Sunday, March 27, 2011

Subconscious expression

I play a little WoW. It's no secret that science fiction and fantasy have been interests of mine since I can remember knowing about them. I was fascinated by things like Star Trek and the Lord of the Rings (which I read at age 7.) However, despite being a huge Blizzard fan and having spent days on end in front of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo (as I used to express to people in the Green party: I'm a peace activist who spends a considerable amount of time playing wargames.), I resisted World of Warcraft and MMOs in general for a long time. I just felt like I had too many other things going on and didn't really have the time to become absorbed in it.

However, a couple years ago, I had some time on my hands and figured I would download the demo and try it out. After playing off and on for a few days, I decided I'd give it a try for a few months, and I've pretty much persisted in that pattern: every couple days I'll get on and play for a couple hours. It's a cool distraction and there are a few other friends of mine who play about as much. In possible subconscious tribute to my environmental politics, my main is a shaman; a class that attempts to commune with the natural spirits of the world and act with them to preserve parts of it and change others. He's part of a race called tauren, whose culture is expressly modeled on that of Native Americans, which is a longstanding interest and probably another subconscious engagement (believe me, if there were a culture modeled on feudal Japan, I would have been all over it.)


My initial role with my shaman was one of offense. There are few things as enjoyable as strapping on a couple of fist weapons (cesti of fantastical proportions and design far beyond anything possibly imagined by the Romans) and whaling away on whatever enemy creatures happen to be within reach. However, there's an alternate talent spec on my shaman that is based solely on healing. I can't do much with it on my own, but I can join a group in 5-, 10-, or 25-person instances and keep them alive so that we accomplish larger goals than I could perform by myself. I'm sure you've heard this theme before...

So, I've fallen into the habit of healing more than anything else when I play. There are four more healing specs among the 9 other classes in the game and I have characters that perform each of those specs. As with a lot of games that I play, I've become interested in the methodology behind the systems and how they accomplish the same goal with different tools. I still find it somewhat odd because, at root, I'm not a healer type, as it were. My personality lends itself to problem-solving (often, uh, direct problem-solving) moreso than sympathy or nurturing; both of which are often associated with the idea of healing. Furthermore, I'm more prone to playing the leadership role in a lot of my activities, which in the game would equate to tanking, not healing.

But I've begun to wonder if the healing approach is instead a substitute for the pursuit of group activity. While groups in the game can't function without a tank, they are equally unable to function without a healer (delving deeper, one realizes that without competent DPS (Damage Per Second) people, it's often difficult to succeed, as well.) However, the healer strikes me as the one that sustains the group as a whole. While the tank is needed to progress, there are many situations in which the group as a whole will be hindered (i.e. getting killed) even if the tank is doing his/her job properly. What gets them past those hindrances is usually the healer. Am I acting out my desire for achieving goals as part of a group/family/society?

There's no denying that I've been part of any number of ventures (personal, professional, political) in which progress has been halted by the lack of enthusiasm of those around me. I can remember any number of times when I was still ready to struggle ahead and everyone else seemed to find better things to do and left me holding the bag or, at the very least, stranded with the remainder whom were either indolent or motivated for narrow reasons, if not both. I've tried to start any number of projects that essentially depended on the participation of others which never came to fruition because my enthusiasm was always greater than everyone else's. So now I find myself enthralled by a game role which requires the presence of others.

The game can be played alone. Despite its appellation as a massively multi-player game, there are many who, in fact, prefer to solo it. One can quest and progress alone as a tank or DPS. It's far more difficult to do so as a healer. So, if one heals, one groups.

Thus we come back to one of our essential dichotomies: anyone who knows me realizes that I'm not overly fond of people and can lose my patience or become bored with most in a very short time. And, yet, the majority of what I enjoy involves other people to an often extraordinary degree: politics, games, even aikido. The latter is nominally a defensive art and perfecting the form requires uke (the person being thrown) to absorb the energy of shi'ite in a manner both protective of himself and in an understanding of the form. In other words, it's really difficult to practice the form alone; even (perhaps especially) the jo katas. You need someone else to exchange energy with.

Logically, one can't fail to see that there are any number of goals that will only be accomplished with the strength of many. Logically, there will have to be some spirit of cooperation amongst the people in order to make progress. Logically, people are going to have to be willing to tolerate either others' company or be reduced to factionalism before the goal is even approached. This is where logic clashes with reality and Ambrose Bierce's example of the post holes comes to mind.

So, here I am, seemingly naturally inclined to solitude, yet driven to participate with others in most of the things that I still enjoy (many of which are, admittedly, fading fast these days.) Am I a socialist at heart or just projecting onto an inclination for human contact, despite recoiling from the majority of it?

Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me (not of the same blood an seed, but partaking with me in mind, that is in a portion of divinity), I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To work against one another therefore is to oppose Nature, and to be vexed with one another or to turn away from him is to tend to antagonism. - Marcus Aurelius, Mediations, II.
 Still working on it.

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