Playing the Game (part three)

hypercube Those of you who are old pros at gaming may find little of use in this post, for it is written for the benefit of less experienced people. For I do love gaming, and because of this I have the desire to share this variety of virtual experience with others, and in particular I am seeking, among other things, to alleviate the frustration many experience when attempting to become gamers. Gaming is a complex undertaking, and those of us who have embraced it as one of our major activities often take for granted all the details we have mastered, and we forget that, to a newcomer, all this jargon, all these dos and don’ts, all this methodology and lore can easily overwhelm and tax the patience and stamina of someone trying to come to grips with it all for the first time.

Face it; we all begin as noobs. The term derives from “newbies”. Originally it merely meant someone new to a computer network or online system of any kind. Just as the human being comes into the world unable to walk, unable to speak, to dress itself, or to find its own food, newcomers to any system find themselves both frustrated by simple details and frustrating to their more experienced associates, who find the slowness, irritability, and cluelessness of newcomers both vexing and amusing. For an easy example, what do you say to someone who demands to know why, in the name of Hollerith, do you have to click a button that says “Start” in order to shut down Windows? The simple answer, of course, is that the Start button on the Windows taskbar is the “start” of a collection of menus, one option of which is “Turn Off Computer”. To a newcomer, it seems ridiculous terminology, the idea of clicking a Start button in order to get to a menu selection that stops it. But we all get used to it and stop noticing how weird it sounds….until we have to explain it to someone new to it.

When a person logs into their very first online game, they are often unable to move. How many of you remember the first videogames, as large as refridgerators, with their fairly intuitive joysticks that you simply pushed in the direction you wanted Mario to move? In online games they refer casually to WASD control, expecting newcomers to understand by magic that pressing the A key moves them to the left, the D to the right, and so on. (This is where I, as a left-handed mouser, have the advantage, as I discussed earlier. I use the inverted-T arrow keys, which seem more intuitive to me.)

Even more frustrating than not being able to move is not being able to communicate. How do you ask for help when you cannot send messages to other players? All online games now feature a chat interface reminiscent of the ancient BBS systems, but you have to know how to get the box you type into to come up on the screen. And even after you learn how to do that, you are hampered by your own level of mastery of the QWERTY keyboard layout. In my own case I never learned to “touch-type” as we used to call it (now it is simply called keyboarding), so writing these words to you, I have to look down at the keyboard as I rapidly peck at the keys. And when you learn how to use the in-game text chat of World of Warcraft, slow as text chat is, you might think some of the players are telepathic, because they can fight and somehow communicate at the same time. This is not magic — it is because they are wearing headsets with microphones and using TeamSpeak, Ventrilo, Yahoo Instant Messenger with voice, Skype, or some similiar application that transmits human voice across the internet so that they can talk hands-free and let their fingers do the walking all over their enemies. And of course they are always suprised to meet someone who tries to game without a headset. To them (to us), it is as if you were trying to play basketball without shoes.

All right, so you are a noob, for now. We all were, at one time. But you don’t have to stay one. Yes, there are a lot of extra details that your friends or the helpful young salesman at Best Buy neglected to mention. There is random, haphazard gaming, casual gaming, and serious gaming. If you want to game well, then you will have to go through some of the same learning experiences we all did. And probably make most of the same mistakes we all made. But you have to learn from those mistakes, and learn quickly, or your friends will find teaming with you painful at best.

Oookay, you have bought your first online game and signed up for access…or maybe you are still in the free-trial period, trying to decide if you want to commit the time and money to this enterprise. You probably want to know how you can get through the learning curve as fast as possible, so that you will not be left in there soloing because no one wants to team up with you. Let’s talk about some of the things that will help you do this.

First, get a computer with a decent graphics card. All of these games require a separate GPU or (graphics processing unit) to take the heavy calculations off the back of your computer’s CPU so it won’t slow to a crawl (crawl = dead in online games). Someday all computers will comes with heavy-duty graphics cards plugged into their motherboards, but for now you might be suprised how many computers are still being sold with inferior hardware. You have to have this. Stop complaining . You wouldn’t expect to drive a car without a motor, or fly a plane without wings, so how can you play a graphic-intensive online game without a 3D graphics accelerator? Just get it.

Second, get a headset with a microphone. Yes, you could do this with one of those came-with-the-computer stick microphones (or the built-in mikes on some laptops) and the speakers that either plug into your computer or are built in. Luckily, just about all computers now come with sound, since people play music and watch DVDs on them. So yes, you could survive without a headset. But headsets are not that expensive, compared to the price of a decent computer. And with a headset you can (a) muffle outside sounds so that you concentrate on the game and (b) play without everyone around you hearing what your guildies are saying in the heat of combat.

Third, get the largest screen you can manage, within reason. These games are immersive, and you feel more in the game when it occupies a significant fraction of your visual field, instead of being compressed into a tiny screen you are peering at.

Fourth, (okay I’ll stop using numbers now) and this is the hardest part, do your best to explain to your friends, lover, spouse, whatever, that when you are gaming it is not cool to tap you on the shoulder or yell “hey, look at this!” I lost a girlfriend partly because she did not or could not understand this point. Being interrupted in the middle of a boss fight when you are the tank or healer can get your whole team killed. People who are not gamers often do not seem to understand that it is not only you that they are inconveniencing. They just don’t get the fact that those swordsmen and sorcerers on the screen are being controlled by real people who tend to get, like, really annoyed when their avatars all die horribly because someone (and we all know who it was) was not focussed, was not  paying attention. Gaming has split up marriages, it is a fact. The best way to avoid screwing up your love life if you are a gamer is to get your Significant Other into gaming too. Spread the addiction, so they won’t think you need counseling. And if, god help you, you are unequally yoked to a non-gamer, then you will have to find ways to spend quality time with him or her when you are not gaming, so they won’t feel neglected and resentful.

Okay, you have a decent computer and screen and headset and you are about to go questing. Now what? The next thing you need is in the game, and it’s a simple but very important thing: room in your inventory. In all good MMORPGS your character has an inventory (sometimes called a bag or backpack) that you carry things in. In WoW, in fact, it is several bags. Before you head out on a quest you need to empty out your inventory, so that when you kill stuff and receive new items (drops) you will have room to carry them back with you. Otherwise you will have to destroy something you are carrying when that cool sword or wand gets dropped by the boss so that you can pick it up. So sell the stuff you don’t really need to an in-game vendor, or shove it into your in-game bank (which most have now) to make room for the gear and crafting materials (often called reagents, a term borrowed from chemistry, where it refers to ingredients) you are going to acquire while you are out roaming about in the virtual wilderness or the dungeons.

We have already covered the basics of team composition and the duties of each kind of team member. Oh, yes, it is perfectly possible in most games to roam around by yourself, in peace and quiet, operating at your own pace. But usually you will get more done if you are on a team with others. And running an instance or dungeon by yourself is asking for trouble unless you are a real pro. So get on a team. Join a guild. Treat these total strangers as if they are important friends…because they just might come to be. Tell them what you need and find out what they need. Finding yourself a place in a good team makes a big difference in almost any game…in all worlds.

You are out there and questing, and you get a call of nature. Do NOT get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of a fight. Take care of such things before you get into a battle. Let your team mates know you will be right back. A simple “brb bio” is considered cooler than saying or typing “be right back, i gotta go sit on the toilet” (bio is short for biological i.e., “I have to go take care of something my biological body in the Real World needs”). Okay, sometimes you cannot avoid an unannounced interruption. The stove has caught on fire, the baby is crying, the pizza you ordered  has just arrived and there is no one else to answer the door, and so on. If that happens, apologize when you get back to your keyboard or headset, even if you do not feel guilty. Do it anyway. It is good manners, and shows your team mates that you have not forgotten them, that you have not deserted them. Most likely they will respond with a “np” for “no problem”. They need to know you will not leave them hanging without a good reason.

Now you have the technology, you’ve set aside the time, you’ve found a team and your place in it, and you’re on a roll. Your bags are empty except for the few things you really need to take along like healing potions. One more thing you need to leave behind: your ego. And one thing you need to take along with you is a sense of humor. If you have any empathy at all, it can be hard to see your own avatar die…but unless you are really amazing, it is likely. You will make mistakes. You didn’t see the three Defias behind that boulder. You didn’t realize there were two bosses in that group. You hit the wrong key and moved forward when you meant to move sideways and agrroed a whole boss group that the team wasn’t ready for. Now your team mates are ghosts running back to their bodies and tempers are likely to be a little heated. If it was your mistake, apologize as fast as you can. One of the worst things to encounter on a quest is a member who screws up and won’t admit it. You apology may be grudgingly accepted, but a little residual irritation is better than the team falling apart or the team leader kicking you from the team because he thinks you are  jerk. And if someone else managed to screw up and get you killed, or couldn’t heal you fast enough, or couldn’t distract the boss from hammering you, and they apologize, then let it go and move on. No one is perfect and eventually everyone will screw up.

Virtual life is no more perfect than real life. Sometimes you get the pony…and sometimes you get what the pony left you. There will be good times and not as good times. But the quest goes on. The relationships go on. There will always be another day, another fight. –MRK

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98 Responses to “Playing the Game (part three)”

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