Three Fun Reads by and about Gamers: Recommended

Today on another blog I published a post called “Three Fun Reads by and about Gamers.” In it I review Max Wirestone’s The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Perhaps you’d be interested in taking a look.

I call the new blog “not quite ignored” with the subtitle “reflections on the lighter, quirkier, or sometimes more thought-provoking side of news.” Any writing I do specifically about digital games, virtual worlds, and game-based learning (as occasional as that may be) will remain on this site; however, I suspect that now and then, like here, topics will be suitable for either blog. 

Xipe goblinbeachcabana on SouthSeaIsle 10-1-15

Goblin reading nook on a South Sea isle (World of Warcraft)

 

 

 

 

 

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Four Evocative Landscapes in World of Warcraft’s Draenor

So I began looking for beauty in Draenor and found it all around me, even in the highly hostile Tanaan Jungle.

Of course, what I find beautiful in Draenor landscapes may not appeal to other people; after all, there is some truth in the old saying that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Yet I tend to agree with David E. Cooper who argues that what we find beautiful in landscapes is also what we find beautiful in people’s characters. In his words, “an aesthetically admired landscape is experienced as having virtues – or, more precisely, as having features which, when possessed by human beings, are virtues.”

I decided to test Cooper’s claim by analyzing, in a personally associative way, four of my favorite screenshots of Draenor landscapes. I began by asking myself these questions: What fond memories do these images evoke? What beautiful human qualities do these landscapes suggest? 

1. Gorgrond Palms and the Pale Lady

Gorgrond 121514Draenor has two moons. Its largest, the Pale Lady, watches over this palm grove. I’ve been fascinated by the Earth’s moon since I was a child growing up in semi-tropical Florida. Often my grandfather left a wooden ladder propped against the roof. On especially warm nights when the moon was especially bright I would climb the ladder, lie on the cool tin, and lose myself gazing at the moon. Universally the moon is a feminine symbol, a protective and abiding figure throughout the cycles of life. The palm in the foreground appears to be reaching toward or bowing to the afternoon sun, typically a masculine symbol like a king or god. For me there’s a yin-yang quality to the scene as a whole, suggesting – balance, completeness, and contentment.

2. Winding Path in the Spires of Arak

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On this hazily sunny afternoon, a path beckons adventurers through jagged foothills toward distant peaks. The sprinkling of trees, as well as torches, temper an otherwise inhospitable landscape. Yet the path is worn, suggesting that it goes some place worth going to; perhaps it’s a trade route or connects neighboring villages. For contemplative sorts, the path is one of many in the journey of life and the seemingly insurmountable peaks challenges along the way. A visit to the Badlands National Park, with its awesome spires and sharply creviced buttes, is the closest I’ve come to hiking in such a place. This Draenor landscape could be taken as a call to persevere while keeping one’s sense of adventure and remaining curious about what lies ahead.  

3. Smoky Mist in the Tanaan Jungle

Farlight Terrace, Tanaan 7-29-15

Early one morning while sipping coffee on a third-story balcony, I was absent-mindedly gazing into a forest when a mist-enshrouded maple captured my attention. In that instant I felt as if I’d been transported to a place of perfect peace – one of the few truly mystical experiences I’ve ever had. When I first saw the Tanaan Jungle from the heights of the backside of the Farlight Terrace, I was reminded of that morning. Landscapes sometimes prompt memories of other times and places. But more to the point of including this image is the delicious magical feeling or sense of mystery that misty mornings can evoke.

4. Sunset on the Gorgrond Coast of the Barrier Sea

Barrier Sea Gorgrond 3-29-15

My husband and I enjoy camping at Peninsula State Park in Wisconsin’s Door County. Our favorite campsite is on top of a bluff only a short walk to a sunset viewing spot. Nearby is the village of Fish Creek where people gather at Sunset Beach Park or on docks to see the sun set over Green Bay. It’s almost a summer ritual. Why? The beauty of the colors, especially over water, calls us. That’s what called me to capture this shot. But I think it’s more than the ever-changing arrays of contrasting colors. If sunsets lasted all day long, they wouldn’t be special. Part of their awesomeness is their ephemerality. While watching a sunset, I often realize how short life and its pleasure are. Indeed, at any time, we live only in the moment. Be in it. Cherish it.

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War Begins Within (or Pandaria Nostalgia)

A conversation with guildmates turned nostalgic a few months ago. We were stalking rare monsters in the Zorammarsh, a gloomy swamp in Draenor’s Tanaan Jungle. The planet Draenor is the setting of World of Warcraft’s most recent expansion and is, for the most part, dark – both graphically and thematically. Relentless hostility  and demonic corruption (called fel) are the rule once you leave your homebase, especially in the Tanaan Jungle where intense fighting against the nefarious Iron Horde is taking place. So there we were in a dismal swamp surrounded by fel-blooded creatures – giant snakes, bats, and raptors – missing  Pandaria.

Zorammarsh in the Tanaan Jungle (Draenor)

Zorammarsh in the Tanaan Jungle (Draenor)

Pandaria, introduced in the previous expansion, is an island continent on the planet Azeroth. Although Pandaria has its dark zones (e.g. Dread Wastes), it’s lighter than Draenor, both graphically and psychologically. Factional war remains part of the mix, but the primary war is against negative emotions like fear, anger, despair, violence, and hatred – emotions the two major Warcraft factions, Horde and Alliance, unleashed upon the idyllic landscape and peace-loving, often wise Pandaren (pandas). Here the factions curb their mutual hostilities in order to defeat  their mutual enemies – which are actually physical manifestations of their own emotions.

Dawn's Blossom in the Jade Forest (Pandaria)

Dawn’s Blossom in the Jade Forest (Pandaria)

Game graphics need, of course, to set a tone and match a narrative theme, and a theme needs to match questing and raiding goals. Both Draenor and Pandaria do this well, despite their thematic differences. While Pandaria’s overarching theme is “war begins within,” Draenor shows us in Tanaan (the current endgame zone) that indeed, to quote William Tecumseh Sherman,“War is hell.” I find the thematic flow from Pandaria to Draenor satisfying. Yet, like a number of my guildmates, I too experience Pandaland nostalgia from time to time. Why?

We were excited about moving on when “Warlords of Draenor” launched and kept quite busy leveling up, building our garrisons, running dungeons, and so on. Then we arrived in Tanaan with its endless apexis runs and pervasive darkness, literally and metaphorically. It could be that after awhile these became just too much. You see, the conversation that turned nostalgic in the dismal swamp has reoccurred a number of times since in different Draenor settings and contexts. But I think there’s a deeper reason too.

Hellfire Citadel in the Tanaan Jungle (Draenor)

Hellfire Citadel in the Tanaan Jungle (Draenor)

For the most part, my guildmates are educators and look for games to offer more than great graphics. We like to use our “little gray cells,” as Hercule Poirot likes to say. Raiding, whether in Pandaria or Draenor, engages us in strategic planning. For many of us, however, themes that drive the story and spin-off interesting subplots matter too. I suggest that Draenor is not as captivating as Pandaria because, in large part, its endgame theme “war is hell,” with few narrative twists and turns and little that provokes thought, has grown as tiresome as grinding in a dark, demon-infused war zone.

In comparison, Pandaria’s theme “war begins within” offers the opportunity to reflect on a perennial and complex issue: the causes of war. On the individual level, war can be viewed as a large-scale, disastrous projection of our own emotions and insecurities: for example, our fear of the Other; our bottled up anger; our greed for power; our desire to control; and our unwillingness to reason with others, to hear the other side, to feel compassion, to compromise, to cooperate, and to see the larger picture. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

Temple of the White Tiger  in Kun-Lai Summit (Pandaria)

Temple of the White Tiger in Kun-Lai Summit (Pandaria)

I’m not saying there’s never a time to go to war. Gandhi, for example, tried in letters to reason with Hitler, to no avail. And in our own time, reasoning with ISIS seems futile. But such examples do not detract from the truth embedded in the Pandaria theme. Defeating (or at least beating back) our personal demons makes us happier, better people. And I believe that happy, healthy, compassionate people who have meaningful work are less likely to start a war.

Hmm. It could be that what I see as a lack of depth to the Draenor theme has something to do with why I have not written about Draenor until now. Perhaps, given that modest revelation, I’ll try to find something inspiring in Draenor about which to write.

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Make Friends with Failure

When my World of Warcraft (WoW) raiding team decides to take on a new (for us) fight, we’re aware that failure is all but inevitable the first time – perhaps many times thereafter. The boss (biggest baddie) in any specific raid is by design hard to kill. Yet we believe that we’ll eventually get it down – and perhaps celebrate our victory with a screenshot🙂. A few nights ago, for instance, we tried a new fight and wiped (failed) repeatedly. We’ll be back, of course, and try again and again until we succeed.

Fighting the Spirit Kings in the Mogu’Shan Vaults (WoW 2013)

Fighting the Spirit Kings in the Mogu’Shan Vaults (WoW 2013)

For much in life, from learning to walk to acquiring the right strategy for killing a WoW boss, the precursors to success typically include taking risks, failing, reflecting, changing strategy, and trying again. As Aristotle said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them” (Nicomachean Ethics 2.ii). As educator Bob Lenz said much more recently, “When reframed as a good, constructive, and essential part of learning, failure is a master teacher” (Edutopia). In short, Lenz’s article is about the importance of making friends with failure.

The only golf course in Azeroth – at Gallywix Pleasure Palace in Azshara (WoW 2015)

The only golf course in Azeroth – at Gallywix Pleasure Palace in Azshara (WoW 2015)

I’m an avid golfer, mediocre at best but in love with the game – walking, talking, and playing with friends in the peaceful park-like spaces of northwoods golf courses. But sometimes (okay, often) I get discouraged. This summer I’ve been working on my swing, changing it up a bit. When my strikes work well, the ball is a beautiful sight to behold – rocketing down the fairway in between the oh-so-green grass and summer-blue sky.

Then, just when I think I’ve grooved in the swing, WHAM! the golf gods slam me. (Golf is a humbling game.) If I have a series of bad strikes, the golf imps attack, swarming in my head, muttering stuff like “You’re rotten at this. Give it up! Go home and do something useful.” The good news is that I’ve learned how to quickly banish the imps, or at least hold them at bay. I learned it from a wise little boy named CrumpleVaporBolt.

Skunky Alemental (pet dropped at Old Pi’ju on Timeless Isle) & Skunk (wild animal found in Azshara and elsewhere) – only skunks in Azeroth I’m aware of (WoW 2015)

Skunky Alemental (pet, Old Pi’ju on Timeless Isle drop) & Skunk (wild, Azshara and elsewhere) – only skunks in Azeroth I’m aware of (WoW 2015)

Crumple, in this cute little video, shows other kids how to make a digital pet skunk. When he makes a mistake that he’d just warned us against, his progress crashes, and, not missing a beat, he tells us, “Don’t sit down and cry if you fail one time. Just do it again.” On his second try he succeeds and celebrates, exclaiming “Yoohoo, I got my new skunk!”

Charming kid – with excellent advice! whether on the golf course or in a digital game or in the classroom. Underlying Crumple’s advice is remarkable optimism and confidence: “If you keep trying, you can do it too,” he seems to say. He’s made friends with failure. And here he found success so sweet that he burst into celebratory song, Crumple’s version of a golfer’s fist pump after sinking a long putt to birdie a hole🙂.

Parts of Draenor’s Gorgrond could be carved into a golf course, either along the arid coast (most likely) or even in the lush rolling interior, like here in The Fertile Ground with lots of hazards (WoW 2014)

WoW needs a golf course in Draenor and parts of Gorgrond could be considered, either along the arid coast (most likely) or even in the lush rolling interior, like here in The Fertile Ground with its many hazards – then again, maybe not (2014)

 

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The World’s Dullest Gamethon Works!

I just read about the world’s dullest gamethon, Desert Bus for Hope. Dull – driving a virtual bus from Tucson to Las Vegas in real time? It’s gotta be! But, by golly, it works!

This year the group raised over $635,000 and passed the $2 million mark for overall cash given to the charity Child’s Play, which helps children in hospitals, shelters, and advocacy centers.

Check out the story – and cool photo – in this NPR article, “Terrible Video Game, Great Fundraiser: Meet Desert Bus for Hope.”

Desert on Wyrmscar Island (World of Warcraft)

Desert on Wyrmscar Island (World of Warcraft)

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Ten Video Gamer Charities: We Care!

I had an awesome World of Warcraft experience last Saturday, with about 1000 other pink-haired gnomes. We ran all the way from Gnomeregan to Booty Bay then took a ship to Ratchet and ran to the enemy Horde city of Ogrimmar, where guards promptly killed us – repeatedly – while we were trying to reach the enemy Horde warchief’s throne. Some gnomes actually made it and licked him (literally, as if with the tongue). I, however, only managed to sit  on his throne – as a ghost. Even so, the entire journey was great fun and for a worthy cause!

"Running of the Gnomes" on a Booty Bay roof

“Running of the Gnomes” on a Booty Bay roof

We pink gnomes were participating in the 5th annual RUNNING OF THE GNOMES, a breast cancer awareness and fund raising event that takes place in the Scarlet Crusade realm. I haven’t seen this year’s tally, but last year the gnomes raised $1305 for the Cleveland Clinic and Tuohy Vaccine research.

Pink gnomes form a heart and have a heart :)

Pink gnomes form a heart and have a heart🙂

This event got me wondering: What are other gamers doing, as gamers, to make a difference? A lot! I learned during a search. What follows is an annotated list (with links, of course) of nine other charity groups and events organized by and/or for gamers.

2.  RELAY FOR LIFE OF SECOND LIFE is the largest fundraiser in any virtual world, this year celebrating its 10th anniversary with over 3,000 avatars walking to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Like the Running of the Gnomes, this year’s theme is pink: “Making Strides against Breast Cancer across Second Life.” And like the American Cancer Society’s real world Relay for Life, avatars build campsites and walk a track, often in teams. The biggest event this year took place for 24 hours in July, with themed laps, music, and other kinds of activities and entertainment. But events continue to occur in Second Life through the end of October. According to Daniel Voyager’s Blog, last year the Relay for Life of Second Life raised over $390,000 for the American Cancer Society. Awesome!

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3. EXTRA LIFE is a group of gamers who help other gamers organize 24-hour game marathons to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. As its “Play Games. Heal Kids.” page says, participants can play any game anywhere; they gather support from their friends and family, asking each to contribute one dollar per hour of play ($24 total). Since 2008, Extra Life has raised over 8 million dollars – 4 million last year alone with over 40,000 players.

This year’s Extra Life marathon is fast approaching, October 25th. But, with a little noodling through their website, I learned (among other things) that you don’t have to do it that day or do it alone. In fact they recommend team play for keeping up motivation and increasing enjoyment. And team play means fewer hours per person; for example, a team of 4 could play together for 6 hours or could decide to play together for 3 hours on two separate days. See, it doesn’t have to be on the 25th. The Mindcrack Network, for instance, ran an elaborate Minecraft Hunger Games marathon last September and raised, according to this update, over $100,000. And Reddit’s Extra Life gaming marathon is coming up in November.

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4.  ABLEGAMERS CHARITY recently celebrated its 10th year of “fighting for the rights of gamers with disabilities to enjoy the same content as everyone else.” Mark Barlet founded it after his best friend lost her ability to play EverQuest. Ablegamers provides reviews and information on video games and accessibility technology and lobbies game developers and publishers to follow its 50-page guide on best practices for making their games as accessible as possible. Individuals can donate, submit content (like reviews), and help with fundraisers like Minethon, a 72-hour Minecraft stream that raised almost $15,000 last August.

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5.  CHILD’S PLAY describes itself as “a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with toys and games in our network of over 70 hospitals worldwide.” Since 2003, it has provided hospitals with millions of dollars worth of age-appropriate games, books, toys, consoles, and other forms of entertainment. It works with hospital staff to set up wish lists and with the game industry, groups, and individuals for donations. For example, today (Oct 17) through tomorrow, FG-2.com is holding its annual fundraiser for Child’s Play, a 24-hour game-a-thon streaming on its twitch.tv site.

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Child’s Play is one of four game charities that Extra Credits specifically mentions in its 8 January 2014 animated video, “The Good We Do – Charity in the Gaming Community.” I wasn’t aware of the other three until I watched that episode. I describe these in items 6-8 below, starting with my favorite.

6. OPERATION SUPPLY DROP is “a military gaming 501(c)(3) charity designed to build video game filled care packages for soldiers (America and Her Allies) both deployed forward to combat zones as well as those recovering in military hospitals.” Captain Stephen Machuga founded it in 2010, with the first donation coming from Activision in the form of Guitar Hero bundles and other games. Since its founding, it has raised over a million dollars and has served more than 3000 troops. The organization’s name comes from a line in a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 quest. Its motto is “Making fun where there is none.”

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7. PDXLAN organizes the largest LAN parties in the Northwest twice a year, beginning in 2002. For the first several years, these mega-parties (500 plus gamers) focused on fun contests and tournaments. Then charity events were added. According to its website, PDXLAN gamers have gathered over 95,000 pounds of food during the November food drives and have raised over $100,000 for such charities as the American Red Cross, Smile Train, Special Olympics, and Child’s Play.

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8. HUMBLE BUNDLE offers “pay what you want” bundles of video games, mobile games, and game-themed books. Sometimes there’s a minimum, like a dollar, but there’s always the motivation to pay more in order to unlock other goodies. When you make a purchase, you choose a charity from those listed, to which a portion of your payment will go. According to Wikipedia, the proceeds from sales “are split between the developers/creators, the Humble Bundle operators, and one or more charities….” Charity choices have included Child’s Play, the American Red Cross, the San Francisco Aids Foundation, and the Human Rights Campaign, among others. A recent post on Giant Bomb notes that Humble Bundle has raised over $11 million for charity since its inception in 2010.

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9. DONATEGAMES describes itself as “a charitable organization that leverages video games, technology and innovation to help children and families suffering from cancer.” Entrepreneur Jim Carol founded it after seeing how video games and strangers’ generosity helped his 11-year-old son during treatment for terminal leukemia. Since its inception in 2007, DonateGames has given over $200,000 toward cancer research, donated over 17,000 video games to hospitals and other children centers, and provided direct support to over 100 families who have a child with cancer.

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10. WILL FERRELL’S 1ST ANNUAL SUPER MEGA BLAST MAX aims to raise $375,000 for DonateGames and College for Cancer. It’s sort of a raffle, with the grand prize of an all-expense paid trip for two to San Francisco and the opportunity to play video games there with Ferrell on 26 October. The event will be broadcast live on Twitch. It’s too late to enter the contest, but I mention it because it’s yet another example of the ways players are connecting video gaming and giving.

P.S. If you spot factual errors about anything I mentioned in this post, please let me know. If you know about other charitable gamer groups or events, I welcome additions to this list. If you have participated in one or more of these groups or events, please feel free to share your experiences. Thanks!

"On your mark, get ready, go!" The pink gnomes begin the run.

“On your mark, get ready, go!” The pink gnomes begin the run. Why not join us next year?

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Amused in a WoW Raid

To avoid long waits I generally queue for several raids, never knowing which raid (or even which boss within a raid) will pop up first. This time my toon Yilien was whisked into an ongoing fight with Elegon, a celestial cloud serpent. Just then the floor disappeared and she fell into the Engine of Nalak’sha – to her death. I thought it was rather funny and quickly typed into raid chat my condition, ending with “LOL.”

Yilien & the Thundering Onyx Cloud Serpent

Yilien & the Thundering Onyx Cloud Serpent

Shortly after Yilien’s demise, another player’s toon fell in. This player shot off a chat message containing, it seems, a banned word. It came out like this: “$%^& this game!” Another player shot back, “maybe this game should be more of a hobby for you.” Zap!

The fight went on. The disgruntled player remained silent. When the fight ended, the disgruntled player and I rezzed our toons and joined the raid for the next boss.

Yilien & the Azure Cloud Serpent

Yilien & the Azure Cloud Serpent

 

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