It is an idle August Sunday afternoon when I step into Wynbertson Ngie's room. At first glance, it looks like a normal college freshman-year double, but a cursory inspection reveals that games - in the form of several PCs, an XBox, two PS2s and a GameCube - occupy much more of the room than the inhabitants themselves, who have left only a pair of mattresses, some dirty dishes, and some scattered clothing to indicate that they actually live there. Unfortunately, the occupants' Spartan utility extends to the room temperature, and the heat generated by the critical mass of hardware makes the outside Southern California dry heat outside feel like a welcome relief in comparison. Or perhaps it's just my own weakness talking; neither Wyn nor his high school friends seem to notice. As I shake his hand and pound his fist to indicate the official beginning of business - that is, the gathering of material for this profile - he nods and merely says to me, "I'll be honest, I have no life."
My first impression of Wyn was fairly unremarkable. He stands at average height and build with jet black hair and is wearing the standard lazy basketball-shorts-and-t-shirt that is so prevalent in these parts. He is a newly 21-year old Southern Californian, born in the Philippines, who graduated from a local high school and is currently living with his parents. He takes community college classes on an infrequent basis and works as a traffic cop at the college most of the time, presumably enforcing parking violations and the like.
By night, however, Wyn is known in the world of Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI as Wynbert, a high-level Black Mage who runs a guild (called a "Linkshell") named TeaStation, which is roughly 90 people strong at the time of this writing. As his friends - all of whom are gamers in their own right - explain to me, he discovered FFXI sometime during the summer after high school, and things just weren't really the same afterwards. This is nothing new to me, of course; most of us can probably recount at least one or two tales of good friends who simply vanished once a certain online roleplaying game came about, and whether the game happens to be EverQuest or Lineage or World of WarCraft, the moral of the story is usually the same as Wyn's.
Having arrived at Wyn's house, we pick him up and head over to a local Cantonese-speaking diner and spend the next hour and a half soaking up the air conditioning, unlimited lemon iced tea, and cheap eats. Despite the mocking hopelessness Wyn's friends expressed about kicking the habit, it becomes pretty apparent from listening to everybody banter that all is not lost. While FFXI is still occasionally present in the general conversation - mostly in the form of Wyn nagging someone to try and catch up with his guild so they can play together - the topics of interest are usually those near and dear to the heart of any early-twenties male.
Long after dinner was consumed, he sat there discussing opinions on cars, money, his recent twenty-first birthday (celebrated at Hooters), bad Hollywood sequels (Matrix Reloaded and the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy come up as particular disappointments) and so on. Even once the topic of gaming is broached, FFXI is hardly mentioned; instead, Wyn and the others opt to discuss current events like the XBox 360's recently announced pricing structure ("It's just the industry's way of squeezing money out of your pockets") and Nintendo's long-awaited DS title, Nintendogs (Wyn: "It's just like a Tamagotchi. If you're going to spend that much time and money on something, you might as well get a girlfriend.") By the time we return to his room, the favorite topic is an upcoming camping trip. Wyn himself sternly reminds one of his other friends, a Battlefield 2 junkie, "No computers. Well, maybe a laptop."