December 31, 2004

Everything changes

Dragons on the loose! Posted by Hello!

It is a sad fact of life in our world that everything changes, sometimes unexpectedly. A month ago I honestly believed that nothing could change my love of Lineage II nor alter my ongoing addiction to this wonderful game. I started a new character and set out to throw myself completely into the fantasy by recording my characters adventures in a story. I even broke out my seldom used credit card and paid up a full one-year subscription.

Then NC Soft NA changed their policies and decided to implement a Korean anti-hacking program known as "GameGuard". If you want the link, you can look it up yourself because as it stands now, I will do nothing to support this program. It does not work. In fact, it makes the job of certain kinds of hackers and cheaters even easier becuase it encourages the gaming companies not to implement their own anti-hack/anti-cheating routines and instead places identical controls on every game it "protects", which in turn means that once they figure out a way around it, they have instant access to every game that depends on it. There are already hundreds of way to break GameGuard floating around on hacker newsgroups and they come up with new ones as rapidly as GameGuard comes up with counters. In that particular race, the hackers are winning by a long shot.

Worse, GameGuard masks the L2.exe process (the game client as it appears in the computer's memory) from the Windows Task Manager Process List, which in turn means that if the client freezes or crashes there is no way to terminate lost routines remaining in memory. The only way to clear out the memory is to boot your computer, and if the client has completely frozen Windows (which happens quite frequently), then you must turn off the power and turn it back on again. This is known as "hardbooting" and if done repeatedly will overheat your system leading to a cracked mother board, fused I/O switch, shorted internal circuits in the CPU, and a whole host of other problems. In other words, physical damage to your computer hardware, and all because of a "security" program that doesn't even work!

However, just as all hope appeared lost, someone mentioned Wish, a brand-new game with a brand-new concept and a return to the idea that a fantasy world adventure should be analogous to living in a fairytale rather than endlessly leveling up a character.

This begs the question of what I will do with "Of Darkness and Dust". Well, after careful consideration the answer is: I don't know. I am considering putting an original online novel there. The writing bug is still begging for attention, and this way I could accomplish multiple tasks at one time. I could go back to serious writing, I could have an online forum for my fiction, and I would have an important reason to focus on one tale at a time. On the other hand, it could also become a place for book reviews (I read too much!), or, if nothing else, an honest-to-goodness online journal rather than the hodge-podge of chaos you are reading now. So, we'll see. Either way, it will have a single focus while my random insanity will remain here. That much I am certain of. The only question that remains is what that focus will be.

Give me a couple weeks and I'll come up with something.

(Update from the future: January 5, 2015)

Today I was going back through my game posts and I found this one, complete with dead links and lost dreams. The good news is there is finally a new kid on the block who has the potential to not only bring back much of the magic of Wish, but expand on it in ways the Mutable Realms team never dreamed would be possible. This new game is called Project Gorgon and at the moment is in open testing for anyone who would like to sign up and sign on. Project Gorgon is in very early Alpha testing, which means although the map is complete and there are working NPCs who offer a number of quests sometimes the NPCs have no legs, no heads, or no arms as the various display layers get jumbled. Fortunately, I have yet to discover any invisible enemies such as those which plagued Lineage II for almost two full years following its commercial release. The existing systems in Project Gorgon work, although content is extremely scattered. With a few more months of programming they are certain to have a solid foundation to continue building far into the future.

November 21, 2004

Parts and participles

I play games. Everyone who reads this blog knows that. I also read gaming sites. There are even a few of them listed as links right here on this page. Today I stopped by Terra Nova and read this article. It included a link to an article at the New Yorker about plagiarism and copyright.

Before you go any further, click on those links and read the articles. If you're not interested enough to read them, then move on to whatever it is that does interest you because you will not understand today's post in the least. It will have no meaning for you whatsoever.

All right then, here we go:

I write. It's a worse addiction than heroin or cocaine, a greater high than Ecstasy or PCP, and more delusional than the most far fetched LSD trip you can ever have. There is no drug that can compare with writing, and that is one reason writers so often have substance abuse problems. The same personality flaws that produce an addict can also produce a writer. Artists can be spiritual and high-minded, musicians can be either elitist or populist, but a writer is always a kind of addict and like any addict, they have a very low tolerance for reality. Not all writers are geniuses, but every serious writer is an addict, and like all addicts, our drug of choice is far from pure.

Sadly, it's also the only drug we have. There are no pure words, there are no original ideas, every story that can be told has been told. The biggest difference between a writer and other artists is a serious writer cannot pretend to be original. Words are too limited, their range too short, their lifespan too completely inconsequential. There is nothing more ephemeral than a well-written story, there is nothing more immortal than a memorable one. More often than not, they are both the same story.

In 1985 I sat down to create a fantasy world. It would be a world of magic, of dragons, of political intrigue, and of spiritual idealism. I wrote up all the background material, created the principle characters, set out the timeline, and began writing stories. I wrote dozens of stories based on that world, none of them were publishable, but with each one, I learned something new about my craft and something deeper about the world. Satisified, I set out to write a novel. As fate would have it, the very same day I wrote the opening pages I got an e-mail from a fellow Usenet participant who wanted to know if I would be interested in co-authoring a story. I sent her the background material. She liked the world. Together we wrote, "Magic Lessons". 125,000 words of heartstopping, pulse-pounding, conscience-tripping fantasy build up from a symbolic iconography at least two thousand years old.

Then someone told me about Wizards of the Coast, D&D, Magic the Gathering, and Forgotten Realms. Someone else handed me the third book of The Wheel of Time. Magic Lessons had already found a publisher, for the entire two years it was on the market I lay awake nightly wondering if the next day would be the day I got a letter from the Wizards legal department, or worst yet, Tom Doherty Publishing. When I finally pulled it from and the dozen or so other sites where it was being offered I felt both suicidal with despair and giddy with relief. It sold fewer than three hundred copies, a figure I still find both fantastically relieving and deeply depressing.

And still I cannot stop writing! I am right now working up a proposal for a trilogy at Wizards of the Coast. It will go out in December. If it is accepted, it will hit store shelves in fall of 2006 and I will again lose sleep wondering which literary god I have subconsciously copied. If it is not accepted I will again go through the torturous blend of depression and relief that keeps me coming back to this silly blog feeding my insane delusion that someone out there not only wants to hear what I have to say, but waits with bated breath for every word.

Nothing, I fear, will ever be strong enough to break this addiction. Not even gaming. I am right now in the process of planning out a new character for a roleplaying group on the Lionna server of Lineage II. Why roleplaying? Simple, I get to feed two addictions at the same time: playing and writing.

I am a writer, and no twelve step program ever devised can possibly help me.

November 16, 2004

Instinctively insane

First, read this:
Modern Slavery

SimCity taught me to love computer games. Until I discovered SimCity, I'd given up hope that anyone could produce a computer game that revolved around something other than blowing up stereotypical enemies and reinforcing the current status quo. I played SimCity for hours, jury-rigged an installation on a computer too underpowered to support it, and then moved on to SimLife, SimEarth, SimFarm, and even SimAnt. Maxis had the most powerfully innovative games in the world.

Then something changed. Maxis games began taking a very strange turn in both presentation and function. SimCity2000 was a far more complex game than SimCity, but in many ways, it was also far less challenging, and infinitely less rewarding. The direction your city could take was far more limited than the original, sometimes unrealistically so. For example, in SimCity you could separate factory zones with either trees, open land, or parks. Doing so reduced pollution and made your city grow, but tax rates were still tricky and raising the industrial tax too far could destroy your growth in no time. In SimCity2000 separating heavy industrial zones with trees or open areas had the same effect. However, if you put parks between them, you could raise taxes on those zones and it would cause your city's population to grow more quickly, dramatically increasing your revenue flow.

Huh? What real world civil government is going to spend tax dollars to build parks in an industrial zone? What people are going to take their kids to play at a park next to a factory spewing out toxins? Even if they did build those parks (and the City of Denver actually tried this) and then raised taxes on those zones, all it would do is drive off industry, thus increasing unemployment and driving off residents, who are the real source of your tax revenues. SimCity3000 was even worse. In SimCity3000 you could build a modern airport in a tiny village and pollution would go down! Not only that, but if your city became mid-sized and you didn't have enough revenue to build an airport, your population immediately began declining. I haven't bought SimCity4 and I have no plans to.

All of the other Sim games, including SimLife, one of the finest games ever offered by anyone, were not updated. If they had continued updating SimEarth and SimLife, I would not be online playing Lineage II and writing this blog. That's how much I loved those games, but now none of my computers will even run them.

So today I'm skipping through my favorite comics when I find the link above. Now, finally, I understand. Greedy, self-centered, overly ambitious middle management fools at EA took one of the finest, most innovative companies in the world, destroyed the creativity of its workforce, cancelled all of its best products, and transformed it into a modern slave shop. No wonder I'm not interested in their products any more. They have cut out their own hearts and replaced them with P&L statements.

I play Lineage II almost everyday. I love it. I don't play Everquest. That game would drive me violently insane. The two games are as different as night and day. Lineage II is designed and programmed by a comparatively small team at mid-sized software development house called "E&G", and marketed by an international monolith called NC Soft. Everquest is a Sony product, always has been and always will be. Sony has become the GM of the electronics industry. Is it any wonder most people prefer Everquest? Those are the same mindless consumers that prefer SimCity4.

The really sad part of this insane world is not that it's getting worse. No, the really sad part is that it's NOT getting any better and probably never will. Those of us who fall outside the spectrum of "normal" deserve every label the normal people assign us, but the older I get the more I'm convinced that no matter how you label us, we aren't the crazy ones.

Which, of course, just proves how crazy I really am!

And, just in case you don't believe me, I took another personality test:

I'm Caligula!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

November 08, 2004

Far and distant

One hundred years from now historians will call this presidential election the turning point of world history. Two hundred years from now it will be a footnote in college texts on 21st Century political and economic history. Three hundred years from now it will not even warrant being a footnote. Beyond that, it won't even be remembered.

Five hundred years ago Europeans "discovered" the rest of the world. I was nearly thrown out of my high school history class on the day we began "The Age of Exploration" when I raised my hand to ask, "How could they discover something that already existed?"

Two thousand years from now some graduate student will be digging through the sediment covering whatever city now holds the server carrying this blog. They'll find the disk more or less intact, but the array structure will be gone and the data will be unrecoverable. The pitted and chipped remains will be gently cleaned, catalogued, added to a carefully labelled box, and then forgotten.

As the dust from the virtual firefight in the continental US settles and as you watch with horror as dead Marines, innocent civilians, and the bodies of children are pulled from the rubble of Fallujah in the coming days, bear in mind that this, too, will pass and your great-grandchildren, if you have any, will have trouble remembering your name.

And that, my friends, is the only political commentary I will ever take the time to write. In the end, the only true judge is history, and history eventually forgets.

Reflections from the future: December 17, 2012

I didn't know it at the time, but when I wrote Real Virtuality on October 26, 2004, I was changing the entire nature and tone of "Brian's Meandering Mind". In November 2004 George W. Bush won re-election as President of the United States. Thanks in no small part to his bungling (as well as bad intelligence from our "allies" in France) the United States had become involved in two wars in the cradle of human civilization. The war in Afghanistan was justified and necessary. The war in Iraq was a colossal mistake. Here in December 2012 we are in the process of exiting both countries, the rest of the Middle East has just passed through the "Arab Spring" series of popular revolutions, Syria is embroiled in a bloody civil war, and Barack Obama (our current "president" who seems to think of himself as a grand messiah) grows more and more tyrannical every day.

Everything changed for me that year. My children were planning their colleges, my wife's career faltered, skipped a step, then took off like a rocket, and I once again began to be more involved with events in the United States. In 2004 the internet became the world's town square and I suddenly had access to up to the minute information on events all over the world. Before then, all I'd really had to go on was whatever CNNj decided was worthy of broadcasting in Japan. I didn't realize how badly slanted the coverage was because I had nothing to compare it to. I knew it was incomplete, but it was only starting with the explosion of superfast internet connections in 2004 that I finally gained access to alternative viewpoints on a global stage.

2004 was the year the world became a global village. 2012 was the year the village began to ignore the chief and organize itself. I wonder what 2013 will bring? Do we stand at the threshold of a new "Dark Age" or at the dawn of a new "Renaissance"?

In order to find out I suppose I'll just have to wait for whatever year the next round of "Reflections from the Future" takes place in.


October 26, 2004

Real virtuality

Note to gamers: I don't know how many gamers actually find this little blog, but if you are a gamer, and especially if you play MMORPGs, then add The Daedalus Project to your bookmarks and participate in his ongoing surveys. Don't forget to answer his essay questions as well. His first couple of articles are not that well done, but his more recent ones are showing a growing appreciation and understanding of the community of online gamers as well as a more thorough grounding in sociology. Judging from his articles, he's one of the few students who actually pays attention during graduate seminars.

I am beginning to understand that the geek survey I took awhile back was far more revealing than I appreciated at the time. In many ways, I am forever trapped between two worlds, the real one and the virtual one. And yes, I expect you, whoever you are, to click on those two links and actually read them, because therein lies the main dichotomy of my shattered personality: the real and virtual are, to my mind, completely interchangeable.

Around 250,000 years ago (Creationists may leave now, this will annoy you) humanity did something no other organism in the 4 billion year history of our world had ever done: it learned how to choose. One side effect of that learning was the need to form an internal vision of the external world, separate them, and use the internal world to project the possible outcomes of doing something unnatural. What was that first choice? I don't know, but the division between the two worlds has remained and that division is the source of both our genius and our madness. For a sane person, the lines between the two worlds are very clear and easy to distinguish. A sane person can both accurately project options using their internal world and make profitable decisions based on those projections in the external world. Insanity of any kind occurs when the line between the real and unreal blurs, loses distinction, or flat-out vanishes altogether. All insanity can be seen as an inability to make profitable real-world decisions. This inability is directly linked to either a failure to make accurate projections using the internal world, or a failure to carry out those projections in the external world.

Like it or not, Descartes' formulation of the internal/external dualism that both helps and hinders us is flawed, because it assumes that man is the center of the world which revolves around him. The external reality which Descartes de-emphasizes in order to prove his point is, in truth, as real as the internal reality he chooses to focus on. "I think, therefore I am," is most certainly true, but that does not detract from the bruise on your leg when you run into the corner of a hardwood desk while dodging the groping hands of an egocentric colleague. Both the internal and external worlds are equally real, and equally virtual.

Physicists discuss "many-worlds", while social scientists debate the reality of "virtual" ones, and yet neither group notices that the object of their discussion has a dualistic existence all its own which lands it squarely in both camps. Every world being studied exists simultaneously in the external reality of the researcher and internally in the virtual reality of their imagination. Scientific speculation and experimentation is designed to precisely lay out the borders of the external world and prevent the internal world from bleeding over into the external one and thus creating a "false" result. However, if quantum mechanics is also real, then there is no division between the internal world and the external one at all because any "false" result will immediately spring off into a new world where the "false" return is true!

Anything we can imagine is real, but that does not mean it is real here and now. The difference between my insanity and your sanity is a function of both current definition and real-world position on a contiguous and constantly shifting time-space continuum. Your sanity is sane here and now, while in my world, you're the crazy one.

We walk through a world of wars, economic inequality, greed, gluttony, egocentrism, arrogance, and countless other human foibles, all of which spring from the mistaken assumption that my internal world (or yours) is a true and accurate representation of the external world. It is not, and it cannot be, because as soon as I imagine something, it slips off into one of those parallel worlds where it is real and this one is imaginary. The core of my own personal insanity is a profound preference for those worlds which are spun off from this one through misinterpretation, misrepresentation, misapprehension, and plain old misunderstanding. The world of my imagining is more preferrable for me because it is far more flexible than the world of your reality. This flexibility in turn pleases my need to endlessly control and manipulate the outcome of every mistake so that it serendipitously becomes something profoundly divine and there is always a happy ending.

I'm not the sharpest tack in the box. As a result, I have made many unrealistic choices, far more than those of you lucky enough to be both sharp and sane. If you were me, wouldn't you prefer a virtual world as well? If I were you, I'd certainly prefer reality!

October 15, 2004

Meditating on a migraine

This has been a very strange week for me. Well, half a week anyway. It all started on Wednesday. I left work early to go play Magic with some fellow expatriates, but as the clock was winding down I got caught up writing a post for the public forums at the official Lineage II website. A number of people who regularly post to the forums had said some things about both the game and the way it is played that for some reason, just really ticked me off. I don't normally get upset about this kind of thing, mostly I ignore it, so I don't know why it triggered such a strong reaction this time.

So I wrote this post pointing out that far too many people who play Lineage II have no respect for the sheer enormity of the technical accomplishment the game itself represents. Not only that, but they are so busy trying to "win" a game with no clear win/loss condition that they never really take the time to understand the mechanics of the game itself. They don't play the game at all, they work it, and then they complain that they aren't having any fun! What's worse, they complain the loudest when they can't use cheat codes, they get banned for running programs that let the game play itself, or when they get caught buying game data at online auctions and get permanently banned from ever playing the game again.

I started this blog because I got banned from a website.

The irony is not lost on me. Now, instead of being the object of a ban, I find myself defending company policies that lead to and enforce bans. I'd like to stand up and scream that the situations are entirely different, but in truth, they are exactly the same. I got banned from because I found myself diametrically opposed to the philosophy used to manage the site. I support bans at Lineage II because the people being banned are diametrically opposed to the philosophy used to design and manage the game. I would like to be able to say I am always right and those who disagree with me are always wrong, but sadly, it is not that simple. In truth, that is the core of the problem.

At the management believes there is an absolute right and wrong and they alone know the difference. If you agree, you are right. If you disagree, you are wrong. At Lineage II the management believes there is no absolute right and wrong, but there are playstyles that detract from the ingame experience of other players. Stepping back from the issue a startling fact emerges: most of people who are banned from playing Lineage II believe there is an absolute right and wrong, and they are right.

Comparing these two experiences disturbs me to no end. The world I move through (which may or may be the same one you experience) has become polarized between two groups of people: those who believe in absolutes, and those who do not. The thing that scares me the most is that I was raised to believe in absolutes, but as an adult I find myself consistently defending those who can find no absolutes. When I was young, I firmly believed there were absolute right and wrongs and any sane person could easily identify them. Now that I am middle-aged, I find myself walking through a world where nothing is absolute, and yet a war of anarchy is being fought between two groups of believers in absolutes who absolutely disagree with one another.

The end result is a pounding migraine headache complete with nausea over an issue I have absolutely no control over and absolutely no reason to be concerned about.

On days like today I really hate how deeply I think about things. It must be nice to be shallow. Stress-free living at its finest.

October 06, 2004

Hyperlinking Cyberspace

Sullivan had an interesting link in today's post (Media overlooks successes in Iraq) while Sharon is wondering about the etiquette of providing links without asking the respective bloggers. Not so very long ago, I wrote an entry that included blind links to Playboy, Disney, and a Usenet group specializing in erotic stories all in the same sentence. A few years ago, back when Greyhawk Manor actually worked and I was getting a whole 15 hits per day, I got a very angry e-mail from a person who did not want a link to her mythology website on my page. She took a spiritual slant to mythology that I found intriguing, but she thought the Manor was too much like roleplaying and did not want to be associated with it. Incompatible neuroses, I suppose.

Way back when the internet was young, I read a book called "Earth", written by David Brin. One of the key elements in Earth is a global internet that is completely interlinked. Hyperlinks connect key words in news stories with maps, background articles, historical texts, and so on. Even recipes are hyperlinked to farming texts, shopping centers, and gourmet reviews. When an internet based text appears in Earth, there are always a dozen examples of first generation hyperlinks. He presents the internet as it was envisioned by its creators. Naturally, this is a whole lot different than the way it ended up!

And now, just because I can, I'd like to close with a paragraph that has every phrase linked to someplace else. What is the etiquette of linking in cyberspace? So far, there isn't one, and let's hope it stays that way for a long time to come!

September 28, 2004

Game characters come to life!

Game characters come to life!
Posted by Hello

One of the most endearing and frustrating aspects of Japanese culture is their obsession with "cosplay". In the picture above, two people are dressed up like Lineage II characters and one of them is sitting atop a lifesize plastic model of a "Stryder", a kind of dragon pet available in the game that players can ride. Now, these two girls happen to be professional models hired by NC Soft to appear as part of the display in their exhibition kiosk at the 2004 Tokyo Game Show, but not ten feet away from where they stand are half a dozen more girls dressed in similar outfits who did so because they love the game and wanted to become their characters for a day. There was more cosplay at this year's Game Show than at any Tokyo Game Show I have ever attended. It was insane, and great fun for the participants!

I don't know whether I envy their freedom or despise their childishness, and I suppose it doesn't really matter either way.

September 27, 2004

Gamer's heaven revisited

Last year, as usual, I went to the Tokyo Game Show (please see: "Gamer's Heaven"), and it was there that I discovered Lineage II, which has since become my favorite addiction. Naturally, I went this year as well. (Pictures will be up later on.) This year's game show was unlike any that I have been to before, which is not necessarily a good thing.

One of the really interesting things about the Tokyo Game Show has always been how many couples and young families there are wandering around the various booths and exhibits. There are couples dressing up like their favorite game characters, couples staring worshipfully at life-size cardboard cutouts of those same characters, along with couples taking endless pictures and hours of video tape of themselves standing next to cardboard cutouts, professional models in character costumes, and so on. The Tokyo Game Show has always been both a hot date event and an annual family pilgrimage. It is the mecca of gaming couples all over Asia.

But not this year.

There were still many couples and families, thousands of them, but for the first time in my experience a much larger percentage of the crowd was composed of small groups of three to six same gender friends that went to different game booths, sampled different products, and generally ignored each other.

Huh? Adolescent and college age young people with raging hormones who'd rather spend their Sunday at an annual event with a group of friends than with their favorite heart-throb? Tens of thousands of young people without a real date for the annual game show? Girls only interested in girls' games and boys only interested in boys' games? Okay, maybe not many girls are holding their breath anticipating Gran Turismo 4, and maybe a lot of guys aren't all that thrilled with the new version of Disney's Kingdom Hearts, but in the past the Tokyo Game Show provided the ideal time for guys and gals to travel together to check out the latest versions of the games they love to play! So why not this year? What's up with that? Has the internet driven us so far from one another that the only dates people go on are the ones they arrange through online dating services?

If I were young, you'd better believe I'd be dragging my favorite girl to the game show! By gosh and by golly, if she's gonna force me to sit through the latest Neopets promotion video, then she can wait ten minutes for me to sample Everquest II before we run over to EA to check out the latest expansion for The Sims Online. At which point I'm sure she'd be more than happy to watch a Lineage II Chronicle 2 promotion video before having dinner and heading home.

The important thing, of course, would be that we would wander together from booth to booth and exhibit to exhibit, and spend more time talking about the games than sampling them. And that chance to communicate, those hours spent discussing priorities and preferences, those are the times that intimacy is truly built between two people. Why on Earth would anyone not prefer to spend that time with a lover rather than a buddy?

I suppose this would be a good time to point out that the whole "guys vs. girls" thing has never made any sense to me, not even back when I was in elementary school, so it deeply disturbs me that the Tokyo Game Show provided one more glimpse into a general trend I've seen developing over the past three to five years: adult gender separation. Why, in this era of unprecedented communication opportunities, are men and women drawing further apart than ever? I thought we'd abandoned all this "war of the sexes" stuff halfway through the 20th Century, why has it recently experienced such a revival?

I do not want to live in a world where men are men, women are women, "and ne'er the twain shall meet!" Do you?

September 22, 2004

Little red guys

Little guys mean big trouble
Posted by Hello
Card image copied from Wizards of the Coast
Card art, text, layout and name are property of Wizards of the Coast and are protected by copyright.

As the three people who regularly skim over these random chatterings already know, I love games. One of my favorite games of all time is Magic the Gathering. Every October Magic the Gathering comes out with a new expansion. Three hundred brand new cards to collect, play with, sort through, add to old decks, or inspire new decks. Two weeks before the release date they have a special tournament called a "pre-release" where players can get a small assortment of the new cards (technically, one tournament pack and two booster packs), build a deck and try them out in one of the few truly casual tournaments on the annual schedule. I love pre-releases and have been to many of them. On September 18th & 19th, I went to the pre-release tournament for the new Magic the Gathering set: Champions of Kamigawa.

There are few things in life more fun than a deck of cards with colorful pictures!

Champions of Kamigawa features 306 new cards, many of them are extremely powerful and will change the way people of all skill levels approach the game of Magic. One of the cards I got at the pre-release is the card above, Zo-Zu the Punisher. In all honesty, at first glance this is one of the more unimpressive cards in the set. Probably very few people will use this card in professional tournament decks. However, at the pre-release I found it to be one of my most powerful tools. This little guy is responsible for at least two of my wins and all of my ties. Two things stand out from every game I lost, and one of them is not drawing this card in the first few turns. When he hit the table every single one of my opponents was forced to re-evaluate their strategy and playstyle. Over the course of two days playing I learned to love this little guy and although I am no pro, I am strongly tempted to build a deck designed to bring out his strengths and shore up his weaknesses.

However, the real lesson from this past weekend has nothing to do with Zo-Zu. The one thing I took to heart was that no matter how old I get, for better or worse, inside I will always be an eleven year-old kid who'd rather play games than chase girls or worry about where his next meal is coming from. Sad but true, I still haven't grown up and probably never will.

September 17, 2004

Once a fool, always a fool

Playing cards have been part and parcel of the Western world since the 13th century, and possibly even longer. The history of tarot cards, in turn, is even more difficult to pin down. When we stop to consider that even in humanity's oldest cities games of strategy and chance were part and parcel of daily life, trying to assign a beginning to something as ubiquitous as a card game becomes even more difficult than it already is. However, for some games finding the beginning is actually quite easy. Magic the Gathering, for example, was introduced to the world July, 1993. Over the past eleven years there have been many expansions, rules changes, and other improvements, but the game still features cards printed in one of five colors along with artifacts and lands. True to the spirit of the original game, the most important part of Magic the Gathering is building a playable deck with just the right selection of strategies to reduce your opponent's score to zero before they can do the same to you. Magic the Gathering is a cutthroat game built from artistic cards with a wide variety of different powers, influences, and rule-bending attributes. "It's all in the cards," is true of Tarot, and it's also true of Magic. And so it is that when skimming over the list of childish, idiotic, fanciful and fantastic quizzes at Quizilla, I was both enchanted and amused to find a quiz associating personality with tarot cards. To no one's surprise, I'm sure, I am The Fool!

The Fool Card

Image by Mary DeLave
You are The Fool card. The Fool fearlessly begins a journey into the unknown. To do this, he does not regard the world he knows as firm and fixed. He has a reckless disregard for obstacles. In the Ryder-Waite deck, he is seen stepping off a cliff with his gaze on the sky, and a rainbow is there to catch him. In order to explore and expand, one must disregard convention and conformity. Those in the throes of convention look at the unconventional, non-conformist personality and think, "What a fool!" They lack the point of view to understand The Fool's actions. But The Fool has roots in tradition as one who is closest to the spirit world. In many tribal cultures, those born with strange and unusual character traits were held in awe. Shamans were people who could see visions and go on journeys that we now label hallucinations and schizophrenia. Those with physical differences had experience and knowledge that the average person could not understand. The Fool is God. The number of the card is zero, which when drawn is a perfect circle. This circle represents both emptiness and infinity. The Fool is not shackled by mountains and valleys or by his physical body. He does not accept the appearance of cliff and air as being distinct or real.
"What Tarot Card Are You?" -- Brought to you by Quizilla!

September 08, 2004

The role of history

Bakalicious has a beautiful entry today about the writer's trip to Nikko. I have heard many wonderful things about Nikko, but despite having lived in Japan for almost twenty years, I have never been there. I'd like to go, but whenever the opportunity arises, something else with greater importance comes up as well. I have been to Nara many times, Kyoto half a dozen times, Nagoya more times than I can count, Osaka once or twice, and Hiroshima once. I also spent three months teaching in Nihonmatsu, which is a small town in Fukushima prefecture. Shinto remains one of the few aspects of Japanese culture that never ceases to amaze me in terms of diversity, individual expression, and uniqueness of character. I have seen and photographed hundreds, maybe even thousands of shrines ranging from a single stone in the middle of an open field to a huge edifice of such elaborateness an Egyptian Pharoah would probably be amazed. History is alive and well in Japan, but that is not necessarily a good thing.

A lifetime ago when I was young, enthusiastic, pious, and naive, I attended a revival meeting at a local Baptist church. The visiting evangelist had been to the Holy Land numerous times and claimed to be one of the few Christian missionaries allowed to preach openly in Jordan. At the time, of course, I didn't know that Jordan boasts one of the oldest, most well-established Christian populations in the entire world. One thing the evangelist said that day has stuck with me for almost thirty years, "I have been to the holy nation of Israel many times in my life and I have seen many changes. Security, peace, and stability are wonderful goals, but I miss the old days when the streets of Jerusalem were filled with wooden carts, bedouins and sheep, and it felt like the one place on Earth where time had stopped and the days of Christ our saviour still lived."

A place where time had stopped? Is that really what we Americans are searching for? Is reliving history so important to us that we are willing to sacrifice our modern world for the "comforts" of a Franklin Stove, homemade jelly, and fresh-baked bread? Do we really want to relight our stove every ten minutes, break our teeth on fruit seeds, and spend all day making toast? Does the preservation of history and tradition mean reliving the past on weekends and then slaving away during the week to make money for stockholders living in Florida? History is a wonderful thing. The more we study history the more we learn about who we are, where we come from, and how we got here, but that does not mean that sometime in the misty past people were happier, healthier, more spiritual, or more advanced in any other way, nor does it mean they were less advanced.

The multitude of notes, messages, grocery lists, and memorandums left to us by the Sumerians clearly show that in many, many ways, they were no different than we are. These people lived 7,000 years ago. They invented writing, built the very first cities, erected the first grand temples, developed a commercial economy, and created the foundations that the modern world is built upon. While the Egyptians were still drowning in the spring floods, the Sumerians were constructing irrigation works and organizing small cities with a temple in the center. While the Chinese were slaughtering each other in endless civil wars, the Sumerians were teaching their conquerers (the Akkadians) how to run, organize, and manage an empire. History is a wonderful teacher that we too often ignore. Instead of fantasizing about a glorious past, we need to learn the lessons of Waterloo, Hiroshima, and 9/11.

The real lesson history teaches us is neither the glory of heroism nor the greatness of humanity. Sadly, the real lesson history teaches is that the only time society moves forward is when we find a way to preserve our individualism while still working together for the common good. In every single instance, as soon as one person or group gains the power to dictate the dreams and ambitions of their society, that society implodes. There are no exceptions!

There is no golden past. However, if we pay attention to the lessons history teaches, we might have a golden future.

September 01, 2004

What does "pathetic" look like?

Maybe it's the economy, or maybe it's the political climate, but the last week or so it seems like everywhere I turn I'm running across people who feel completely dissatisfied with themselves. "I'm tired of being so pathetic," Piro cries out in the most recent Megatokyo, and right about now it looks like a whole lot of people are echoing that sentiment.


There have been many times in my life when I felt deeply depressed but never once in my life have I looked in a mirror and said to myself, "Brian, you are so pathetic!"

I'm not "pathetic". I've never met anyone who is. I've met people who are down on their luck, I've met people with emotional, physical, or intellectual disabilities, or even some combination of the three, but I have never met a person I would label "pathetic". Perhaps my English is not quite up to par. Most Americans, after all, are far from literate. So maybe the problem is I don't really understand the idea of "pathetic". I'm too lazy to look it up right now, but my definition has always been really simple: unwilling to free one's self of an undesirable situation!

I've met a lot of "challenged" people, as we say in today's world, but all of them were either fighting hard to get along despite their limitations, or using their limitations to explain away their failures. All of them were more than willing to change their circumstances, but they couldn't. There is nothing pathetic about being socially deficient, emotionally immature, or even intellectually impaired. If the world will not let you spread your wings and fly, it is not your fault, so why would you call yourself "pathetic"?

There is nothing wrong with being less than perfect. Reality is never perfect, even though there are some people who would like you to believe they are somehow closer to perfect than you are, and therefore you are less human than they are, that does not make it real. Generally speaking I don't listen to those people, it's too depressing. I've beaten a few of them bloody, been beaten bloody by a few, yelled at some, been yelled at by some, humiliated more than my share, and been humiliated by more than my share. In many cases, they have passed on while I am still here, even though they were undoubtedly "better" people than I could ever dream of becoming. They were richer, prettier, taller, stronger, smarter, more insightful, or whatever, but they are now six feet under while I am still above ground kicking, screaming, causing a fuss, and every once in a great while, being fussed over.

So, tell me, what does "pathetic" look like? I know it doesn't look like me, and I can guarantee you this: it doesn't look like you, either!

August 28, 2004

Crossing the line

In cyberspace there are no lines to cross. With just a link, I can drop you here, here, or even here! See how easy that is?

This is one of the main aspects of cyberspace I enjoy. Cyberspace allows pure freedom to explore the mundane, the profane, and everything in between. But what happens when the virtual world steps into the real one? According to CNN Money Magazine, in October we're all going to find out. In October, Playboy will feature a number of computer game heroines in erotic poses, and in some cases, nude. I assume this will be an actual article, probably something along the lines of their occasional "sex in cinema" articles and special issues, but since my info comes from Dom's rant at Megatokyo, it doesn't even qualify as secondhand information and as such, is more or less worthless.

Cybersex is becoming more and more of a mainstream issue. This seems to surprise a lot of people, and even horrifies a few. The other day I was watching a program on Discovery Channel and at one point there was an interview with a woman who divorced her second husband for having an internet affair, despite the fact that he never once met the woman he was corresponding with in real life!

Bah, humbug!

This whole debate is, in my mind, as silly as two kids fighting over a TV channel. I am 43 years old and I still enjoy sex. I hope I will keep enjoying it until the day they plant me six feet under. And yes, sometimes I even masturbate, don't you? My kids both understand the do and don'ts of sex, at least to the extent of my ability to teach them. Sex is as much a fact of life as anything else. Some folks prefer same-gender sexual relations, some folks prefer cross-gender sexual relations, and some folks only experience sex through masturbation and fantasy. Personally, I don't see why folks in any one of these groups are so prone to getting angry at the folks in the other two. Gay-bashing, homophobia, heterophobia, or even pornophobia (is that a word? It is now! (^_^)) are all so much hogwash from where I'm sitting.

I can walk into any game store in Japan and find a section with thousands of adult titles. In America I would have to scrounge around in some back alley and in all likelihood the only adult titles I could find would be pirated copies the local shopkeeper burned off on his home computer. In Japan the legitimization of the adult industry means that the people doing the work to create the product are also the ones who profit from it. In American the illegitimacy of the adult industry also means that despite the success of Playboy, Penthouse, and others, much of the industry is victimized not by the producers, but by the theives who copy things at home and then sell them in backrooms, redlight districts, or online. In Thailand, South Korea, and even in Nevada, prostitutes work in real bedrooms (albeit, sparsely decorated ones) with real beds, get regular health checks, and the use of condoms is strictly enforced. In the "civilized" world where prostitution is illegal, prostitutes work in back alleys, cheap hotels, or the backseats of private cars, sexually transmitted diseases are rampant, the women often wind up beaten or killed by their clients, and the use of condoms is sporadic at best.

I don't care how puritanical your personal god might be. Look at the real world where real men and real women are doing everything in their power to survive another day and you tell me which approach to sexuality is the most humane, the most loving, the most compassionate, and above all else, the most rational.

Teach your kids what they need to know. Disney is great, and I love it immensely, but Disney should not be the only thing they see.

August 25, 2004

Oh, da cute!

Once upon a time in the lands of aloha, young women went around shouting, "oh, da cute!" at just about everything they came across. Nowadays young people tend to be more cynical so you're most like to see them grumbling something like, "one mo' da kine."

In memory of "da cute", I'd like to present the cutest comic I have ever encountered online: 9th Elsewhere.

It is, however, unbearably cute! Consider yourself forewarned! (^_^)V

August 23, 2004

Meandering through blogdom

I have spent the past couple of days taking advantage of the new Blogger toolbar. Clicking on "Next Blog" can land a person almost anywhere. For some reason, it has a habit of throwing me onto Asian blogs, probably because I am using a Japanese web browser. Every now and then though, I land on an Arabic blog. Arabic has a beautiful script. I wish I could read it.

Blogs are online journals, so it is no surprise that the vast majority of them are egocentric, after all, we write a journal to ourselves, not to the whole world. I still don't really understand what compels me to make these entries, and I won't even try to guess what drives someone else. Of all the blogs I've visited the past few days, this one deserves special notice: Hi to Me!

I have been told by many people that I have no sense of humor. It may be true. Hi to Me!, however, is far and away the funniest blog I have ever encountered! Now there's a person who knows how to tell a joke!

I have run across a dozen blogs lately talking about the United States dropping a nuclear bomb on China at the end of WWII and thinking that this idea is somehow "funny", or worse yet, "satire". Did George Bush say something really stupid recently related to this idea? All of these blogs are attempting to poke fun at G.B., who is certainly enough of a ham to deserve to be satirized, but to my mind that does not excuse perpetuating a historical falsehood. This is exactly how cultures become indocrinated to accept error as fact and to regard history as being irrelevant. If these "commentators" really want to take the wind out of George's sails they need to find a way to satirize him while restoring the historical accuracy, thus dealing him a double whammy. I don't know that G.B. said something, all I do know is that some 12 year-old kid is going to read those blogs and come away convinced that American bombed China. An entire future conspiracy theory is being given birth by a group of people who do not understand that the first rule of satire is to replace an error with the truth, not perpetuate the error.

For the record: The United States has dropped two nuclear bombs on populated targets, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Both of those cities are in Japan, not China. If you see someone claiming otherwise (even as a joke), then please take advantage of their comment box to correct them. These two attacks were horrific enough, there is no need to make up a third one.

On another front, some writers simply have no respect for their audience. Why are so many blogs written in purposely bad English? I'm not talking about honest mistakes by people who are still learning, I'm refering to people who write things like, "ne1 kin sey dat, bud the pplz alys lrn da rl dl inda nd."

Good grief! What is this garbage? Is this some kind of hip modern code? English is not a brutal enough language already, now they have to throw out the rules altogether and attempt to write it phonetically? Have a little respect for your readers, people. Like it or not, publishing live on the internet means that real people are going to be stopping by trying to decipher what you have to say. Readers who come across your blog are trying to learn your unique view of the world. They want to see the world the way you do. How can they understand your perspective on life if you throw up a cryptic wall and transform one of the most exception-laden languages in the world into a chaotic tempest of random characters? If you don't want people to read it, why post it?

If you can write clearly, please make an effort to do so. Potentially millions of people will be reading your humble words, especially now that Blogger has made you so easy to find. Give them a chance to understand you before you shut them all away.

August 10, 2004

Once upon a time in cyberspace

Misty Memories of Another World

It has been almost three years since a group of terrorists hijacked some planes and destroyed the modern Tower of Babel. Three long years of wars in Afganistan and Iraq, inspired in no small part by American paranoia. And yet, the horrible imbalance in quality of life around the world that generated the anger of the terrorists still remains. In short, nothing has improved and whole lot has actually gotten worse.

Keep this in mind, because the stage we play out our lives upon has a dramatic and lasting impact on each of us individually, often in ways we cannot begin to imagine. My own problems are related to the most innocent of modern devices, the credit card. I have been carrying and using a Citibank Mastercard for almost 20 years now. Over the past three years it has become almost impossible for me to use my credit card online. You see, Citibank keeps a database of personal information and when you try to use your credit card online, the personal information you provide at the shopping cart page is compared with the personal information in the database and if they match, the sale is authenticated. But the Citibank database does not like non-US addresses and I have lived and worked in Japan for eighteen years now! Whenever I try to buy something online, the databases don't match, and my purchase is declined. This problem has become noticeable worse ever since 9/11 and in one case, an online store told me straight up that they would not accept an American credit card with an overseas billing address! Part of the problem is that modern American businesses have no motivation to seek out overseas customers. Paranoia and xenophobia have finally replaced greed and covetousness as the primary drive behind American business. Although, in all honesty, fear of reprisal has always played at least a minor role in American business practices.

And not only in America, either, but that is for another day.

That brings us finally to the real point of today's post: Magic!

I played Magic: the Gathering ("MTG", to its many online fans) from the spring of 1999 to the summer of 2002. It was, and remains, one of the most challenging and rewarding card games ever invented. My recent return to MTG came about because I cannot play Lineage II at work. At first, I was visiting the forums and posting my very own words of wisdom, but not many people enjoyed reading them. I did not want the immaturity of forum regulars to damage my experience of this great game, so I drifted away from the the discussion groups and began looking around for something else to do when things are slow at work. I wandered into Usenet again, especially Cuddleland, AFO, and RAP. Usenet does not have as many immature contributors as it once did, but it still remains a wild and woolly place where flame wars rage endlessly and an unwary user could easily find their pride and joy reduced to a heap of useless ash. Not a nice neighborhood, but fun if you can handle the fire and the fury.

Then I broke down and wrote to a friend of mine who works at the company which makes Magic: the Gathering. He dropped the hint that now could be a very rewarding time to return to Magic: the Gathering. Specifically, the next major pro set will be built around Japanese legends, folklore, and myths. Now how could I refuse such an opportunity?

The new set is called "Kamigawa", which probably means "god river", but could have a dozen different meanings depending on the kanji the designers were thinking of when they came up with the name. Judging from the official introduction (see the link in the last sentence), it will be one of the most dynamic and exciting sets they have ever produced. Well, I want to play it! That in turn meant finding some way to brush up my Magic skills, because MTG is not a simple game. My friend recommended Magic Online, which seemed like a fine idea to me! I headed over and downloaded the client, but couldn't get logged on. Why? Because in order to log on I have to pay $9.99 for the client (refundable in store credit, mind you) and the Magic Online store will not accept the credit card I have been carrying and using longer than some of their employees have been alive!

And thus we have the long rant above about American paranoia. I don't know why, but it is getting worse with every passing year. Don't believe me? Check CNN!

I don't know what kind of world you kids think you're building, but trust me, when you get to be my age, you'll be very sorry you went about it this way.

August 01, 2004

Back in Action!

I finally got bored with hitting critters over the head with an iron hammer. I put Giantina on hold for a little while and pulled Nightfall back out again. Of course, the first problem was that she was naked and weaponless! Not to worry, I headed out to the swamp in the dark elf territories and hunted Dark Horrors and Marsh Zombie Lords using nothing but her magic skills. Since she had no wand or robes, her casting speed was unbelievably slow, but with care and attention to timing, I was able to kill enough monsters to make enough adena (Lineage II money) to buy her a simple leather robe set, complete with gloves, shoes, and cap. That left the issue of what to do for a weapon. Well, Giantina has not been idle, you know, and Nightfall's old gear is what provided the cash to get Giantina going, so Giantina contributed 120,000 adena to the cause and Nightfall got a new staff (called a "Journeyman's Staff"). Not a particularly good one, but a staff. Armed with staff and robes, she hunted much more efficiently and after a week or so, had earned enough for some better robes. Now she has a Devotion Set, enough crystals and "spiritshots" to keep her going, and even a little money. Considering that ten days ago she had nothing, I'm quite pleased with her progress.

Okay, then, on to other things. I've been posting on the official forums at the Lineage II Offical Site. There are many Americans players who are not happy to have Chinese players roaming around on their servers. Almost daily someone starts a thread complaining about Chinese players and asking NC Soft to ban all Asian IPs. Since I live in Japan, this means they would be banning me as well. Not a good thing. In all honesty, though, that is not the part that irritates me. What really gets my goat is how xenophobic my fellow countrymen are becoming. America is the most powerful nation in the world for only one reason: they respect the desire of all people everywhere to live in freedom. Despite this, xenophobia is a problem that raises its ugly head every thirty or forty years. I am at an age now where I understand why xenophobia does far more harm than good, and I have posted dozens of messages trying to convince people that banning Asians from the North American servers will hurt the community, not help it. Naturally, almost no one believes me.

Before I set Giantina aside, I finished her level 20 job change quest. She is now officially a Scavenger. In the course of finishing that quest, an interesting thing happened, so I posted it to the Offical forums in response to yet another "let's do something about the Asians" post. Here is what I posted:

Of Farmers and Fouls

I was out in NE Elmore killing bears and collecting Honey Jars for my Scavenger Quest. There were four other dwarves running around and one light elf archer. Within minutes of my arrival, one of the dwarves SoEed back to town. One dwarf girl, armed with some kind of claw weapon, began following me around killing the bears I attacked. I asked her to stop. She killed one more, said "hehe", and went off to another area to hunt. A few minutes later she was back, but just watching. I said, "Please go away!" At that point the male dwarf character hunting nearby came and shouted, "LEAVE HER ALONE", without specifying which one of us he meant. Quite silly, really.

A short dialogue ensued where I explained why I was killing bears, explained that she was, too, and added that she was probably doing the same quest I was. As we spoke, the KSer killed two more bears than SoEed back to town. The male dwarf who believed he was helping remained convinced that the other dwarf was a "Chinese farmer" and told he had already fought her once and killed her. Note that they were both white, so she must have fought back. He then SoEed back to town, leaving me, one dwarf, and the light elf.

Are you with me so far? We've got two aggressive players who have already fought over a hunting ground, a dwarf, a light elf, and me. Here where the tale changes unexpectedly.

I go back to hunting bears. The remaining dwarf comes up to me and says, "ni hao". I tell her I don't speak Chinese. There is a pause, she says, "get honey? easy?" I tell it's not easy, but yes, I am getting honey jars. She goes over to the light elf and there's a rapid dialogue in Chinese. Pretty soon another dwarf materializes nearby (logging in I think). Both dwarves start hunting bears, with the elf helping them by taking first hit, and in some cases, last hit. However, they stay clear of the area where I am and I stay clear of the area where they are. After a bit, I go up to the elf and ask if he speaks English. He says something in Chinese, and the first dwarf comes up to me asking what I need. I tell her that if the elf keeps taking first hit, the two dwarves will never get honey jars. The elf needs to concentrate on crowd control while they finish their quest. Another Chinese dialogue, three-way this time, and they modify their hunting style.

After a bit, I finish collecting my honey jars and get on with the next leg of my quest. When I get to Tomas, who do I find but the dwarf with the claws! She was doing her quest, too. We talk, and guess what, she's Canadian and speaks perfect English. She even apologizes for stealing my kills, excusing herself by saying how frustrated she was getting because the honey jars were not added with every single kill, but only every fifth or sixth, and sometimes even worse.

The only problem I'd had was with a Canadian player that another player had already killed because he'd assumed she was Chinese. There were three Chinese players hunting that area, two of them were doing their quest and one was watching their backs. Were the three Chinese farmers? I don't know, and I don't care. That's their problem not mine. Either way, this kind of scenario unfolds around me every single time I play. Yes, there are a lot of Chinese players. For whatever reason, they don't bother me and I don't bother them. This is called "peaceful co-existence".

I understand that some players have a lot of trouble. I come onto these boards everyday (can't play the game at work, after all), and read horror story after horror story. I am 100% certain that some of these miserable stories are pure fabrications by xenophobic individuals who attack first and regret it later. How many? Again, I don't know and don't care. What to do about the true stories?

Nothing. It's that kind of game!

If a player does not like this game, this environment, and this community, then they need to exercise their rights as a consumer and move on to something else. How to solve the "farmer" problem? Find the buyers, find the sellers, ban them both. How do you find them? That's NC Soft's problem, not mine.

My suggestion to everyone is simple: don't buy adena, be nice to other players, kill the ones that don't appreciate it.

July 05, 2004

Little people with big agendas

Fireworks for Halloween!
Posted by Hello

Meet Mr. Lesser Dark Horror, the scourge of the swamp in Dark Elf Country in the land of Aden. Lesser Dark Horrors, and their older cousins, Dark Horrors, are extremely powerful for their level, do alot of damage, and are very hard to kill. Dark Elf Fighters can take them one on one at about level 15, with lots of rest in between to recover their HP (life points). Dark Elf Mystics avoid them altogether until level 16 or 17, and even then they spend more time running than fighting (called "kiting": hit the monster with a spell, run like the dickens in the opposite direction while the spell recharges, then hit it again.). To my great surprise, Giantina took on two of them at once at level 13 with almost no difficulty! I am beginning to think that maybe dwarves are far more versatile than most players imagine.

Of course, Giantina has the advantage of not being my first character. All of her armor and equipment is the best that money can buy at her level, because I stipped Nightfall in order to equip her. This gives her strong advantages over "normal" level 13 characters, even the speedy and deadly Dark Elves. As a matter of fact, a Dark Elf Fighter tried to kill Giantina this morning. At first, I ran as fast as her little legs could carry her in the other direction, but the Dark Elf was rapidly gaining ground. Since it had to lead to a fight eventually anyway, I spun the character and attacked head on.

The Dark Elf died in three or four blows. I don't know who was more shocked, my erstwhile attacker or me! It was a very enlightening moment for both of us.

I just love this game!

July 02, 2004

Ruminitions and Ruminations

Giantina on the attack!
Posted by Hello

Meet my newest character: Giantina

Giantina is a dwarf. The female dwarves have the smallest characters in all of Lineage II, so naturally I had to give her an appropriately "giant-sized" name! The dwarves are one of the hardest characters to play because they have no special fighting skills. On the other hand, they are the only characters able to create items, and they are very tough. As a result, they are extremely important to the economy of the world of Aden, and highly valued members of any clan. On the downside, they tend to be ignored until somebody needs something made. One player observed, "some days I feel more like a parts factory than a valued member of the team."

I have in the past attempted dwarves, but always gave up. They are extremely difficult to play at lower levels. However, with the introduction of Chronicle One, all characters gained a pair of interesting emotes: "laugh" and "socialwaitinga". I tried a male dwarf first, and the laugh was a great, deep, belly shaking rumble, but the social waiting was merely some boring arm stretching. So I tried a female dwarf. The laugh turned out to be an insanely charming girlish giggle of pure merriment and the social waiting was a backflip that shifts into a handstand with a trillish, "la-de-la-de-la" that makes me chuckle every single time I hear it.

I kept the female dwarf and deleted the male. Every time I play Giantina I feel like a proud Grandfather showing off the light of his life. She is just so darned cute!

A infusion of capital from Nightfall bought Giantina some new armor and a decent mace, but I haven't taken a screenshot yet.

I just love this game!


I found an interesting review of Lineage II at AVault. This is the most balanced of all the online reviews I have read to date. It covers all the reasons I love the game, and also goes into great detail on the downside (which I mostly ignore).

June 28, 2004

Meditations on the Day

Last Day of Prelude
Posted by Hello

"Lineage II: the Chaotic Chronicle", is slated to be released in fourteen installments (called "Chronicles", of course). The first Chronicle, "Harbingers of War", starts in about 12 hours. Between the end of "Prelude" and the beginning of "Harbingers" is a day of server resets, downloading the new client, etc. A day of meditation as it were.

The picture above, my current desktop, is a picture of Nightfall and her pet wolf Eagle at the point where I logged off. She is now level 25, while Eagle has managed to achieve level 16. It is very difficult to increase the level of a pet wolf, so I am quite satisfied with 16. Level 25 is not a stunning achievement for two months of game time, but I also spent dozens, and maybe even hundreds of hours experimenting with other characters. Each character has their own unique characteristics, their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and yet, the game is clearly designed so that each character will fulfill a particular role in both the individual team they belong to, and the world as a whole. Nightfall, for example, is a Dark Wizard. Her primary role is to damage enemy monsters and players through a variety of very effective spells, or to summon a special creature and send that creature into battle in support of her team. She can also be effective on her own, which is how I spend most of my game time.

A fair question to ask is what I get out of this game, and that is why I have spent my day pondering this question. I love this game for many, many reasons, but mostly for the quality of the graphics. I love watching the game. I have used a program called FRAPS to make dozens of video captures of the game. With my trusty Flasher screensaver, all of these videos display in random order whenever my computer is idle, so even when I am not playing Lineage II, I can enjoy the sounds and sights of this incredible world. I have videos of almost every character I have ever created (since downloading FRAPS halfway through the Japan Open Beta), so even when I only play one character (such as my focus on Nightfall in recent weeks), I can revisit some of my earlier triumphs and failures. I deeply love this game. Calling it my "obsession" would be putting it mildly.

Don't get me wrong. I know it is only a game. I don't get angry, depressed, or stressed out when things are not going my way. Because I know it is only a game, my failures and mistakes are completely unimportant while my successes can leave me smiling for days on end. It is, by far, the most entertaining pastime I have ever experimented with. It is more fun than playing either a board game or a video game, it is more rewarding than either writing or reading stories and novels, it is more satisfying than eating a dozen donuts and washing them down with the finest Chocolate Macadamia Nut Kona coffee. It fills the empty hours of my life with more good times than wine, women and song ever hoped to provide.

Graphics are what drew me in, gameplay is what keeps me there.

Let me draw a parallel. If I spend 40 hours a week teaching (which would drive anyone insane), what do I have to show for it? Money, and a lot of it. But what happens to all that money? It pays the rent, it feeds my family, it puts clothes on my kid's backs, sends my wife to a hot spring with her friends, and if I'm lucky, buys me a night on the town. I'm sorry, but none of these things really please me. At the end of the week my life on the whole has not improved one bit. I am still poor, stuck in a dirty, crowded city, and come Monday, it's back to work and do it all over again. Does life in the modern world really please people? Are other men as content as they appear with nothing more than forty years of working to make others rich and your family fed and clothed? I'm sorry, but this is not my idea of a good life. I need to feel like I have made some kind of difference in the world around me, and in my own place in it. Real life leaves me hollow and exhausted both emotionally and physically. I hate my reality and the small pleasures of seeing my family (who generally treat me like furniture) clothed and fed are no pleasures at all. I am a wage slave and what slave ever felt content?

Now, if I spend ten hours a week playing Lineage II, at the end of the week Nightfall has a better weapon, has moved into a better hunting area, has gained a good bit of gold, and I'll have met hundreds of new people from all over the world. I'll have taken her through new and marvelous countryside with bright sun, singing birds, gentle breezes, a harvest moon like nothing the real world could ever provide, and together we'll have defeated countless monsters and probably a few really nasty people. Ten hours with Nightfall and I feel like a hero. Forty hours of work and I feel like a slave.

Is it really so surprising that I prefer the world of Lineage II?

June 11, 2004

Normal people have real lives

Up, up and away!
Posted by Hello

This new "Hello" photoblogging program by Blogspot is great! I've just learned how to post my desktop (which you see hovering above) or even a screenshot of a window.

But onto other, hopefully deeper issues.

What is "normal"? This is a question that has bothered me for most of my life. Everywhere I go, and I have been many places, people develop images of me that never match the image I have in my own mind. One problem that often arises is that no one has ever considered me to be "normal". I am 43 years old, I have a loving wife and two strong, strapping sons. We live in a (by Tokyo standards) spacious and comfortable apartment in a good neighborhood. Not only am I gainfully employed, but my wife is starting her own company and very soon I will be working two jobs. Yet, no one considers me "normal".

To the locals I will always be a "foreigner": woefully ignorant of common sense and hopelessly self-centered. This, despite the fact that the Japanese themselves are among the most self-centered, self-referential people in the entire world. The "ugly American" hanging out in topless bars in Paris is certainly no worse than the "ugly Japanese" hanging out in Thai whorehouses that specialize in providing "fresh, young talent" (in other words, boys and girls around ten years old). Still, I am the oddball, because rather than skipping into Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, or even Paris, for a bit of sexual adventurism (not that I'm opposed, mind you, just broke and paranoid), I am the crazy foreigner who plays a female character in an online game. Oh, a word about those Thai whorehouses, what most people don't realize and refuse to see is that they cater to both men and women. Contrary to popular belief, pedophilia crosses all boundaries, including gender.

Oh wait, I know. "Normal" is you and your second spouse (having been divorced once, you see) living in a three-bedroom house with two-car garage in the suburbs, kids in private schools, a gas-guzzling SUV out front and a pool in the backyard. And how do you pay for all this? By being the best cost-cutter in a Fortune 500 company and initiating a plan to outsource the customer service department to India, Thailand, or the Phillipines, creating 50,000 more jobs in the world's poorest countries (a good thing) and putting 40,000 of your own hardworking countrymen into the unemployment queue. But hey, they can always get jobs at your competitor right? Except that in order to compete with your Fortune 500 company, now every Fortune 500 company must outsource their customer service department.

But I know, "normal" people don't worry about that.

CNN claims that one million new jobs have been created since the beginning of the year. How many of those are government jobs at the state and local level (requiring local tax increases) in order to staff the now overflowing and hopelessly backlogged unemployment offices?

But I suppose "normal" people don't worry about that either.

Like it or not, our entire globe has become elaborately interlinked and completely interdependent. If India raises taxes, Americans feel the bite in higher prices for textiles and clothing. When Thailand closes a whorehouse, Australian and German tourist agencies lose money and cut employees (even if the individual agents themselves don't sell "sex tours"). If you call in sick for work because the sun is shining and you'd rather go fishing, your best friend from college will have to pay a higher price for his shiny new Italian sports car.

So what does any of that have to do with the price of tea in China? Everything!

May 24, 2004

The zen of online gaming: Nightfall, crossdressing, and genderbendering

My favorite Lineage II character and her pet wolf.
Posted by Hello

This is Nightfall. She is currently my favorite Lineage II character. Nightfall is a level 18 Dark Elf Mystic, her pet wolf is called Eagle. When I play Nightfall, I often fall into a fairly feminine style of gameplay. I suppose she is one incarnation of my female id; or, for the more mystical among you, the feminine side of my genderless soul.

Nightfall appeals to me for many reasons. Just for starters, thanks to the superb artists at NC Soft, she is beautiful to look at. Equally as important is the simple fact that set amidst the stunning scenery of this awe-inspiring game, she looks completely natural. Nightfall belongs in her world to an extent that will never be true of I and the world I live in.

This world, the one where you and I work and play, is the problem. I am a man, a very heterosexual man. Despite being raped by an uncle when I was five, I have never desired to be physically intimate with another man. Perhaps the molestation is the reason? I'll leave that question to the Freudians among you. However, I love playing Nightfall, a very womanly woman. This poses a problem. For many players, their character is not really a character at all, it is an avatar, a manifestation of their own self in the gameworld. Most non-gamers also find this approach very natural and understandable. As a result, players like myself are accused of being deceptive on some level, as if we were seeking to trick "normal" players into feeling sexually attracted to us.

Perhaps, in some cases, this is true. In my case, it is not, and I am quick to dissuade any player who approaches Nightfall in a romantic or sexual manner. I tell them point blank that the real person behind the character is a man, a heterosexual man with no interest in cybersex experimentation within the context of the game. For most players, there is a moment of surprise, then they move into a semi-detached style of gameplay, treating Nightfall herself as a person and forgetting or ignoring the reality of the person behind her. For myself, this kind of moderately detached semi-roleplaying, where the characters are independent of the people behind them and yet still not strictly being regarded as actors in a fantasy world, is the most comfortable style of gameplay.

All of Nightfall's friends approach the game in a similar state of semi-detachment, realizing that although they control their characters, the characters are neither direct representations of their native personality, nor completely independent persons fulfilling a predetermined role in a highly stylized fantasy setting. Within the game we are friends, in the real world we will probably never meet and all of us are comfortable with that.

Did you notice the most important aspect of this kind of gameplay? Without intending to, my friends and I are redefining community and the dynamics of personal relationships. Perhaps, in the real world, most "normal" people are able to live their lives in a similar kind of roleplaying, but for people like me, this is impossible. The real world is too real, too immediate, too painful, and too emotionally charged. I and people like me cannot treat those we meet in day to day life as if they were acting out some kind of semi-detached role seperate from their "real" selves. The view you present me is the view I expect to be real because I am right there in the world and I cannot separate the "real" me. The me you see, is me, 100%, all the time. When I was young, we called this "sincerity". Nowadays people call it neurotic.

Online gaming gives sincere people the opportunity to distance themselves from a relationship while still allowing them the intimacy they need. Other "normal" people, consider this online detachment a reflection of mental illness. They call us "genderbenders", or "crossdressers", and accuse us of being everything from hopelessly neurotic to despicably evil. The same people who accuse me of being deceptive think nothing of lying to me about their plans, cheating me at work and in business, ignoring or forgetting social engagements, and otherwise behaving in ways designed to advance themselves while destroying me all in the name of "fairplay" in our Darwinian modern world of fast talk, fast deals, and "always look out for number one" hypercompetition.

I'm sorry. I'm 43 years old and I still don't understand why I'm the crazy one.

March 15, 2004

The zen of online gaming: Play the Game, Don't Work It

I posted this in a forum devoted to Lineage 2 and like it so much I though I' d add it here. Not that anyone will read it, mind you, but....

Play the Game, Don't Work It

Both here in the forums and in the game I see many players agonizing over their choices. Pvp vs. non-pvp, book vs. staff, assassin vs. knight, so on and so forth ad continuum, ad nauseum.

Relax, especially during the Beta portion. Lineage 2, like all MMORPGs, is a game, not a life. First and foremost it is meant to be played, and played hard through many long hours of heart-stopping tension and knee-buckling relief. Dramatic dissappointment, heroic achievement, devastating loss, and stunning victory are all possible anytime, anywhere, and usually when you least expect it. The key element of any gaming experience has always been, and always will be, play.

And what exactly is play? Play, in the end, can and should be a kind of meaningless experimentation. Play means taking on a different role, a different set of attitudes, and a distinctly different viewpoint from the everyday. If you're not having fun, you're not playing, you're working, and in this case that means working with zero chance of any kind of real-world reward. Useless work is a fast highway to boredom, depression, and disillusionment. LIfe is depressing enough, why would anyone want to bring the stress of work into their leisure time?

So, my heartfelt advice is this: Stop working, start playing

Forget about what's best, strongest, or most likely to win. In Lineage 2 there is no winning and no losing; there is only the game. If you focus on winning, being the strongest, being the most powerful, and so on, all you are doing is transforming your play into work, and why would you want to do that?

If you can't decide between fighter or mage, create one of each and switch back and forth between them. True, other characters will advance faster, but what difference does that make? The important thing is you are developing a deeper feel for the mechanics of the game than any single character player ever will. If you play a mage on Monday, then take your fighter party hunting on Tuesday, you will be far better prepared to compensate for the mage's lack of toughness by spending as much time protecting them as you do seeking out new monsters. As a result, your party's healer will live longer, your party will fight harder, and everyone's game time will be more enjoyable.

The reverse is true as well. On Wednesday you can take the mage out with a party of strangers and you'll be far better at predicting when to sit back and heal, and when to finish off a monster too tough for the fighters to handle. As a result, your mage will gain a reputation for wisdom as well as skill, and more people will be happy to have you along with they head out after something really big, netting you an even bigger pay-off in cash, items, and those ever-important experience points.

The same holds true for every choice the game brings you. If you can't decide, then don't decide. Try every option, visit every city, make money, lose money, gain experience, lose experience, gain items, and lose them, do it all! You might never be the king of Aden, but hey, there can only be one king, it doesn't have to be you.

Play the game, don't work at it.

February 03, 2004

Changing times

The Japan Closed Beta for Lineage II ended on January 26. Now I am gnawing away my fingertips waiting for the Open Beta which will finally start on Feb. 11. In order to help the time pass more quickly, I've been hanging out at Universal Realms, posting in the forums, browsing their immense database on gameplay and game items, and so on. However, it struck me today that despite six-plus years of active Usenet participation, I have not scanned a single Usenet post in close to two years. Well, that seemed like a good excuse to skip over to Google and see what kind of buzz Usenet was generating on the single greatest game since Space Invaders.

I found four posts, all over a year old.

Whoa! Has the world changed so much in such a short time? Is the long predicted end of Usenet finally in sight?

Probably not. There are hundreds of thousands of other very active topics, but Lineage II is not one of them. Methinks the reason is actually quite simple. The kind of people who love Lineage II are visually oriented. We have little or no experience with text-based MUDs, and even less interest. Some folks do combine role-playing and fantasy writing with their Lineage II experience, but the game itself is so consuming that 99% of the participants would rather spend their online time playing than fantasizing. The game is so compelling that dozens of Americans are downloading the Chinese client and playing in the Taiwan Open Beta even though they cannot understand a single word of the chat dialogues, NPC dialogues, quest dialogues, and so on. They cannot read a single line of text, not even a weapon description, but they are in the gameworld, exploring the countryside, killing monsters, joining or starting clans, and everything else the game allows. There is no other game in the world, online or otherwise, that can inspire that kind of fevered obsession.

When this game goes retail the concerns and outcry over online addictions will jump tenfold, but even they will not be able to stop the stampede. Cyberspace is rapidly approaching the Sci-Fi fantasy/nightmare of an alternate reality so compelling that lives vanish, cities are abandoned, and civilization collapses. There has not been a Pandora's box like this one since the Age of Exploration sent European visionaries scrambling to the four corners of the globe. I don't know what our future will look like. I'm pretty sure it won't be a Gibsonesque gothic landscape of cowboys and corporations, but I'm equally certain there are going to be some staggering parallels.

See you in Aden, or maybe Paragon City.

Then again, it will probably be someplace neither one of us can predict.

Reflections from the future: December 17, 2012

A few days ago there was a terrible mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. A decade ago, I wrote the post above. Much has changed in my life since I wrote that post. Just for starters, City of Heroes was shut down on November 30, 2012, so we couldn't meet in Paragon City even if we wanted to. The North American version of Lineage II has suffered one shut down and been revived, so we could still meet in Aden, but the beautiful world of Lineage II has become a morass of bullies, thugs, and other malcontents. I no longer have the optimism about and enthusiasm for virtual worlds that I had ten years ago.

Mark Twain reportedly said, "If a man is not a liberal when he is young then he has no heart. If a man is not a conservative when he is old then he has no brain."

In ten years I have aged three times that, partly because ten years ago I was still thinking like a teenager instead of like a grown man with two children. Well, now both children are grown men and that has led me to re-evaluate my life on many different levels. It is surprisingly painful to go back over this blog and read not just the old posts, but some of the "Reflections" I added only two years ago. Times have indeed changed. The internet has become part and parcel of everyday life. "Smart" phones that fit in a pocket now have more power than supercomputers did in 2003. Cyberspace is now home to about a third of the Earth's people and it is nothing like anyone imagined a mere decade past. For those wise enough to learn the lesson, cyberspace has taught us that there is no utopia in our future. Our best hope is to work everyday to prevent our world from spiraling downward into a dystopia far worse than any we have imagined so far.

It is a dark winter day here, ten years in the future. It is a day of mourning and a day of reflection. The cavalcade of horrors that has been visited on the Earth over the course of the past decade has been nightmarish enough to make the Mayan prediction of the world's end on December 21, 2012 seem positively optimistic. It is extremely selfish of me, but I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.