW? Our standards are not unreasonable; in fact, we might go so far as to call them incredibly low. While active inclusion of diverse women in Warcraft’s story may be the ideal, in the past we have at least been able to say that WoW does not actively exclude us. Recently, that seems to be less and less true. It feels like WoW has been moving backwards (now quite literally) in some places with how women are characterized or talked about, those failures buoyed by the few small successes we’ve enjoyed since then. For every five minutes Jaina is allowed to be a competent leader, we have many more moments of women being killed, hurt, married off or otherwise left behind.

There’s such a spectrum of problems that surround both the women in the story and the audience that it’s hard to list them all. The problem now is how to deal with these revelations about Blizzard and the game we’ve been enjoying for so many years. Loud, vociferous criticism only works when we are able to make headway, and the road to Warlords has so far been littered with increasingly insurmountable obstacles.

Much is still unknown about the new expansion at this point. Alpha and beta often provide key contextual clues to the overall direction an expansion is headed and we acknowledge that there have been exceptionally long dry spells in between updates since Blizzcon. It’s easy to feel like small, select issues make up a larger percentage of future content than may prove to be the case. Historically, alpha and beta have been periods when we’ve seen that critical analysis can and does create change and improvement in Warcraft. Yet, for the moment, we don’t know how to align ourselves with Blizzard’s visionaries because their ideas don’t seem to include us.

Year That Was: 2013

They love the way I walk
‘Cause I walk with a vengeance
And they listen to me when I talk
‘Cause I ain’t pretending

– Beyoncé, Grown Woman

It was a decent year.

I talked about Blizzard’s choices in raid bosses, analyzed the Alliance’s rise in powerful women, started a podcast, asked why Blizzcon doesn’t have a harassment policy, talked to fellow cis people about how to respect trans WoW players, met fellow community people at Blizzcon, as well as looked at Warlords of Draenor‘s women problem.

I definitely made some enemies but I made more friends, perhaps. I definitely feel like I’m in the black on my ledger on that particular front, especially with mending old fences.

My content production on this blog in particular has slowed down a bit now that I also do the podcast but I don’t feel like the blog overall is suffering. It definitely has been weird moving into a slightly different position in the community, especially now that there’s been more discussions among people about matters of sexism, gender representation, and treating people in different groups with respect. It’s a thing that needed to happen and I’m glad I don’t feel so alone in expressing those thoughts. It’s moving glacially when it comes to Blizzard but overall I think the community has grown a bit.

Definitely started feeling more like a personality this year versus just a name and a blog attached. Not sure if this is overall positive or negative. I got ensconced into a more powerful position with my ideas and words reaching higher up ears and feeling the pressure that I had to say the right things versus the things I really feel all the time.

As far as WoW itself goes, it was a cooling off of my real drive to “succeed” at end-game. I have no real desires to raid a lot anymore. Flex made it possible to do more content in less time and at a pace I don’t feel stressed out about. I might have taken a couple of wrong turns as a guild leader but the rest fell into place otherwise. I’ve been working hard on finding a new thing to enjoy every day, otherwise I would have burned out long ago. Having to produce content and look critically at the content, lore has kept my interest active beyond the quotidian grind of  Mists of Pandaria.

Overall, I can’t really complain. I don’t have a solid course planned for 2014, but I think I’ll do alright. We have an expansion on the horizon and there’s no end to things I could say. If 2012 was getting your attention, 2013 was me having something to say.

In the immortal words of Beyoncé, I’m a grown woman, I can do whatever I want.

 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Mailbox

My mage and my long-lost friend.

My mage and my long-lost friend.

“Did you used to play on Cenarion Circle?”

I always fret when I ask complete strangers random whisper questions as I know that people doing the same to me piques my anxiety. But here I was, standing at the mailbox at Shrine in what can best be described as a head-on collision with fate. It’s hard for a skeptic like me to wholeheartedly accept the role of True Believer but sometimes you have to go along for the ride when life presents you with something too unbelievable to chalk up to mere mortal calculations of probability and chance.

As of maybe a couple of days ago, I’ve been using my boredom with the end of the expansion to start chipping away at some of my neglected alts, most notably my Horde characters on another server from my main, who is Alliance. This is my mage, Misandry, that I created for my first mage leveling guide (obviously titled “Levelling Through Misandry.”) She’s been bounced around a lot – first created on Mal’ganis, then moved to Drenden and then gently settled on Earthen Ring in my guildies’ alt guild for our Horde toons. Little by little I’ve been pecking away at XP, a handful of dungeons and poking at the Horde storylines I had yet to see via questing. I was stuck in Camp Nooka Nooka and needed to use a mailbox to do some auction housing. Instead of teleporting to Orgrimmar, I decided on a whim to fly to Shrine since I hadn’t really been there but I somehow magically had the flightpoint.

I was standing at the mailbox only half-paying attention and disenchanting items when I see a mage log in. I mouseover their frame as they had MyRoleplay installed and I have a habit of reading people’s backstories. The name looked familiar to me but given the usual cobwebs with my memory, I couldn’t place where. Slowly it dawned on me – was this one of my old friends from Cenarion Circle? That name was fairly unique and it wouldn’t hurt to ask. So I timidly whispered to the mage standing next to me.

What happened next can only be described as a sheer unbelievable luck. Yes, she had played on Cenarion Circle. I asked her if she remembered my gnome. She remembered me. We started shrieking. It was my friend that I had used to play with and roleplay with. The warlock who I had RP-fights with, her Horde, me Alliance. The person who dueled me on plateaus in Nagrand while we laughed ourselves stupid as we would fall off and die. Out of nowhere, we just happened to run into eachother. On a server that I barely play on, and her, a day after re-upping her WoW account and logging into a character (her 10th 90) that she barely plays with the same name as her Horde warlock. We just happened to randomly be standing next to eachother at the same time in Shrine when I had decided to go there completely by chance.

It was like a deluge of things being said, like if you had run into someone from your past on the street.

How are you?

What have you even been up to?

Wait, didn’t you used to have a stalker problem too? How did that work out?

The deluge of past and present came tumbling out. It was weird that both of us seemed to have similar trajectories regarding reasons for dropping off the radar; a combination of toxic people on our home server, life changes and dealing with harassment. She was one of the few people I had wished I had kept better contact with and here she was, right in front of me. We both were overjoyed at the idea that both of us were doing so much better now, that we had come so far and gotten to better places in our lives. The idea of meeting an old friend and knowing she was a survivor too was also emotional but I was mostly just unbelievably happy knowing that even if we lost touch, that stories went on relatively happily. The odds of us running into eachother, now, seemed impossibly low. But yet…

We quickly exchanged Twitter accounts and battle tags, something that wasn’t nearly as easy to do even 3 years ago. A lot of people prior to the introduction of RealID and Battle tags especially would move off-server and then just drop off the face of the planet unless you knew them outside of the game. Social media and particularly WoW’s move towards socialization has made things like this more possible, if you are so lucky to find yourself in this position. I know I am beyond lucky and I have to wonder if this wasn’t some higher force. Obviously, I can’t be certain but this has conceivably made my month.

With Blizzcon around the corner, plus now this, I can’t help but think that despite us all being nerds playing a video game, that the connections we form online can be just as impervious to time as any others. Much like remembering the face of someone you hung out with in kindergarten, coming across a person you once knew happens, expanded to a global scale. Obviously World of Warcraft is a far smaller place but I still can’t help but feel that this was almost too good to be true, and so I felt moved to write it down hastily, in case I woke up tomorrow and it wasn’t real.

I’ve struggled all my life with losing friends rapidly in short time spans due to some sort of drift and I always regret it. Even if not for every individual person but just that it happens so much and it haunts me. The idea of getting a second chance to see someone I enjoyed being around due to kismet, fate or whatever you want to call it makes me feel a little less alone. The Internet having an endless memory may be true in more ways than just preserving the shitty moments you’ve tossed out there into the ocean, but perhaps something you put out there finally washing back up on shore.

On the Other Side

anger

I apologize in advance if this post is slightly disjointed, but some of these feelings are tiny butterflies that I’m trying to catch in a net in order to classify them properly.

I think most of you remember a post that I wrote last year about my experiences with being stalked in and out of World of Warcraft. It was easily one of my most popular posts, largely due to the fact that it was a story that pretty much resonated with a great deal of my audience. I think a lot of people have felt at least a brush of that kind of problem, as scary and alienating as it is. Seeing someone talk about it brings us all together because we suddenly don’t feel alone.

May 26th (as far as I can reckon via my Twitter history) is when I had to call the cops the last time. I was so tired and anxious of this process of dealing with the endless harassment and had a panic attack and called the cops. What good I thought it would do me, I didn’t know. I just wanted to feel in control again. I went through the same dance – telling the cop my story, having him not really grasp Internet harassment. But he gave me hope when he said he could get me in touch with a department that dealt with cybercrime in my city. And that’s what I needed to hear (I ended up never getting ahold of them, mysteriously.) What I wanted was just a shot at potentially fixing this situation.

Then something strange happened.

Maybe it was me actually following through on a threat publicly of calling the cops (to the point where I had adrenaline fatigue later), but the harassment stopped. Flat out stopped; not a trickle and then tailing off, but like nothing at all. It’s like he never existed after that. Of course, he’d taken breaks before so the first week I was relieved for the “break” but was waiting for the shoe to drop again. Then another week. And another. Several more. Suddenly it had been a month and nothing. “Maybe he died.” I thought to myself. Maybe he did. I still don’t know. Maybe he got helped or was finally jailed or who knows.

After 3 or so months went by, I started to feel like I could let out the breath I had been hanging onto since four years prior. It felt like sunlight was suddenly creeping into the dark corners of my life. The looming shadow that had always been lurking in the back of my mind was dissipating. I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. I had spent so many years at this point backed into a tiny ball of hiding my feelings and feeling scared from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed that I almost had no idea how to function as a human being. It felt like I was a rusty robot that had subsisted on anger and terror.

The problem on top of all this was that being stalked was that it had just already compounded a life spent being dominated by anxiety. Working through this, finally getting to the end of it meant that I had to dig a lot deeper under the daily survival mechanism and open up the Pandora’s Box that was the rest of my life. I had spent so long bailing out my little boat of all the water rushing in, that now I had to learn how to steer it. I will say the last year or so of therapy has been some of the weirdest, hardest work I’ve done. I had to unravel a lot of truths about myself in relationship to my anxiety, my sexual assault as a teen, as well as my complicated relationship with my family. The upside of this was that I felt like I was starting to build something on top of a foundation, rather than repairing everything continually being torn down.

One day I woke up and realized I wasn’t scared anymore. Well, sure, I still had to deal with anxiety, but the war was over. I could go home.

Today I woke up and felt awesome. But I have been feeling like that for a while. Even the days I don’t feel so great (and there are a lot of those), I still feel ten times better than I did then. My bad days now are better than of my best days back then. While I’ve been sluggish on writing a lot, the fact that I’m doing art, keeping my house clean and taking care of my new pet cat means that I’m less of a robot these days and more of a typical human being. I don’t get panic attacks when my Twitter mentions columns fills up with replies. I don’t feel scared about talking about where I live or what I like to do with new people. I cleared out most of my blog’s banlist and blocked terms. I only have a fleeting twinge of weirdness when I see certain words or think about certain things. It feels like the high tide of my own enjoyment is at acceptable levels for me to go out sailing again.

I think today is a good day to toggle “victim” over to “survivor” because I beat this, I survived this. Not just being stalked, but the second darkest period of my life, all things considered. I was in a bad place a couple of years ago and it only now it feels like I can go forward.

Thank you all for reading, and enjoy the rest of your day.

– Nico

aka Apple Cider Mage

 

Thankful

Cider looks up at the ox celestial god, NiuzaoIt occurs to me that I should probably not start off this blog post by admitting that maybe I’m enjoying an alcoholic root beer float at the moment. But given that this is a slightly more personal entry rather than a critical one, I don’t think it is entirely out of the spirit of things. Besides, the holidays are all about enjoying oneself with whimsy and mirth. My mirth just sometimes needs a nudge. Unbeknownst to me until maybe a couple of minutes ago when I decided to start writing this entry, my blog is a year old. Well, a year and a month old, if you want to be accurate about it. It’s been a wild year, hasn’t it? While I don’t write here nearly as much as I should, or want to, I feel like my “return” to blogging has been fairly ponderous and more successful than I could have ever imagined. I learned a lot of things not just about the game we all enjoy, but a little about you guys. And a lot about myself. This blog marks a huge change in me — it was an attempt to regain some control in my life as well as an expression of things in at least one part of my life. The fact that I’ve made it a year without grinding to a halt, made new friends and even enacted some measure of force on the game I enjoy is something I find myself profoundly grateful for. I’m thankful for this blog as the catalyst for all the things I’m about to list and quite a few more than that.

Solace

Without going into too much detail, the thing I’m most thankful for at the end of this year in particular is solace.  One of my major on-going stresses (being the target of persistent, pervasive harassment) has finally resolved itself. It’s been seven months and I feel so grateful that that chapter of my life is hopefully over. I’ve got that hazy sort of warmth that you feel when you wake up one day and realize you’re not in pain anymore. Instead of having my wounds ripped open every single day, I’m starting to mend and heal. A great burden has been lifted from my shoulders and I feel like I have the freedom to be more of myself.

A Klaxxi mantid

Art

Long before I was a blogger, I was an artist. But I gave it up and got tired of it for a long, long time. Mostly because I was depressed and didn’t feel motivated. This year I wrestled my way out of my funk and started again, realizing that I’m not that terrible and I can do this. I’ve even made a little bit of money off commissions, which has only bolstered my confidence. I love being able to express myself in a way that is visual and not just words. Seeing my progress slowly creep forward has also been a big deal for me. I feel like I’m starting to be a “good” artist.

Art was my first language and it is the one I am most thankful for being able to speak with again.

Therapy

I’m beyond lucky that I managed to find not only a therapy program that was affordable while not working but features an incredibly thoughtful and young therapist. Most of the reasons I’m a lot more mentally healthy and secure this year is because of therapy and the work I’ve been able to do while in it. It’s given me the strength to weather the bad stuff, work on the hard things, and appreciate the measure of stability I feel now.

My Friends and Guild

We’ve been through some ups and downs but overall I have the most amazing support network of amazing people in my life. They are all incredibly generous, caring, understanding, supportive, loving, hilarious, intelligent, trustworthy and special. I don’t think I would trade them in for anything and they mean so much to me. If I had nothing else in the world, I’d be thankful for having them beside me.

I hope that this year has been good to you readers as well, and I’m appreciative that you’ve been on this crazy blog ride with me as well. Here’s to another one, hopefully, and I hope that you have many things to be thankful about.

 

 

A Voice From A Warm Place: Dragonwrath Easter Egg in Mists of Pandaria

A blue dragon roars in Jade Forest.

I admit, I haven’t been using my beta access to its fullest since I got it a couple of months ago. The other night, however, a tweet came across my timeline regarding friending options and so I updated my game and hopped in to test it out. Afterwards, the person I was partied with and myself decided to fuss around with pet battles. I was flying around to look for critters to battle with my Spectral Kitten, listening to dance music very LOUDLY, when I heard it.

It was a woman’s voice saying something.

I blinked and looked around. Since I was still in Stormwind limits, I figured it must be an event with buggy zone sound. I asked in party chat if they had heard what I did and they said no. I wondered what it might be but I looked back in my chat log and saw this:

The warm embrace of Tarecgosa’s presence encircles you.

For anyone that doesn’t have a completed legendary staff, this is the text emote that the staff randomly pops up from time to time. I’ve always really loved that little touch; I saved Tarecgosa’s essence and now it is a part of me. It is there to comfort me when I need it. It’s like a little hug when I’m doing stuff in-game. My question then was, “Does this mean there are voice emotes as part of the staff now?”

Due to the addictiveness of pet battles I was in beta for another three hours. My emote popped up again and then I very distinctly heard her voice.

“Your deeds will live on forever in the memory of the blue dragonflight.”

I admit, I started freaking out (in a good way) at that point. I started doing a little digging and it turns out that according to the two MMO-Champion threads that I found (that only got a couple of responses, what gives?) that the staff has a random choice of 5-6 voice emotes when the staff says something to you. It seems like this little easter egg was added in a content patch at the end of July. I am really stoked about this, obviously, as a staff wielder and a dragon fanatic.

But what does it mean? My boyfriend pointed out that they’ve always done little Easter egg stuff with legendaries even after their relevance. (Remember what happened when you brought Atiesh into Shade of Aran’s room?) I want to think that it might be something significant; some additional lore might be down the road or us Dragonwrath holders might be allowed to keep our staves longer into the expansion. I know that this probably isn’t true and it breaks my heart to think that I will have to put down my wonderful staff in a couple weeks; I won’t hear Tarecgosa’s voice again unless I’m AFKing. This is just another regret along with having to weapon-swap just to turn into a blue dragon as well.

Getting a Dragonwrath was such a game-changing experience for me and not just because I had a piece of lore strapped to my back. My experience getting the staff and all the feelings that went along with was so important to me and validated a lot of things I felt about myself – that I was good enough, that I deserved this.  Add to this the fact that Blizzard finally decided to give a little more story to some of the female characters in their world (even if Tarecgosa’s time in this plane was limited) and I was a part of that? Mind-blowing.

So many times in game, hearing voices has meant that something evil was lurking around the corner, undermining our confidence in ourselves, our friends, our sanity. This is a distinct change from that and I am glad for it. I know this won’t mean much to most people, that it is just a collection of pixels, but it warms my heart. There is a wonderful lady dragon’s spirit watching over my gnome, protecting her. Cheering her on from another realm. I know that I will miss having this constant presence gone from my game after it being part of my everyday life for six months now. Still, I have a feeling she won’t be very far from my thoughts.

When I was flying up to the Skyfire to go to Pandaria this morning, I heard her whisper to me.

“Never give up.”

I won’t.