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!