Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Jaxom

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 27, 2009

Avatar_-_GIFMMO community connection:

The Middle-Earth Adventurer

Chapter 1: Introduction

What is your name (your online persona/alter-ego, what have you)?

Jaxom92, although the numbers aren’t necessary in addressing me. Jaxom or Jax is fine.

What is your connection to the gaming/blogging/podcasting community (your chance to plug yourself here)?

I involved myself in the blogs and podcasts surrounding MMOs when I started playing LOTRO. I listen to many podcasts over at VirginWorld.com and follow about a dozen gaming related blogs, mostly about MMOs. They’re too numerous to mention, however, if you check out my own blog, The Middle-Earth Adventurer, you can find the blogroll there.

Please take a minute and describe what your blog/podcast is about.

First and foremost it is about building community. I want to see a community of blogers and readers surrounding LOTRO and MMOs/gaming in general. Secondly, I’m interested in creating quality thoughts about my chosen subject. When I created my blog, I noticed a lack of LOTRO specific blogs and decided to fill that space myself. In the coming months I realized the space wasn’t as solitary as I had thought. This has give me a wonderful jumpstart to the community building side of my blog.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

Where do you live now?

I was born in the Pacific Northwest of the US. I’ve grown up here and still live here. It’s a wonderful place to live.

Your level (age) is somewhere in the range of (pick one): 10-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, 61-70, 71-80, 81-90

As of this writing, I’m 23.

What do you do for a living?

At the moment, my living migrates to and from temporary positions due to the currently bad economic situation. I have a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies and hope to get a job as a planner of some type.

If you could reroll your career, what would you be?

I’m also interested in writing so being a professional writer would be something I’d be interested in as well. At the moment, I write fiction in my spare time, of which I have too much, even to fill with gaming.

Chapter 2: Origins

What kind of games (if any) did you play as a child before you got into video gaming? Did you play with family, friends or was it more of a solo activity?

I played some elementary board games such as Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. I also made up a bunch of games using various toys I had, particularly with decks of cards though.

What other hobbies and/or activities did you have as a child (sports, music, etc)?

I loved to read and play with Legos. I wasn’t into sports very much, being a small kid, but I did play viola for a while in Middle School and High School.

Were you ever exposed to pen and paper role playing games? What was that experience like?

No, I never got into D&D or any of the other pen and paper rpgs. I had been misinformed by some people, not my parents, that those types of activities were “evil.” As such there was never a desire to play them. Now, however, I would be interested in getting involved in one should I have the time and opportunity.

Did you read much as a child? If so, what did you like to read (books, comic books, etc?) Please list some favorite authors, titles, etc.

I read quite a bit as a child. Starting out with simple books like Dr. Suess, I gradually worked my way up to full length novels, mostly in the science fiction and fantasy genre since that’s mainly what my mother read. She read aloud to me as a child and helped ween me, so to speak, into my own reading. The last books read to me as a kid were Alan Dean Foster’s Pip and Flinx books. I never got into comic books. I don’t know why, it’s just something that never happened. I think the time that I would have been getting into comic books, mom had already opened up the world of novels, and I’ve always found what my imagination conjures more compelling than what’s already on the page.

Would you say that any of these games or books had an effect on your later appreciation of computer gaming and ultimately MMOs? Please explain.

Certainly. The genre of science fiction and fantasy is probably most predominent in games and premises for games with those genre elements always pique my interest at least a little. Currenlty I play Lord of the Rings Online and the only reason I became involved in this game was because my love for the Lord of the Rings books, which I read in early high school.

How were you fist introduced to video games? How old were you? What was the platform?

My first introduction to video games was via friends and extended family. My cousin was really into Nintendo and I also ran across Nintendos at friend’s houses. I didn’t have one, however, which probably is the reason I came about gaming from a story and literary side rather than an entertainment medium side of things. I was probably 8 or 9 when I first encountered them and showed an interest. Eventually I got a gameboy as my first system, followed shortly afterwards by a Super Nintendo. I’ve incidentally always been one generation behind in the gaming platforms but PC took over, spurred by my cousin. When we would visit grandma’s house, there was little to do but play games. We started out with made up games, like many children do, but when he got into video games, I followed. The first that I can remember is Railroad Tycoon, an old DOS game. He got into it from his step brother who was a teenager at the time. We played that incessantly. Later it was StarCraft and from there I began getting into games on my own. Now PC rules my gaming universe. I haven’t bought any of the newest consoles, though the 360 still creeps up on the horizon from time to time.

Did you ever play coin-op games at the arcade? What was that experience like?

I never got into arcades. Mainly because money was always tight. We weren’t poor per se, but the budget had little room for luxuries like arcades. My parents couldn’t justify me stuffing quarters into a machine for hours on end. And the concept was never really fun for me either. I much preferred the greater freedom of playing games at home. The more a game could let me use my imagination, the more I liked it.

What was the first video game you can remember playing that really made an impression on you? Please explain.

I think I need to go back to Railroad Tycoon. My step cousin installed it onto my grandparent’s old (not at the time though) 486 machine in their basement and played it. Me and my cousin were entralled. My step cousin was a teenager at the time and had little tolerance for us little kids bothering him about the game so we taught ourselves how to play when he wasn’t monopolizing the computer. We played all day, talked about it into the night when our parents finally had to come down and tell us to shut up and go to sleep, then we got up early and played some more. Rinse repeat. We were hooked, and we dreamed about the game too. It was like we never stopped playing. I don’t get that hooked into games anymore. The newness that addicted us then is long gone, but I still have fun and I play games to this day because of that first wonderful impression.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

I have a Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, and GameCube still in my posession. The GameBoy (orignal brick like thing) is long gone. Consoles aren’t my main focus anymore. I’ve invested quite a bit into the PC side of things.

Feel free to share a story related to your gaming experience as a child.

I think the best one is the Railroad Tycoon story, but when me and my cousin hung out, but didn’t have access to a Nintendo or computer, we’d take blank peices of paper and write our own levels and have each other “play” them. At one point we experimented with creating a “real life” level with various objects, but that never worked out quite so well. Not enough materials for my limitless imagination.

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever explosed to MUDs? If so, when and what was the experience like?

My MUD experience is only by association. That is, I knew people who played MUDs, and in one case were creating a MUD, and I learned about what they were by this, but I never participated in the playing of MUDs, barring some play testing for the aforementioned creators. It’s too bad they never finished the project actually as it was pretty fun.

What was your first MMO experience? When and what was the experience like?

My first MMO experience was getting invited to the beta for Lord of the Rings Online. At that time the testing was still in the alpha stages and the playtesting period I was invited to was one week long. And boy was that an awesome week. Being the first time I delved into an MMO, I was hooked immediately. I played as much as I could for that week and despite the bugs and little content that was in the game at that point, they had themselves a customer already. I think my attachment came two-fold. First, it’s one of the few RPGs I’ve played and the new and shiny aspect of that appealed to me. Secondly, it was Tolkien. I’m a huge Tolkien fan, especially coming out of the movies (I’m a book first person though). Two and two make infinity in this case.

I remember being enamored by a couple of specific things though. First was the opening instance which put you right in front of a Black Rider within a couple minutes of the opening gameplay. That was really cool. It put the story in front of the player from the start – and being an avid reader and aspiring writer, story is very important to me. Add in the fact that I was experience Middle-Earth in a new and interactive way, this first instance really left a strong impression. Second was the visuals. At that time my computer couln’t put out enough horsepower to have the graphics cranked up, but the beta didn’t have full graphic settings available anyway. However, what I did see was wonderful. In Tolkien’s world, the land is as much a character as the people running about it and having a game that can produce breathtaking visuals helps a great deal to sell the world. And I’m kinda an eyecandy nut too so…

List all the MMO’s you’ve played extensively:

I’ve only played LOTRO. So, first and only MMO.

Which MMOs have you spent the most time playing? How long is that?

LOTRO is of course the answer here, however I can elaborate on how long. I’ve been playing since my invitation to beta on August 28th 2006. So, that’s about two and a half years. In terms of hours, I’d say I’m somewhere close to 1000. That means I’m a fairly casual gamer when it comes to LOTRO. Primarily that’s because I’m also a lifetime member. There was a deal offered to the beta testers to become “Founders”. They had the option of bying a lifetime subscription for a one-time fee of $199. Of course, I have to buy the boxes for the retail releases of the game but there’s no monthly fee for me. That puts less pressure on me to feel like I need to play and get my money’s worth. Instead, I feel no pressure to play except for keeping up with my in-game friends as well as getting new content for my blog.

Have you reached level cap in your MMO?

Yes I have. Currently that’s level 60, after the Mines of Moria expansion. I only have one character at the cap since I’m not someone who plays with alts very often, if at all. I do happen to have characters sitting around from my little dabbling with other classes but they’re all less than level 15. No, my Captain receives most if not all of my attention.

Are there any MMOs currently in development that you are particularly interested in? Please explain why.

There are a couple that I’d like to mention. Since I’m playing LOTRO, any future MMO I play in addition to LOTRO will not be anything like LOTRO if I can help it. That means I will probably never venture into Everquest (1 or 2), Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, World of WarCraft, etc. What does strike my fancy at the moment is Jumpgate Evolution and StarTrek online, for somewhat different reasions. The former peaks my interest because I was a big fan of the Freelancer game. I came late to the space sim/flight genre – unfortunately bypassing WingCommander, so I can’t say I’m an avid fan of this type of game but it is different from many other games I play and I like a little variety. I also never played the original Jumpgate so I’m coming at this new with very little expectations and knowledge about the game. I’ll trial this game first and see how I like it since I’m not in the beta (if the beta is even going at the moment) and it will require a montly sub. StarTrek interests me because I’m a big StarTrek fan. This one I’m more weary about because they have to get it absolutely right. Moreso than LOTRO in my opinion. I’ve let a lot of things slide in LOTRO that don’t feel exactly true to the spirit of the IP, but with StarTrek, it’s something very specific in tone, quality, activity, story, etc. In other words, there’s not a lot of margin for error in my book – meaning it will absolutely be a trial first and they could do a lot more things to screw it up than get it right. Still, I’m watching both these games.

Feel free to share an interesting or amusing anecdote related to your MMO gaming experience.

The one that comes to mind is a bit amusing, but very dear to my heart. It’s how I came to be in my current kinship (guild) in LOTRO. It was a mistake, actually. During beta I decided to play a dwarf Champion for one of the phases and while questing I got asked if I wanted to group for some of the content I was working on. Sure, why not. It’s an MMO after all, I should be sociable. So I did group. And both members were great people to play with and they seemed to think the same of me. One of them asked if I’d like to join their kinship. This was new territory for me. Being my first MMO I’d never involved myself in a kinship before (although I do have online friends from other ventures previous). Why not, they seem nice enough. If I don’t like it, I can always leave.

Well, the kinleader invited me, then proceeded to promote me to hier (which is basically second in command of the kinship). Okay… that was wierd, but whatever, there are strange people out there. Perhaps these guys are just a bit quirky. Turns out because my character name started with a G, our kinleader automatically assumed I was the hier, who happens to always name his characters with a G. He hadn’t yet logged into that session of the beta and wasn’t in the kin yet. After some odd questions the misunderstanding finally sorted itself out. I was no longer heir, but I now had an immediate connection to everybody who was online at that time. And I’ve never left. They’re a great group of people to play with and I’m blessed to have been mistaken for someone I wasn’t.

Chapter 4: Preferences

At your peak, how much time per week would you say you spent gaming? How about now?

At my peak, which was probably the year I took off school I approached 40 hours a week, like a full time job. Most of the time it’s less than that. Now a lot would be 20 hours a week. Currently I’m probably looking at 10, maybe. I’ve settled down the gaming quite a bit. I think there’s only so much gaming one can do before needing a break, and since I have a lot of other interests I can pursue besides gaming, I tend to not play nearly as much as I used to.

When during the week are your regular play times?

We’re mainly looking at evenings here, though lately I’ve show up late morning to early afternoon. When I finally get a steady job evenings will probably be the norm. I live on the West Coast of the US so evenings here will differ even across the US, let alone other parts of the world.

Generally speaking, are you more of a social creature in MMOs (grouping to quest, joining guilds, etc.) or something of a lone wolf?

I have joined a kin and consider my kinship to be the best thing that happened to me in LOTRO. I think I still play because I have kinmates I like to hang out with, whether that’s just talking or we’re actually grouping and experiencing content together. However, my playstyle is mainly solo, with my socializing taking place primarily in chat.

Have you made any lasting friendships through your MMO experience? Please explain.

Lasting to the point that I’ve played with the same people for over two years now. I’ve only talked to a few outside of game and because of the distance, via e-mail or other internet communication. I’d like to think that these people are friends not just because we play LOTRO together, but because we enjoy each other’s company. At some point I’d love to actually visit some of them if the opportunity presented itself.

Before logging into a game, do you already have a course of action planned out in your head, or do you just sort of do whatever you feel like once in game?

I like to start out with goals before I log in. In the past, when I haven’t had goals, I’ll log in, stare at the screen for a while, and if nobody from the kinship is really on or doing anything interesting, I’ll just log back out again. But, if I have a goal for my play session – complete quests, craft, whatever, I find I’ll stay logged in longer. I might finish my predetermined goal and still long in if I have come up with another activity I want to do. Often this will be finishing a play session with crafting – cooking in my case. It’s a nice relaxing end to change up the typical hack and slash of questing.

When playing MMOs do you tend to just play one at a time or do you take more of the smorgasbord approach?

Lately I’ve been all over the place when it comes to play time. Just depends on my mood since my schedule is variable. However, I’ve also filled my schedule with non-gaming activities as of late which aren’t necessary regular either. As such my gaming is sporadic and to someone who doesn’t know my schedule, unpredictable.

Do you tend to supplement your MMO gaming with other PC, console or tabletop games?

Sometimes I’ll play some single-player PC games. I don’t have a new gen console so I don’t play console games. I’ve never done intensive tabletop gaming so it’s just single-player PC games for me. I took a few days break to play Mass Effect when it came out for the PC. I’ve recently bought Heroes of Might and Magic V and was playing that until it got ridiculously hard even on the easy setting. If I get frustrated I’ll move on – no reason to play something that’s not fun. I played GTA IV until the latest patch made it crash before I could even load (was pretty miffed about that). I also play Galactic Civilizations II from time to time as well.

Are you something of an altoholic?

Absolutely not. I rarely play the alts I’ve created. At one time I was playing two alts for crafting purposes but I just got bored going through some of the same content again. I stick with my captain exclusively now, though if I ever had some friends I know locally play LOTRO, I’d make an alt specifically for playing with them. That would last longer – as long as they played and/or until they reached the level of my captain.

Do you find yourself multitasking while gaming (perhaps watching TV, talking on the phone, out of game instant messaging, playing another game, or even listening to a podcast)?

Every once and a while. Sometimes I’ll listen to podcasts while playing. I don’t have a TV in the same room as the computer so that’s out. IMing, no way. I hate alt-tabbing out of the game, especially something that’s “live” and cannot be paused. If the phone rings, I’ll answer of course, except in the most intense situations where getting up would be the death of me or another person I’m playing with. If the person on the phone wants to talk I’ll put them on speaker and get my hands back for playing. That’s rare though and most of the time I’m only playing the game.

Do you find yourself having much MMO discussion off-line, perhaps with friends or family?

Not with local friends or my family all that much. Recently my sister started playing WoW so we’ve been trading comparing comments back and forth from time to time. My main discussoin of LOTRO comes in the form of my blog – The Middle-Earth Adventurer. And even then that tends to be me talking a lot with occasional comments.

Have you ever felt that you game too much? If so, how did you cope with that?

Yes, on occasion. When I first bouth HoMaM V I stayed up till 3 AM playing – because it was new mostly. I regretted it afterwards not just because I woke up too late the next day but also because I felt like it was somewhat a waste of time that could otherwise be more productive. Being unemployed makes you feel like you should be using all the time you can to finding a job rather than “goofing off” playing games. I think I’m just a point in my life where gaming is becoming more of a hobby and occasional activity rather than an obsession. I don’t think I ever reached the point of being obsessed but when I was younger I lived to game.

Since you started playing MMOs, have you ever taken a break from the genre? If so, please explain.

Yes, with the single player games I mentioned above. However, LOTRO has always been something I played since I started Beta in August of 2006. I might take a break with a different game from time to time but LOTRO has the largest percentage of my game time.

Chapter 5: Blogging

When did you first start blogging?

I started blogging on October 13th 2008, so a little over 6 months ago. That was The Middle-Earth Adventurer, which remains my one and only blog, although I use livejournal for personal blogging and Twitter. I should also mention a brief foray into writing a monthly column at a fanfiction website I was once a part of. In a sense, that might have been considered a blog, but that was before I had ever heard of blogging.

Why do you blog?

I love talking about what I love doing. So, in my case, I love to talk about playing LOTRO. It’s pretty much that simple. As I discovered/helped create the current community that exists around the LOTRO blogs, I think I need to add that I blog for that community as well. At first, bloging was about myself. I did it just for me because I liked it. Now, in addition to that, I do it for everybody else that reads and particulates.

Do you have a schedule or some sort of routine you try and follow when blogging?

My goal is to have on average one post per day over at the Adventurer. This last month has seen a reduction in that regularity because I have been playing less and we’re in the middle of a development cycle for the game. Before Book 7 was released, I saw nearly three posts per day. As to a more general routine in my day, I usually blog in the morning, mostly about things that happened the previous day, if it’s about activities in the game, or information I’ve run across in my morning e-mail checking, blog reading, twitter updating, etc, etc. But I don’t limit myself to specific times during the day when I blog. When inspiration hits, I try and jump right into a post.

Is there some grind involved in blogging? If so, how do you cope?

Well, you might say that it’s hard to keep up a regular 1 post per day schedule at times. That could be considered a grind, but I don’t view it as such, or keep a grinding mentality when I’m blogging. If there’s material to post, I’ll post it. If not, I won’t post. The nice thing is I’ve managed to find inspiration so far to keep my goal and it hasn’t become a chore or grind. It helps that I love to blog.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

First and foremost I love to write. Anything I’m interested in I love to write about. And I get the added benefit of a clearer mind. Writing helps me to interact with the subject I’m writing about. For LOTRO, I understand the game and the mechanics behind the game better because I think critically about what I’m blogging about. I’ve also come to love the interaction with the small community we have. Either other bloggers or readers, it’s always nice to hear other opinions about what you’re interested in. That assumes an open mind. We all know about flame wars on forums and such. So far, all the participants have kept an open mind about the topics presented by the Adventurer and other LOTRO bloggers. It makes for some wonderful social interaction.

How many people offline know you blog?

All my local friends do, because I’ll mention it from time to time. But most of them aren’t interested in the subject of my blog (LOTRO) so don’t participate in it. They’re cool with what I do though. It’s not like I’m doing something weird or particularly nerdy. Then again, many of my friends are fellow nerds so their perceptions might be a bit biased.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to try their hand at blogging?

You need to love two things to be successful at blogging. First, you have to love whatever it is you want to blog about. If you don’t love it, you won’t keep up your blog over time. You’ll burn out. I love LOTRO and despite hitting a lull in my playing, I still love the game and I still want to write about it. Secondly, you need to love writing. If writing is a chore, blogging is not for you. Building on that, your love of writing should come with a desire for improvement of your writing skills. None of us start out writing Stephen King quality novels, even King himself. A successful blog will be well written or will see improvement in the writing as the blog progresses. And all this is only possible if you love to write.

I’d also say that if you get a large readership, you will come across people whose ideas differ from your own. You must be open to ideas. This might seem strange because many bloggers aren’t but they blog anyway. And some of their blogs are popular. I don’t see blogging as simply a means to expressing your own ideas and calling it good. Blogging is interacting with the community about which you blog, and interaction should be just as respectful online as in person. We don’t see enough of this. So be open, because you’ll find people who don’t agree with you and won’t be open about the opinion. They’ll attack you personally, call you names, discredit you in anyway they can. You need thick skin.

All this is well and good. You love a subject, you love to write about it, and you can take the heat. Now you need to set the ground rules of your blog. Do you talk about personal stuff? What comments are acceptable? Etc, etc. This is part of establishing your personality as a blogger, setting an expectation for your readers. And you cannot back down from your choices. People need to know what to expect with your blog, whether they like your rules or not. Changing the scope, scale, content, subject of your blog will turn your readership into a roller coaster ride. If you don’t want to blog about your topic anymore, but are interested in a different topic, start a new blog. Or make sure you started your current blog with enough generality to include everything you might want to blog about.

What is something you know now that you wish you had known when you first started?

Honestly, I was lucky in this. I had delved into the world of blogging long before I started doing it myself. I heard many bloggers and podcasters talk about the dos and don’ts, the ins and outs. I read different styles, saw the types of discussions and community interaction. I knew how to write before I started my blog (thank you college). So I came into blogging knowing what to expect, knowing how to accomplish my goals. That’s not to say there aren’t any surprises. I was amazed at how fast I became involved in the LOTRO blogging community. We’re not big, but there were more LOTRO blogs out there than I thought. Soon as I started the Adventurer, I began to quickly follow the links and profile pages to find everybody. It’s amazing how interconnected everything is on the internet. So, if there’s one thing I wish I knew I would have to say that is how to find the LOTRO community before I started, that way I could have done a better job at inserting myself into the mix. Not that things didn’t work out well anyway. I started the Adventurer because I didn’t think there were active LOTRO blogs. I was wrong, and I’m glad I was wrong.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

Anything is possible. I’m single and unemployed. I have a lot of time to blog. But I plan on getting a job. I plan on having a career, a family – wife, kids, dog, etc. Life won’t always be so forgiving and there may come a time where I need to take a sabbatical. I don’t think I will every quit forever. If it’s not LOTRO, I’m sure I’ll be bloging or writing about something. The regularity may change, but there will never be a lack of quality subjects to put my mind to. I hope the Adventurer will continue for the lifetime of the game, but like I said, who knows. Only the future.

Namari an si, Jaxom

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