Monday, April 09, 2007

In the Mad God's maze


The tale of the adventure of the journey through the realms of extradimensional madness begins, as all these tales begin, in a moodily-lit prison cell furnished with only a low stool, some fetters, and a skeleton. The lifer across the hall hisses the taunts he always hisses through the bars, and presently the doomed Emperor and his bodyguard arrive to make their usual secret-door passage through the dank chamber en route to an inevitable assassination. The cell’s occupant is freed, charged with a terrible trust, and sent off into a world of magic, mystery and drug-addicted cat people.

Another day, another character launched into Oblivion. This time around, it’s a sneaky little Dark Elf swamp witch who’s had the sacred Amulet of Kings pressed into her manacled hands by the Patrick Stewart-voiced sovereign. Tasked to find his blood heir, deliver the Amulet and “close shut the jaws of Oblivion” – the demonic realm threatening to overrun the world of life and love – our heroine will do as every heroine before her has done: dick around endlessly on other, more interesting quests. Maybe buy a mansion and a pony.

But first, the aforementioned journey into the domain of Sheogorath, Lord of Madness! These lands are known as the Shivering Isles, and they’ve just been loaded, at great expense in time and cash money, onto my XBox’s hard drive. I’d been a long time away from Oblivion, beloved time-devouring masterpiece of electronic swords n’ sorcery, and the release of this new expansion, with its promise of “30 hours of additional gameplay!”, had long been a red-letter date on my mental calendar. Fantastic frolics in a twisted land of insanity! New weapons, armor and enemies! Terrain and architecture that’s not wholly Western European! You can imagine my excitement.

Fact forgotten in the fever: I have a full-time job, now. Last time I’d done much diving into the ‘Bliv, I was a “full-time” (hyuk) freelancer with a side gig power-washing the seats of an outdoor theatre, and taking eight hours out of an inclement Tuesday to fireball goblins weren’t no big thing. Now, between the oatmeal-grey requirements of my cubicle, the necessities of house- and life-keeping and the responsibilities of love, I can maybe slip an hour or two in edgewise, here and there. Back when playing videogames was the closest thing I had to a job, nine-to-fivers used to kind of sniff and say, “Must be nice.” I took it as jealousy; I should have taken it as a command, answered “Yes! It must be!” and moved up to that “next level” I keep hearing about.

That’s not what happened, though, and as much as I may mourn the passing of a time where I could (usually) pay the rent and eat (poorly) while spending 20-plus hours a week with a controller in my hand I can’t, as the hay-farmers say, wish for a different field. For now, I’m on the other side of the must-be-nice equation, and my dark-elven vixen (Pilsne; a name of great evocative power) will have to be content with incremental progress over the months, exploring the Shivering Isles in hour-long sorties while I read in my cubicle excited emails from my colleague still living The Life about mighty deeds, twisted ruins, Golden Saints, obliterated villages and magic mud puddles.

I wonder, though: how do the WoWers manage it? If I can barely gather the moments for an hour or two of solo Oblivion, how do World of Warcraft’s millions of multi-players manage to find the time for the days of grind that fantasy game requires and still keep a roof over their computers. It’s not all students, kids and shut-ins on assistance – my own office is filled with guys who work longer hours than I do, and still they’re coffee-talking about their Level 60 whatevers, their electronic indicators of hundreds of hours of devoted service in the cause of online good/evil. Is there a secret to being a job-having power gamer?

It’s easy to see now where the standard dismissive “no social life” and “no sex life” jibes come from; these are certainly the most obvious means by which a dedicated digital fantasist might make room for the hobby. Are there other, less pathetic, ways? My girl insists regular yoga practice has the effect of adding hours to one’s day; could I perhaps harness the dharmic power of the asanas to squeeze more Oblivion into my life?

More on that in a future column. Until then, here’s my review of the Shivering Isles expansion:

[SPOILER WARNING]

There’s a crazy guy named Shelden who wears this purple plate mail I totally want to steal.

[END SPOILERS]

3 comments:

ZOZ said...

Haha. As your layabout yet wealthy colleage I hereby accept your offer of videogames for a living tomorrow night. But perhaps a walk in the sun with pipe out to rinse off oatmeal and ... yoga?

Anonymous said...

ZOZ- I feel you. I too am a lost soul forever condemmed to wander the digital wasteland of oblivion. I too collect skulls. that was the last thing i could think of to do. now i just walk around and kill everything i see. what shall we do?

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