From the archives: February 2009

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A Connecticut Newbie in King Arthas’ Court

Friday, 27 February 2009 — 2:51am | Video games

I have a dreadful confession to make.

Several months ago—it must have been around early October—I discovered a little something called World of Warcraft. You may have heard of it, if only in hushed, fearful whispers.

It so happens that WoW (as the awestruck polity calls it with the most gaping of valley-flanked vowels) is, like Super Mario Bros. or Grand Theft Auto, one of the few electronic amusements to have captured the imagination of peoples who don’t play games and never will. Surely the media has given us no short supply of public-interest coverage, be it of addicts collapsing from exhaustion at Internet cafés, parents charged with negligence for playing the game and leaving their children to die, friendships (new and broken), marriages (new, broken, and refurbished), teenage suicide threats (refurbished), happy families happy in their own way, unhappy families unhappy in their own way, or Chinese gold-farming sweatshops that deal in a shady black market of EULA-shattering virtual-goods transactions.

I dipped into it myself on the half-serious pretence of doing some private research in emerging narrative forms, but mostly out of a general curiosity: the first ten days are free, albeit with a curtailed ability to interact with other players and the economy at large—features you don’t need anyhow when you are new to the game. I had hitherto avoided WoW for so long—and wisely so, I might add—out of a principled opposition to monthly subscription models of any sort; I prefer to buy something once with a one-time fee and use it at my leisure forever. I was sampling the water. I was not there to stay.

Yet here I am, four months later, well into the endgame of the second expansion pack as a level 80 gnome rogue.

How, it is fair to ask, has it come to this?

I don’t make this confession lightly: in fact, I am fully aware that writing this statement so publicly carries a certain degree of professional risk. But there’s a lot I’ve wanted to write here about my travels in Azeroth and beyond, and I had to let the secret out first.

Not that it’s a secret to everybody. For weeks now, disinterested friends have put up with me as I regaled them with tales of how I built my own helicopter, single-handedly saved a tribe of walrus-men with Inuit-language names (but alas, few words for snow), and exerted limited monopolies over my server’s mineral and herbal industries with a full-time banker character who doesn’t quite resemble Karl Marx. And there’s no end of personal observations that I haven’t made public—like, for instance, how the game’s staple social activity of assembling five strangers together for a two-hour dungeon crawl is every bit like playing in an impromptu jazz combo.

(The analogy only goes so far. Imagine if a jam band were rewarded not with sporadic applause, but with a randomly selected musical instrument that one musician would get to take home; and should a trombone happen to drop when there is no trombonist in the group, someone would be expected to break the instrument into pieces on the spot and auction off the brass.)

Well, the cat’s out of the bag, so I can talk about it now—openly, I mean, in the embarrassing, Googlable places of the world where prospective employers and graduate school admissions boards can see. And so I shall, dear readers. And so I shall.

For my first act, I will hang my head in shame.

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Wednesday Book Club: Watership Down

Wednesday, 25 February 2009 — 8:28pm | Book Club, J.R.R. Tolkien, Literature

This week’s selection: Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams.

In brief: An impressive adventure story from head to tail, Adams’ bunny-rabbit odyssey truly shines as a demonstration of how myth-making and nation-building go hand in hand—or in this case, paw in paw. The history, legends, and language of rabbit society show off a depth of imagination that stops just short of overwhelming the tale on the surface. Here is a novel unashamed of its bid to be a classic, and has the mettle to pull it off.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on Watership Down, keep reading below.)

Continued »

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The not-so-Wednesday book club

Saturday, 7 February 2009 — 3:25pm

In case anybody is wondering about the state of the weekly book feature: I am still doing it. The service interruption of the past fortnight is of a temporary nature, and I fully plan to catch up and stay on pace for 52 reviews in 52 weeks.

While the plan is to adhere strictly to the weekly schedule once more, I must admit that one of the difficulties of keeping myself to a book a week is how it discourages tackling larger volumes on a whim. One can probably gather, from the brevity of the last few books I’ve featured, that I am ever so slightly busier than before. Selecting them was a good idea at the time, though now the long books on my shelf are mustering and ready to strike.

I do have some other ideas on the go that will hopefully make it to this space soon, but I make no promises. For those of you who aren’t doing so already, may I recommend a subscription to my RSS feed so you don’t have to drop by the site to wait for updates in vain, and eventually forget it exists.

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