As a former aspiring journalist I feel it was only a matter of time before I had a blog on the wide river known as the intranets. My sincerest apologies for holding out this long. I was too engrossed packing as many good times and experiences into my 20’s as possible due to being compelled to live like my hair was on fire after spending a chunk of my teenage years into my early 20’s glued to a computer screen playing Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games(MMORPGs).
Back in the days when I was knee high to a duck I used to be spellbound by my grandma’s readings of fairy tales. From toddler age until I was old enough to jump into books on my own it was a rare occasion for my brother and I to go to sleep on a week night without an escape into the fantasy world. My imagination would run rampant and spill into my dreams as Gram (as she was affectionately nicknamed after one of our favorite snacks) breathed life into the pages by shifting into character and interacting with her tiny enthralled audience. Gram was a sharp-witted second hand shopper and collector of beautiful things, and in those thrifty adventures acquired some fantastic hard bound fully illustrated story collections. I can still recollect the vibrant painted scenes which would draw me even deeper into the tale, occasionally closing my eyes and bringing the pictures to life in my head as the story progressed. Throughout childhood, beginning around the time I was in second grade this imagination was cultivated further as I dove headlong into fantasy novels of all types. The action figures we played with had more character development than just about anything on TV, and bless my little brother who had the patience to continue playing despite all the dialogue between Ninja Turtle and GI Joe. Now that I’ve provided a bit of insight, let’s fast forward to the period of life best known as “uber gaming nerd”…
Everquest’s (EQ for short, more info @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EverQuest) realms were home to my first online character, Jonnyman, a benign human, master of the arts martial and ambassador of goodwill to fellow players. With a MMORPG on the scale of EQ, you embark upon a quest of developing your avatar in the hopes of one day being a powerful hero. In hindsight there were many parallels between EQ and real life except in the game you don’t have parents to help you get started, unless you are fortunate to have generous friends to toss you a few silvers so you don’t perish of starvation, and can afford some basic cloth “armor”. Starting out as a naked novice, possessing only the minimum resources to sustain yourself for a few days, you adventure out to carve a place for yourself in the dog eat dog online universe packed with thousands of other people, all competing for the same limited resources hailing from their respective continents depending which race they chose to begin as. People from all over the world logged in to EQ accounts and portrayed themselves as beggars, ass-kissers, cheaters, thieves, lovers, haters, grinders, leadership and strategy experts to name a few. On top of that you had the spectrum of player levels: the casual gamers who enjoyed arts and crafts and the simple life of chatting with their friends and on the other hand the competitive players who devoted hours upon hours building their character into a masterly skilled, well equipped adventurer destined to slay dragons (with the help of a large extremely organized guild of peers with complementing skills and abilities, of course).
After a slow start and a little assistance from one of my best friends who originally introduced me to EQ I hit a stride and before long Jonnyman was not only getting by but was thriving and in doing so surpassed most of the online friends I came to know from my newbie days. I out-leveled my best friend’s magician, and when my monk reached the top level I sought membership at one of the top American guilds on the server in order to progress to the highest possible extent. This involved an intensive trial period in which recruiting leaders would get to know candidates, test playing abilities, and ensure they were capable of performing assigned roles in a hectic group dungeon “raid” atmosphere. As a monk I served as an advanced scout during guild forays, which meant one wrong move on my part in leading could get the entire force of guild mates wiped out with disastrous consequences. If I failed to calculate something correctly and the guild perished I was the most accountable and therefore would hear sharp criticism from all involved. Fortunately I understood and excelled at leading companions into the depths of the monster’s lair.
As the years passed Jonnyman Duh (pretty cool surname huh?) became an international household name throughout the Everquest community. I would regularly receive random messages from people asking for all sorts of stuff ranging from advice, gold, in game marriage proposals, requests to join or lead other guilds. The infamy got old fairly quick so I employed tactics to hide and remain anonymous when I was online so I could focus on the task at hand, which was usually exploring and conquering whatever cutting edge challenging game content Sony could invent and throw at my guild mates and I. Despite my benevolent nature and the fact I treated every player from lowly beggar to international rival with mutual respect, as time went by, a mounting resentment formed on a few different levels. From one side, it was founded in the success we achieved in the game. I admit this is an odd concept to grasp, jealousy over an online world and I still don’t quite get it to this day. When the millions of other EQ players spanning the globe read the latest news and developments on gaming magazines, message boards, etc, the recent accomplishments of the top guilds would be recognized. The guild on top was hated by other guilds because we played to such a high level that we would essentially bar the progress of the rest of the server because we had the epic level encounters on constant lock down which didn’t allow other guilds the opportunity to learn until our guild decided to move on. This created a massive disparity in wealth and content knowledge and we became the bad guys. That is until Sony implemented a new format with private, locked instances that allowed guilds to simultaneously explore the same content, effectively ending the struggle for limited resources.
The excitement was over and gradually the original base of uber players faded away into the sunset. Many had been BETA testers for a new game coming out around this time called World of Warcraft, and that is where the adventure started anew for myself. So Jonnyman exited my life unceremoniously via EBay where he fetched a good sum from some stranger who wanted to purchase a legend. Rinse and repeat pretty much. Next time around I would choose a dwarf priest by the name of Juice (for my penchant at keeping people alive), and after a couple years invested in him Ebay, then after a hiatus came the dark elf priest Rejuice.
The gaming era was a Neverlandish stage of life where I could escape from the disappointments of high school. It correlates to a period of personal struggle with my confidence which was rooted in a couple key experiences. One being freshman year when after a couple weeks of football practice I decided to quit the team. I found the atmosphere downright hostile and in this setting many of my classmates transformed and for lack of better words became utter assholes. This definitely wasn’t the positive team sport culture I had grown up thriving in and I wanted nothing to do with it. I liked the game of Football and remained a fan, however could not bring myself to becoming a part of that barbaric, chest beating environment of angst.
Besides first and foremost I was a baseball player, and had hopes of riding that into college at the very least. Little did I know that quitting the football team my freshman year would continue to haunt me until I graduated. I had effectively lost the respect of all the football coaches who were extremely disappointed to see me leave the team, and unfortunately those same coaches also ran the baseball team. As a result, even though I made the team I was never given the same opportunity as other players, especially those who played football. Still I persisted knowing I had this disadvantage hoping I could somehow play myself into a smaller college’s scholarship.
During my junior year I became a regular in the lineup, and a .400+ average spoke for itself. The final talk I had with my coach at season’s end came out of the blue, and was troubling. He essentially gave me an ultimatum to play football my senior year, and if I didn’t hit the gridiron I would not make the baseball roster. I refused to cave in to the coach’s demand to play football, writing it off as just another empty threat. As the senior baseball season approached I worked out with my teammates months ahead of time, and after the first day of tryouts felt I had never came into a season more prepared to win. So when I walked up to the locker room doors early the next morning to get some morning work in and consult the list, I was absolutely dumbfounded to find my name absent. I recall feeling like the world was caving in around me, and I staggered away from the list out into the courtyard.
How could it be? I had played nearly my entire life preparing for this, taking no chances with my future when it came to negative influences, seeking and heeding any instruction or advice offered as I propelled myself towards a future that until that morning I could see with crystalline clarity. But there it was, in black and white on an 8 by 10 printout. Recruiters don’t keep kids on their radar if they miss the varsity cut their senior year. I was crushed, and all I wanted to do was find some kind of a hole to crawl into. In my case this hole already existed, and I was accustom to diving into it following days at school where years later I was still bullied and faced ridicule from a handful of football players. I had heard the entire book of derogatory homosexual remarks, been practically assaulted a time or two, and was no stranger with how to deal with that treatment. But I figured they at least could not take the game of baseball away from me, yet in the end they did, albeit temporarily…