The Tale of Gunnbjörn the Dwarf (and other thoughts) [#52weeks]


A couple of weeks ago, a thought popped into my head: I miss playing World of Warcraft. Now, I know what you’re thinking: *back away slowly, don’t make any sudden movements, just leave the crazy lady alone*. Before you jump through the wall, leaving a you-shaped hole and a trail of dust, I’ll say I only played WoW for a few months and I was never addicted. I can say this with complete confidence as someone who is addicted to plenty of other things (who wants another cup of coffee? anyone? no, just me?). Although I miss it, I don’t think I enjoyed the game for the same reason many other people do.

Ok, the leveling up is fun and feels pretty rewarding. The gear is pretty fun to collect. I enjoyed the fact that I was able to play with some real-life friends. But in reality, the main thing I really miss about WoW is my character. I only ever made one. He is a dwarf. His name is Gunnbjörn. He has a pet bear named Bearbjörn. And I miss the heck out of those guys.

I’m not sure if it’s sad or sweet that video game characters can sometimes feel like old friends from the past: gone, but fondly remembered. It certainly means that the game designers were doing their jobs when that happens. I think, though, that it has a lot to do with the same phenomenon that causes very vivid memories to come back when a certain song plays on the radio. That song, those characters, they remind you of the people and places that you associate with the time in your life when you used to listen to that music or play that game.

Gunnbjörn was around for a time in my life filled with anticipation and excitement, as well as stress and a certain amount of ambition and accomplishment. I started and finished playing WoW during my senior year of college. During that time I both felt like everything was on the line, and that there was so much out there in the big wide world, waiting for me to go grab hold of it. Maybe I really connected with WoW during that time because it reflected some of the epicness and struggle that I was experiencing IRL.

I’m currently playing a whole different set of games, and now that I think about it, there may be elements of them that reflect my current situation. More on that next time.


Looking Forward to Looking Forward [#52weeks]

First off, I just want to say that I never really intended for this blog to be as much about my personal life as it’s become. But such is life, I guess. I keep telling myself that my next post will be about something else. Perhaps there’s just been a lot for me to ponder lately.

In any case, today I want to talk about letting go of something you hope for, in exchange for the hope for something unknown.

Freedom is close to the top of my list of things I value. But I’m not talking about the kind of raw independence that you see championed so often in the US: the desire to be able to do whatever one wants with no regard for consequences or external factors guiding choices made. I’m talking about real freedom. I think it’s something that you can really only find in your mind. It’s the ability to look out in front of you while you’re standing in the present, and see everything out there as future, as opportunity, but most importantly as unknown.

So often we plan and plan and plan, and hope, and try to control outcomes. And after so much hoping and fretting and plotting, you look out in front of you, and suddenly chunks of the future are already the past in your mind. Those plans and scenarios, conditions and contingencies, they start to restrict what you see. The options you see start to diminish, or mutate so that they can fit into this predetermined future-past.

I’m perhaps the most guilty of doing this to myself of everyone I know. It’s because I’m systematic, I like to plan, I like to judge my decisions based on predictable consequences. In my head I tell myself it’s my duty to myself and others to make informed decisions.

I didn’t think I’d manage to do this, but I’m going to work in video games to my explanation here, of the effects of all of this. Have any of you played World of Goo? Ok, for those who haven’t, you string these little goo guys together to try to build structures, but you have to be careful that they don’t warp or topple over (see Exhibit A). All this planning is just like that. The more you build up, the greater the stress that the whole thing will collapse, and the more restricted the options for your next move become.

Exhibit A via Manapool

Last night I tore down one of these gooey, future-past structures that I had been building for a while. And I won’t lie, it feels really sad. I said goodbye to a future me that I thought already existed out there somewhere. But it doesn’t compare at all to the burden that feels lifted. The past is back where it belongs and the future’s out there somewhere. And I maintain my faith that no matter how good my imagination or planning skills may be, I can’t imagine or plan anything as wonderful as what the future will reveal.

I’m going to take us out with Zee Avi, who besides having a beautiful voice, wrote an album of songs that very accurately describes my past 18 months. I highly recommend checking it out.

On girls and games

It seems every time I turn around, whether it’s reading news articles, gaming blogs, on twitter, or reading education journals online, someone somewhere is making some “new discovery” about girls and video games. For some of these articles, the discovery seems to be simply that there are girls out there enjoying video games. From there, the question becomes either “why the interest?” or “how can we harnas this interest?”. In other  cases, we see gaming evangelists (like the very awesome Jane McGonigal, in this video) spreading the word that girl gamers to exist, we’re out there, and we’re actually not that rare. In some cases the focus turns on the industry, and questions of in-game gender. Whether you’re looking for investigations into the business reasons behind the scarcity of female characters in games, or you share this dad’s lament over that scarcity, you’ll find there are plenty of discussions going on out there. A very interesting instance to note is November, 2012 when female gaming industry insiders took to the twitterverse to open up about sexism within the industry.

Now, I love video games. I’ve loved video games for a long time. I also didn’t realize I was considered a rare species until sometime late in high school. So I honestly don’t know how to feel about all of this hubbub. I have a lot to say, but I can’t really claim to be in the exact same camp with any of the aforementioned sources. All of it makes me feel uncomfortable, but it’s difficult to find the right words for it. Except maybe these:

Stop putting me in a box.

Of my many different characteristics and affiliations, my gender is actually one of the least notable, so I don’t understand why so many people want to focus on it. And I’m tired of being essentialized in this way, and reduced down to my femaleness. I want people to stop marveling at (or denying) the fact that people like me exist. I like playing games for many of the same reasons my male counterparts do. I also enjoy many things that qualify as “girly”. I like makeup. I like video games. I like getting bubble tea with friends. I like getting headshots in Borderlands 2. Saying all of that is not incongruous to me, and I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for people to understand. What’s there to get?

As Jessy would say, “feminism happened.” Get with the program people.

At the same time, I appreciate the fact that people are talking about this, and there is increasing support for girls in a very male-centric community. Hence, I am conflicted.

Unfortunately, this post doesn’t have a clear conclusion. Just a promise that I’ll be continuing to grapple with these things over the course of time. And be sure you will hear lots more about it.

In the meantime, please keep up with my #52weeks lovelies as listed over here and newly joined over here.