30.4.14

The Dark Side

Not an hour after James, Jared and I said our goodbyes, I was back in Galaxies. Alongside acceptance at the University of Hawaiʻi and a job as a fish restaurant busboy, things got manageable with the folks. Business also picked up on Talus. Getting serious about home furnishings, I’d eventually notice that the most coveted luxury décor, i.e. 'a broken lightsaber', would occasionally be offered on market for a couple hundred credits (common resale, 10,000-100,000 credits). Some “artifacts” could be picked up infinitely – no agonizing over resource quality, or dealing with shady Krayt Dragon hunting parties. Niche ahoy! Artifact Dealer. It wasn't long before I had prime merchant real estate in Coro-Compton, and the loot one needs to become a Jedi.

“Unlocking the Jedi Slot” a.k.a. “The Jedi Grind” a.k.a. “Kill Yourself, Sony” was, and perhaps remains, the most soul-grating time sink in the history of the MMO. George Lucas told Sony Online that they, “Could not include Jedi.” Their response was to make the process so utterly onerous, so completely secret, that they hoped to never see a Jedi. And yet, what better to a whole world of imaginative geeks than uncovering the esoteric mysteries of The Force? Once I’d gotten around to it, the esoteric mysteries were thoroughly uncovered, dissected, and loathed.

The sacred path to Jedi involved mastering four to seven of the game’s 33 professions (mastering Architect and Medic had taken me months – though that’d been without the geyser of cash brought on by “artifacts”). Sadly, the professions each character needed were secret, and random. Jedi Holocrons – softly glowing blue boxes – revealed all but the last profession, where they offered the text, 

“The Holocron is quiet. The ancients’ knowledge of the Force will no longer assist you on your journey. You must continue seeking on your own.”

I slowly surrendered hard-won Architect and Marksman skills, learning Bio-engineer, then Commando, and then Galaxies’s answer to Kung-Fu: Teras-Kasi Artist. With the intensity building, I ventured out in search of my own hard-won Holocrons. Find them I did: boxes that glowed a violent red. Sith Holocrons. It was on opening one of these the Holocron imparted no further knowledge.

In Gig Harbor, the general manager at my restaurant job seemed unable to grasp that years of gaming did not certify me to balance fourteen full glasses of icewater on one hand, while using the other to squeeze the green plastic cups between bulging socialites. Slapstick ensues. Consistently failing such dexterity checks made me unpopular, the sleep-deprived and caffeine-addled punishment for under-performing members of the wait staff. Then, well after a hasty firing was in order, the appropriate looks of derision and malice stopped. Tips increased. Everyone at the restaurant became… friendly. Warily, I accepted an invitation out drinking with the chefs and the bar staff. I was – much to my amazement – not stabbed. So preoccupied was I with Galaxies, that it literally took weeks before I’d realize what naïve faux-paus had changed my fortunes so drastically. The only important detail seemed that the rest of life was getting to be pretty fun too. The white and sheltered University of Washington graduate was getting a crash course in heavy drug and alcohol abuse, petty crime, and party-crashing, all under the tutelage of accomplished masters.

Back in Galaxies, grinding through random professions had gotten to be too much, especially after Master Doctor. Instead I ventured deep into the prosaic birthplace of The Force. A place I’d superstitiously avoided since my earliest days. Home to the rancors, and littered with caves and camps of the deadliest Force-infused humanoids: the Night Sisters. Armored in illegally sliced 90% composite, stocked with the luxuriously expensive healing gear of the Master Doctor, and temporarily empowered, or “buffed” by my own doctorly prowess. During the day I’d hunt and fetch rare “artifacts,” for my décor business, growing a war chest in the tens, occasionally hundreds of millions of credits. At night I’d venture out on high-stakes exploration, alone, on the dark and miserable surface of Dathomir.

Except on the nights with high bonfires, hundreds of people dancing in Douglas fir-encircled fields of dark, rainy and miserable Middle of Nowhere, WA. Black-out drinking, I was that solitary male asshole up on the makeshift plywood stage, dancing with the half-naked women. On one such night, between shots of Goldschläger at a trailer park, I played Halo for the first time. These guys and gals – who might not ever admit to playing games – were godly at Halo. It set a tone. That peculiar evening now comes to mind any time I’m getting murdered on any Xbox shooter game.

In Galaxies the Jedi Grind was no longer a priority. Killing whole families of rancors was long passé.  A Twi’lek exotic dancer working a backwater moon was all too happy to toss that and go on an intergalactic shopping spree. We went and earned some “badges,” which also set a tone. Since then, in-game achievements (whether they’re called badges, ranks, whatever) always seem the last resort of the drowning victim, the gamer who clutches greedy nails into anything that’ll keep him breathing digital air just a little longer. I followed Phobius to The Empire. Changed my face. Turned to the Dark Side.

My first and only experience with Madden Football was after a long night of binge drinking, bong-hitting, and fiddling with oversized firearms. The Sous-Chef was betting a half grand against the Head Bartender, and after further gratuitous bong hits they upped the ante to double-or-nothing. Suddenly I understood my invitations to restaurant escapades. It was that bulging plastic freezer bag – heavy with a fragrant green substance – five or six hundred bucks worth. Overhearing the Head Bartender mention Something Like That, I figured he’d make sure it got back to its rightful owner.

You live and you learn.

My new Imperial guild was teaming up with expert bounty hunters to hunt one of the server’s most notorious Jedi Guardians, a powerful warrior on the cusp of becoming a Master. The buildup took hours, with buffing and intelligence on his movements coming in slow.

And then – out of the blue – it was time to pounce.

The Jedi Guardian was protected by maybe a dozen Rebels, all lounging in a remote desert cantina. Within twenty seconds everyone had been killed, save three on our side and the Guardian. After fifteen minutes of fighting through the streets of this desert town, then giving chase up the side of a mountain, Phobius was killed. At the mountain’s peak, another fifteen minutes later, the Imperial bounty hunter fell – leaving me and the Jedi. We fought another twenty minutes, learning each other’s weaknesses and styles, but I – with my evil face and evil demeanor – would be the winner. The Jedi couldn't permanently wound a fish with so many overpriced healing tricks – and his health gradually dropped. He had impressive abilities to regenerate and press attack – but I’d learned them (firsthand, which “real gamers” don't cotton to these days) – I countered them all. The sun was rising. He panicked, tried to run. I knocked him down, started laying in.

He was mine.

And then, about ten of the individually-weak cantina Rebels attacked from behind. Slowed me, kicked me to the ground, and delivered the killing blow.

The volume was at eleven, but I couldn’t hear the music.

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