2.4.14

Falling In

The sun was up and shining outside the other bedroom window. While the world woke, I shut down my ailing jet-engine PC and snuggled in on an inflatable green mattress. Summer had always been that time best suited for cracking open new games. And wasn’t this recent college graduate all but owed a break before kowtowing to a life of soul-shredding careerism? Mom and dad wouldn’t mind.

And maybe they didn’t, on week two or three, or twelve. But by the point Galaxies really got going, I was already well-entangled in this other game called don’t get kicked out. Job applications, all to extravagant positions at games companies, all fueled by caffeine overdose, angst and procrastination, all politely refused or unanswered for months. Mom would give me time to figure this life thing out. Dad wanted a plan. Both, more than anything, wanted me to build a healthy and satisfying life; both set up smart boundaries, when they could corner me for conversation.

Easier said than done.

My bedroom’s side window was preferable to the front door as an entry and exit point, when exercise or escape became absolutely necessary. The house had a dozen kinds of nightingale floorboard.  The front door cried like a cat in heat. Socks had to be worn on hardwood floors, at all times. To my parents I was the ghost in the side room: unpredictable if disturbed, and rarely visible to the naked eye. The blind corners of my odd bedroom and large desk made for great comic stealth. In my own mind I was the plucky ninja, living undetected in the heart of the samurai fortress.

Meanwhile, the sheer depth of Galaxies, the volition and promise of that universe, hit me like meth. I started going twenty, twenty-two hours at a time if I could, fueled by five-shot espressos and whatever food I could snag when the kitchen sounded empty. I lost 40 pounds in two months.

Magni may have given me a rifle, but Medic held the most promise for tagging along with the cool kids. Magni Jormund used a huge, two-handed, nuclear-powered sledgehammer. His high school friend Azrael was a Master Ranger. Phobius played all hours at Azrael’s dad’s house, eventually moving in; the three of them had grown up with my very first in-game friend: Cameron.

Magni and Azrael, before long, would be the first two games friends I'd meet outside a game.

Waiting ten Earth minutes at a time to travel between Galaxies's planets, the four of us arrived in the misty green of Dathomir. Magni, Azrael, and Phobius had all spent an extra twenty or so minutes getting “buffed,” priming for battle by bartering with sidewalk doctors and watching exotic dancers (hey, they had to have some systems-based reason for sexy dances). I figured, why bother buffing myself? I'd only be healing.

Off in the distance, obscured in the digital mist, a couple of ancient bull rancors walked back and forth. If you’ve seen Return of the Jedi, this is the building-sized, leathery-skinned creature that Jabba the Hutt keeps under his chair, to terrify then masticate solicitors. Some of the Galaxies rancors are smaller, some are bigger. These were bigger. And, apparently, these would do. Rancors make nice, heavy, stack-of-phonebooks-dropping sounds as they lumber around. Their shrill calls are eerie, a roar you’d hear while lost in Jurassic Park. One walks up and starts to open Phobius like a lunchbox. I heal Phobius. I die instantly. Then, with the rancor looming over my broken body, I die permanently.

A few days later, apparently unfazed by my Dathomir performance, Phobius texts me in-game, sending co-ordinates.

“We’re at war!” He's repeating.

Thirty or forty rebels gathered to one side of the field. A yellow lightsaber glowed. I could see a vague outline of the Imperials, and a two-sided red saber. In the center of the battlefield, somebody dressed like Beat It Michael Jackson was dancing. Red leather jacket, black jeans, jheri curl. Heedless to the danger.

It was Magni.

Both sides traded energy bolts, and a mess of sword, axe, and hammer-wielding players met in the middle. The fighting went at least ten minutes, the riflemen and I crawling back farther and farther, until the Imperials overwhelmed our puny band. Before getting permanently killed again, I spy Magni. Still alive, still dancing in the middle of a battlefield. Surrounded by dozens of corpses. 

Back in Gig Harbor, the tension of perpetual stealth was taking its toll. My folks' ever more clever attempts to communicate impending eviction? Getting harder to avoid. The last two times dad knocked, there was barely enough time to leap onto the slowly leaking plastic air mattress to feign comatose sleep.

The girlfriend was tired of making 45-minute drives to pick my ass up on weekends. Oh yes, there was a girlfriend. A very thoughtful one. Well into SWG she hit me with a clever idea: apply for grad school. Her ulterior motives – being the high school valedictorian and a legitimate scholar – were my future stability and happiness. That was nice, but the gamer/con artist in me immediately saw two convenient nuances. First, students get to keep living with their parents! And dedicating myself earnestly to the scholar’s path would only add to the sizeable arsenal of reasons to contribute nothing around the house. I would instead spend every available second ardently preparing the highest possible quality of college application materials. Second, actually getting accepted? That’s two-to-five more years of classes in the afternoon, cocktails, then gaming all night. I think yes. Grad school. Quite the erudite decision.

I went to share this happy, happy news with my folks.

It didn’t do much for the perpetually-exhausted look in their eyes. Looking back, it didn’t do much for my calcified ambitions, or withering dignity. Some creature was looming, flat and banal. When its gaze got remotely close, I was long gone. Dived deep into SWG. At some point, the fifty-pound CRT monitor migrated to the hardwood floor, making me hunch awkwardly if I wanted to play. Intended as disincentive, the sharp throb in my back only furthered the miserable sentence that was reality. I’d started pilfering any beer, wine, or whiskey my folks hadn’t glued down – sometimes watering it after. Not knowing how else to get away from the unnatural gravitational pull of Galaxies, one early AM I spent the last of a nest-egg, about a grand my deceased grandparents had set aside for school, on a ticket across the Pacific Ocean.

One downside to getting a really good deal on airfare was not boarding the airplane sooner. Back Ba'aar, with healing losing its charm, I shifted gears to the crafting in Galaxies; it was like nothing before or since in online games. A miner in World of Warcraft can only ever get one kind of copper, can only smelt that with one tin, to make one bronze. All blacksmiths in WoW can use that one bronze to churn out identical bronze shoulderpads. No different in armor, strength and stamina bonuses, no matter whether the blacksmith is an illustrious grand master, or a journeyman. Galaxies had nine varieties of copper, with specific types required for the most coveted weapons, armor, or armoire. All these coppers, steels, low grade ores, had a selection of eleven attributes, like Conductivity, Overall Quality, Malleability, Flavor, each ranked from 1 to 1000.

We could geek the hell out, get real in-depth on material quality, surveying, and mining…  But...

Well, shit. Just a little. Imagine – hundreds of materials – some with six or seven attributes. Most changing in quality weekly. Some violently protected. Many stockpiled. The game had depth. Perpetually-identical bronze shoulderpads? Pfah, I say! Compare that to the armor all fighting players in SWG begged, borrowed and killed for: composite. Composite armor ran the gamut – from near-useless – to pieces that blocked 100% of all damage, from everything but lightsabers. Sony literally had to rewrite the goddamned game so players with 100% armor couldn't just roam through cities, heedlessly slaughtering anyone and anything not a Jedi. I wasn't keen on that kind of crafting. It took time – scouring shops for fragile dragon tissues – haggling with Night Sister hunting parties – dealing with smugglers.

A touch too much for the short attention span in me, though there was an easy crafting profession, with the goods I'd been wanting for awhile. It dawned on me when Magni re-arranged my furniture on the ceiling. My 'bearded jax' (a cat-sized alien with a devilish goatee) looked down as if to ask, “Why? Why must your furnishings be so plain? Also, why the fuck would you give Magni household permissions?” Two good points, bearded jax. Two good points. But since Magni is not easily outpranked, I'll start by working towards becoming a master architect.

This backpacking through New Zealand thing would be a minor delay only.

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