I’ve noticed games are a lot more fun when I’m not actually playing them.
Let me explain. After I’ve beaten the final boss, run off a group of PKs or won the Super Bowl, more often than not, I exit the game and look for someone with whom to share my accomplishments. Invariably, the conversation with a friend becomes longer than the original act, percolating into strategic talk, old catchphrases and half-remembered stories of triumph and sorrow in similar situations. And when you play the same games as all your friends, when you start living the games outside of their media, it only gets worse.
I’m part of a group of guys here at work that can only be classified as enablers. Every time I put gaming on the backburner for a new hobby, someone inevitably drags me back. Jon, Producer for the magazine, got us all playing EQ2 for a while. Then, Erik, our Web Developer, convinced me Shadowbane was the place to be. Then Jason, our IT Director, got us all playing Oblivion. We’re a group of addicts with ADD, chasing a content high, devouring everything in front of us and burning out like relapsed junkies. It’s all about the Fix, and whenever I get away, the guys find something new.
Of course, I’m no better. I’ve led unsuccessful charges into UO, Shadowbane (not to be confused with Erik’s suggestion – we’re not immune to landing in the same place twice) and Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines (this one would’ve worked if it hadn’t demolished every PC it touched two Novembers ago). No matter the game, there’s always the resultant dialogue. Did you do this quest? Where were you last night? We should form a guild with a stupid name like Tasty Breakfast Treats. Jesus Christ, how did JR (our intrepid Contributing Editor) figure out the best min-maxed template again? When we’re at work or out drinking or hanging out at someone’s house, our nerd-speak pokes through, a latticework of facts and trash talk connecting over whatever branch we land on.
Most fresh in my mind, though, is our relationship with EVE.
Getting us into the game commonly described as “the best screensaver in the business” was a pretty tough sell; it took two members of the group to drag the rest of us in. Jon and Shannon (our Industry Relations guru) led a two-pronged assault on the rest of the group. I’m the gaming equivalent of a faux-cynical pill popper. I’ll talk a lot, but at the end of the day, I’m taking whatever’s in front of me; the only way to find fun is to continually look for it, so I was the first to subscribe. Quickly afterward, everyone else fell in line, taken in by Jon’s offer of free crap, Shannon’s mid-work stories of stealing stuff from other players like a debonair Dread Space Pirate Roberts, and me constantly appending “in spaaaaaaaaaace” to everything I said. How could anyone opt out?
We all jumped in, joining into Jon’s corp about as quickly as we were destroying it. Shannon had a couple weeks of skill training on us, and he had already developed a reputation as an ore thief, someone who would fly up to defenseless miners, take their harvested minerals and run off to the nearest station before the miners could call for help. In EVE, ore thieves enjoy a special rung on the social ladder. In the real world, they would be right around white-collar criminals. In EVE, these are the people even murderers look down on.
Needless to say, our band of merry industrialists (and, in my case, pirate in training) was drawing a lot of heat from other corps, and these other corps had a lot more manpower than six or seven newbies with chips on their shoulders. By the time the second corp declared war on us and blew a few of us out of the sky, the talk at work turned ugly.
Accusatory looks got cast at Shannon from across the room, and two camps quickly formed: those of us who didn’t particularly care and those of us who felt death’s sting. And in EVE, death really stings. We were no longer a group of buddies playing games, we were a disjointed group of junkies and half of us didn’t like the way the other half rolled. Rather than talking about which skills to train next or where the best missions were, we were arguing between sending enemy corps money as peace offerings and trying to pick off their individual members as we could. Half of us desired peace. Half of us desired guerilla war.
The worst part, though, was we all liked the game in our own ways. We trumped the “screensaver” crack after getting through the awkward newbie experience, and we all found a niche rather quickly. A few of us got into the tactical side of truly 3-D combat, Erik loved the idea of being a space-trucker able to make millions in a single run across the galaxy, and the rest of the contingent really enjoyed mining ore and producing tons of player-created objects. All in all, we had the potential to become a pretty good corp, despite our size, if only we could get around Shannon’s insatiable need to piss off miners.
That’s how the disintegration started. The unspoken understanding between all of us that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the one seeped into everything we did as a group. While those of us in the pro-war faction tried to keep the peace within the group, Shannon’s antics, combined with our own, were too volatile to jive with the guys who were just trying to make a buck.
Pretty soon, no one was working with anyone. What’s worse, no one was talking about EVE in the office. The best part of playing together was replaced with aggressive silence, everyone daring one another to bring up the fact our play styles were utterly incompatible. The high we’d been chasing finally arrived, but it all affected us in personally different ways.
One by one, we began to drop off. Shannon was the first to go, but the exodus commenced shortly thereafter. Once the levee broke, it was a lot easier for all of us to make our departure from EVE and head off in our own directions for a while, looking for our own thing before inviting the rest of the group into it.
What was most interesting during our period of virtual self discovery was the talk around the office, though, and how each world would interact and merge with the others. My 30 second KotOR2 review mingled with Jon’s EQ2 story, which somehow got JR and Erik onto their misadventures in WoW. Really, it’s less about the game and more about the BS session at the coffee machine. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what world you’re in, as long as you’re in it with someone.
Joe Blancato is a Content Editor for [i]The Escapist Magazine[/I].