Legends of Ultima (Legends of Aria)

Do you remember 22 years when Ultima Online first came out and gangs of “red” (criminal) players ran around the map killing other unsuspecting players?  You know, that period of UO play just before the devs created the “safe space” known as Trammel?  I was 28 then.

And I hated Trammel when it first came out.  I thought it poisoned the pure essence of the game.  And besides that, at the time, I loved killing, ganking, and then laughing at upset people in the game.   It was fun… except when I was on the opposite side of the fun as a victim, then it wasn’t fun at all…  😦

But a funny thing happened after Trammel was introduced to the game: the original shard, named “Felucia”, turned into a ghost town.  In fact, I can remember running my “red” toon all over the map trying to find victims, but couldn’t because they had all gone to Trammel.  Why????!?!?  Didn’t they know how fun it was to have the ability to silently KOS any “blue” player you could find?

Apparently not.  And the historical fact of the matter is that Trammel saved Ultima Online. UO would not be what it is today if it were not for Gordan Walton’s decision to create a shard where players could experience the whole map without the constant fear of getting killed and looted by gangs of “reds”.

“Inherent in the UO brand was the fact it was a gritty, hardcore world of danger. We were not successful in bringing back the (literally) hundreds of thousands of players who had quit due to the unbridled PvP in the world (~5% of former customers came back to try the new UO, but very few of them stayed). We discovered that people didn’t just quit UO, they divorced it in a very emotional way. But we did keep more of the new players that came in by a large margin, significantly more than the PvP players we lost.”

22 years ago us players didn’t really know any better. We didn’t know anything about playing with other human beings on such a grand scale and we all made some mistakes.

So here comes Legends of Ultima in 2019.  It is a new game that wants to become just like UO was in those early days.   

As a Legends of Aria community server, the devs boast that their server is a community of PVP/PVE that taps into the “best” things about “the early eras of Ultima Online”. After reading this I enthusiastically joined the server and a guild, then worked on leveling my skills so that I could do some “unbridled PVP”– just like the old days, 22 years ago.

Then it happened: a gang of “reds” rode into a newbie area, killed me and stole all my stuff I was using to level.  After that, I immediately rage quit (because I have PTSD and get emotional too quick).

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After I calmed down I realized that Legends of Ultima is keen on making the same mistakes that UO did in the early days.  In fact, they are making the exact same mistake that UO made, i.e. the one that cost them “literally hundreds of thousands of player to”, not just quit UO, but “emotionally divorce it”.

That is pretty much what I did today with LoU.

Now kneel before me!

-Zod

Breaking through the silence

Part 1: Smokey the Cat walked up the back porch stairs with a bloody mouth.

When I saw him I thought he had killed another bird or something.  Nope, instead, he took a big fall, face first, and managed to separate the roof of his mouth from his jaw.  It looked bad.

True to himself, Smokey the Cat strolled inside. When I closed the door he posted himself beside the window and looked outside like he likes to do… for a while.

After that Smokey walked around, sniffed his dish, and when he was done with his routine, he uncharacteristically sat himself down in the middle of the rug.
He never does that, so I picked him up and took him into the bathroom to see what was the matter.

Smokey didn’t like the exam I gave him one bit.  In fact, he gave me so much trouble about looking at his mouth that I gave up and put him on the floor.  Once on the floor, Smokey ran to sit under the couch, again not typical.

The animal emergency room wanted $4500 to make kitty better again.  Fortunately, my cousin only charged me $200 and Smokey is recovering.  Thanks, Cuz!

Smokey is not as pretty as he used to be but he is still alive.  ❤

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Part 2: When this stuff happened I was trying to feel connected and valued on a certain Discord server.  

Prior to joining the Discord community in question, I had been playing Conan Exiles for a month or two and love.  But what I didn’t love was the toxic “community” on the official Funcom servers.  So after getting booted from a big PVP clan, I decided to try my hand at a roleplaying server

Loved it.  Loved it.  Loved it. 

And so I wanted to share the news about Smokey the Cat’s travail with my online “Frans”.  Not for support per se’, but because I believe that some people in the community like Smokey and would want to send him well wishes.   

I wanted to share but I didn’t share.

Why? it feels tedious and perfunctory from the outside

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I get it though because naturally and professionally I am an outsider.  It is my job to observe, teach, and write, now more than ever.

The position of an outsider helps me to gather data.  This is one reason I identify with the character “Ishmael”, but there are other reasons. Nevertheless, gonzo methodology and an “outsider” personality do not mix well.

Or maybe they do?

One thing that is for certain is that I actually do experience community on Discord, and have been experiencing it for the last 6 months.

In fact I intentionally experience and struggle with it: i.e. I make friendships; I get my heart broken; I tell stories; I talk shit; I share my frustrations (mainly with the VA Disability and Medical systems); I write fictions; I get disappointed; I co-create fictions; I learn about technology; I sing and participate in Karaoke; run awayand I go to bed at a reasonable time.

All of this on Discord only, with scarcely any “real world” context for any of the human relationships these things require. 

When I made the decision to leave the Ruins of the Storm Unchained Discord server my heart was not in it, and it still won’t catch up!   I don’t expect it to, my heart does what it likes.

And so I was thrilled to be introduced, in person, to a friend of one of my dear colleagues from Austin Community College. This friend of my colleague is a “professional gamer” and has decades of experience in refereeing games and… in leading a real-life gaming community.

After meeting said colleague’s friend, and getting reacquainted, I attended a meeting of “The Royal Dragoon Guards” last Saturday, April 6, and had a blast playing The Fantasy Trip.

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Now hopefully the fact that I joined the Discord after meeting the community in person will make a difference for me.  We shall see. 

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Outward — Silence

It feels like silence this morning; it feels like I am alone even though I still have all the good things I had yesterday.

I feel quiet and alone this morning; I miss some people I left behind. 

I am working on my online creative writing course assignment; reading a part of one of the many books I have in the queue; writing a preliminary thesis statement for my librarian friend (so she can help me do a “super-search”); starting my literature review even though I haven’t done the “super-search” yet.

Lots of work, and listing it all on my blog, helps me to forget about the fact that I feel silence this morning.   Lots of work, and listing it all on my blog, helps me to forget about the fact that I miss some people.  c’est la vie .

So this morning I purchased and am downloading Outward.   My intent is to play this RPG alone for a while, as a casual gamer, at least until I finish my literature review.

I also plan on running a few pen and paper RPGs where I will be the game master.  DM me on Discord if you are interested in playing your character in my world on Rolld20.net.

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Plug in, Plug out, Power down

3/21/2019
This morning I plugged myself back into the online community that I have been hanging out with for the last 5 months. The break I took from being connected was overdue, but I didn’t know that until last night when I noted that the day had been productive.

3/28/2019
During my second unplug (3/22/2019) I started to realize that I was feeling happier “offline” and free of Discord.   With this in mind, I stayed with the “community” for a few more days and than left.   I won’t be going back. 

There is a logical series of events that led me to go on “my own path” but I will spare you the details of my drama-filled internal world (for now 😉 ).  Suffice it to say that I stopped having fun over the last few days and then I left. 

I feel sad about leaving because I desire real connection online and for a minute Ruins of the Storm was looking like my community–  I even started to refer to the group as “my community”.

But it’s not “my” community even if it is “community”.  

(to be continued)

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Conan Exiles, Adieu

My wife got on my case the other day because she feels my blog (this blog) doesn’t contain enough details– she feels I should better explain terms like “crazy”.

She’s right.  I should follow her advice and I should explain things better so that people will naturally understand and accept . Except that I have some experience with social groups and, therefore, do not believe that there is value for me in having a blog that is clearer for you.

# So this blog is for me to organize my thoughts and process my feelings.

Delighted as I am when you read it, I also have to be okay with only me reading it.

And I will be.

## So this is a boilerplate season-ending, where the Texan digitally rides away.

It’s not interesting or exceptional, and it’s definitely not fun.

But the show goes on, even though this season is over.

### The sign ahead reads:   “Chronicles of Elyria —>”

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Role Playing Games Part 1

Yeah I’m crazy. My life experience has changed the chemistry of my brain like no drug ever could have.

I’ve always been like I am now: crazy. Despite it I’ve been successful. Not nearly as “successful” as some, and certainly not as “successful” as I want to be, but good enough.

I fake it in public life as much as I can, at different times, and remain fully committed to doing amazing stuff during my life.

But the best stuff I’ve done is that I love. and have a beautiful wife, a person I would not live without, and who seems to love me. I have two lovely daughters and a son-in-law who seems okay. I have a best friend named Adam, whom I adore. I have a cat named Smokey who is the best friend. I own some land, some cars, a house, an interesting side business– every good thing a man could ask for, expect sanity.

But it wasn’t sanity that got me any of the things that I consider “best”. Nope, I’ve gotten these best things by always sticking to the plan, and doing the things I needed to do: i.e. college, clinical supervision (and therapy) (lots of therapy), teaching, professional development, high-quality direct services… and activism (“Public Sociology“).

It’s not hard work but I work hard at it.

And also I fake it. I faked it, and sorta “made it”, and after 10 years as a public intellectual, I made it to my dream job.

It was in beautiful Tacoma, Washington State, at Tacoma Community College (TCC) as their new Director of Advising Services– I had beat the competition by leveraging my extensive higher education resume, developing C-Suite references, and hiring a head hunter. I was well on my way to becoming a community college president, which was my next life goal.

Then BAM!! Out of nowhere, while I am selling my house in Texas…

…After three weeks on the job! the Vice President decided to non-renew the Dean who hired me.

I.E. the Dean who knew my departments and had the strong relationships was fired; the Dean who was good at the details and and “taking care of staff” was fired; the Dean who knew what the fuck she was doing when she hired me was fired. WTF! was I going to do now??

Like any manager, I knew what I had to do. I had to do an Army “about face!” and start meeting my new boss’s expectations if I ever wanted a job as a Community College President.

(to be continued)

Where will I go when I have no home?

In March of 2004 I was on my way home from Iraq.

My unit and I were in Kuwait to be precise, and we were there to clean up our vehicles after a long year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Our vehicles were hungry for a wash by the time we got to the what I imagine was a Nestle’s Industrial Truck Wash since it was a truck wash and there was a big Nestle’s sign hanging over the left side of it.

While the washing was going on our unit was bunked in a nearby warehouse with all the other spare parts. We slept on army cots as per normal for service in Iraq at the time.  I spent my days either at the wash racks talking to soldiers or intensively studying a textbook entitled Patterns of Infidelity and Their Treatment, I still have the book in my library.

The long year in Iraq had taught me all I ever wanted to know about infidelity, but I still needed to know more.  I needed to know more because it was my job to help some of my fellow soldiers deal with the fact that their relationships at home had come to an end.

One day I was walking across the rock yard in our camp, called “Fire Base Steel” after the fact that we were the 3-18 Field Artillery “Steel Professionals”, when suddenly my best friend Mike (Big Mike), who was also commander of Alpha “Gator” battery, came running up to me and said, “Chaplain, I need you to come over here right away, my driver is in trouble”.

So I ran over to Mike’s HUMVEE and I spotted his driver sitting behind his seat in the back.  He had his SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon M249) in his hands and the barrel was pointing at his face.

One novelty of the SAW that makes it a better combat light machinegun than it’s predecessor the M60 is that it can be belt fed or it can be magazine fed.  Mike’s driver had a magazine in the reciever and had charged the bolt.

For a moment I only saw the private and the SAW, as if I was in a dream.  I knew the man I was looking at well, and I knew his young wife.  The couple was around a decade younger than my 36 years, and they had an infant.

Big Mike, my best friend at the time, escaped the scene quickly and jogged back over to the TOC (Tactical Operations Center): I imagine to update his supervisor, the Battalion Commander, with a SITREP.

So I got in on the passenger’s side, in the back, and spent the next 4 hours talking to my new “battle buddy” until he was ready to go to the hospital.

We got him to the hospital, we kept him safe, and I then I started meeting with him weekly for around 6 months, until we finally left Iraq.

But back to Kuwait, the wash racks, the dirty vehicles, the warehouses, that is where I started after all…

I remember reading that textbook while lying on my cot, crying at times, and feeling about the soldiers affected by the patterns identified in the textbook.

I felt deeply then as I feel deeply now,  I cannot help myself.

I wondered where the soldiers whose spouses had let them down would go once they got settled again at “home”.  I wondered if they could even feel a sense of returning “home” under the conditions that they found themselves in. And I wondered if my marriage could survive Iraq; I wondered where I would go if she wasn’t there when I got “home”.

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Zod learned his lesson, finally

Tonight I learned a lesson that I could have, and should have, learned months ago.

As it turns out, the great and terrible “Tyrant” of The Crocodile Clans desires real connection and refuses to let the digital “community” stay transient and disorienting for him.

Zod takes what he wants!  He is Zod, kneel before him!

The trouble is that not everyone longs for deeper connection on the Discord… it’s just a game after all…

“So once upon a time Zod felt angry, disoriented, and befuddled in his mind about the circumstances he found himself in. He allowed his mind to play tricks on him; and soon after his mind betrayed and murdered him.”

It happened just the way I predicted it would, and it was all my fault.

Just a week earlier Zod had finally gotten the attention of the Great King of the North, (and friendly neighborhood Admin) Chullain.  It was a crowning achievement and something that all “bad guys” want: attention— Zod’s ego was finally to be satisfied!!!  Huzzah!!

And then the greatest triumph of all: Chullain spared Zod his life, choosing instead to chop off his left hand. Victory!  Zod, refined by the fire of persecution, would become more terrible!, more hideous!, and would summon Yog! :ebil:

That was Zod’s story.  It was a Ruins of the Storm story that I had helped to co-create.

I stole it from Zod until tonight, and I have regrets.

I also stole it from the community that I now call “home”.  For that, I apologize.

Zod Sails Away

Some Sociological Observations, 4 Months Later

As a Sociologist, I see a social group on Discord; I see one big social group that is the entirety of Discord, but the extent of my involvement is around 1200 members.

I happily came to this understanding of how big my particular group is, in its full extension, by way of meeting a young lady who is the head of the Engagement Team of the Vornair gaming community–  so for the price of some data entry tasks, I was enlighted, thank you @hinata1711!

To put it into perspective, our Discord server (social group) is relatively small and it is somewhat racially and economically homogeneous (although there is some racial diversity that is worth noting and I will spend a significant of time on the subject of race in the future).

Although I had theorized that this group was homogeneous in this way, I am happy to have had the assistance of the server owners at Ruins of the Storm and Song of Sword and Sorcery to post and advertise a 10 question demographic survey that I put together in order to verify my hypothesis.  At this point, February 24, 2019, I have 18  responses from the survey and the result represent and verify my initial thoughts.

Fortunately, I’ll be able to get some more data soon because the server owner of the new Ruins Unchained server, which is a reboot of the Ruins of the Storm server, has agreed to post the link to my survey in his Discord channel.  If all goes well, I should have between 36 and 40 survey entries by the end of March.   40 entries will give me a better picture of what the community of 1200 looks like, although I will continue to add survey data as it comes in.

And I continue to look at the demographics of the entire group because I think it says something about who we are in our leisure time and what we’re doing on the frontier of an immersive digital, digitized community that is in the adolescent stage of life.

Adolescence is a tricky time of life, but I think that the analogy fits.

One of the many people that I’ve had discourse with pointed out that it is this adolescent age that contributes to a lot of the interpersonal problems that we face as we go about doing community inside the net of digitized imagination play, on Discord and in the games we play.

In other words, digital community is sometimes intolerable.

But not always, and not even often, and that’s why we can return to the gaming over and over again, even as we are dealing with the natural confusion and anxiety associated with experiencing a new way of being in community.

And then there’s what’s happening in the games vs. what’s happening in the Discord.  Those things are intertwined and inextricable no matter how many rules we write to keep them separated from each other.

The content of the role-playing in the game and the content that is appearing in Discord are bound to each other.  In fact the whole operation is structured in such a way that is almost impossible to separate oneself from the taboo, and forbidden “ooc drama”.   “OOC Drama” naturally spills over from the game into rl interactions that are far from real. I point this out not as a critic, but as a biased observer of what is happening in our community.

Emoji are not real expressions of emotions and text is not enough to convey word meaning. So we compensate when we really need to communicate, and we get on voice chat.

But when I voice chat I have a sort of transient, disconnected feeling that I can’t imagine as being unique to only me since we are all trained, from birth, to communicate face-to-face– or least those of us who are 50 and older were. 😉

So another sociological observation is perhaps generational. I can feel the difference between a digital native and a digital immigrant when interacting on Discord.  But until now I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the literature around digital natives versus digital immigrants.  I will be diving into that literature very soon…

Another sociological observation that I make over and over again is how the power structures drive the narrative in our fiction. I was introduced to this concept in a sociological work entitled Shared Fantasy, Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds.  In this volume, Cary Allan Fine describes a consistent phenomenon: player-characters who sit close to the DM enjoy the game more than those who sit further away,  and that is to be expected. Unless of course the Dungeon Master is sophisticated and goes out of their way to look at their own unconscious biases.

And my final observation from for this post is more situated in the media than some my more general observations.  What I observed, over and over again, is that inasmuch as the Discord group has some solidarity and functions as a social group in a supportive way, it does so through the repetition of derivative media imagery.

In other words, support in our community most often comes in the form of conversations about superheroes, movies, videogame and the characters we create– characters who are all kinds of wondrous beautiful people who have wondrous, beautiful powers.  This content sharing ritual is cerebral, optimistic, fun… and we support each other through the use of it.

Thank you for reading this far.  And if you dare, I am available for RP on Song of Sword and Sorcery Conan Exiles, Ruins of the Storm Unchained Conan Exiles and Ruins of the Storm Atlas. 

Best regards,

-Zod