Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces


Posted by Randolph Carter on March 20, 2009

MMO community connection:


Chapter 1: Introduction

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

Spinks is the name I use for blogging. It’s actually the name I thought up for my WoW character back when the game launched, and before that it was a name I used for a character in a short story about an East End guttersnipe who worked for a vampire crimelord. I like it because it sounds a bit comic and also not pretentious.

I hope that reflects my writing voice!

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

I’m a blogger at the moment. My online hangout is Before that, I wrote with my sister (I mean, sister as in blood relation, not sister as in nun) — and *plug* she’s still updating BoG but also writes a blog at

The Book of Grudges blog was a riot, and also successful way beyond anything we had imagined. And after that, I was hooked.

Before that, I was involved with MUSHes. As well as playing, I was part of the staffing team on a few games and wrote most of the game bible (ie. the large background document to which staff referred for thematic questions) for Sanguinis Nobilis, which was a MUSH based around White Wolf’s Vampire game and set in modern day London. It was awesome and so were my amazing fellow staffers, and we had the best players ever. If I enjoy MMOs, it’s because sometimes they remind me of SN.

I have also written for RPG companies, in particular:

Steve Jackson Games:

For In Nomine:

Hope and Prophecy

Rogues to Riches

and a scenario: The Rat’s Revenge


GURPS Screampunk

I also wrote the first draft of GURPS Dragons

Guardians of Order:

Dreaming Cities: Tri-Stat Urban Fantasy Genre

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

My blog is about MMOs and elements of game design. I’m fascinated by interactive fiction and in particular by emergent player behaviour and in-game cultures. And if that sounds high-faluting, it means I’m often writing about guilds.

I also write about whichever game I am playing most at the moment, and I try to do this in a way that will help people who don’t play better understand player behaviour in that game. At the moment my main MMO character is a protection warrior in WoW, so I’m writing at least one post a week about tanking and raiding and WoW sorts of things.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in London. I’ve lived in several parts of the UK (including Hull and Leeds), went to University in Newcastle, came back to London as a Post-Graduate and am now living about 50 miles west of London.

Where do you live now?

Reading. It’s fine, as long as you don’t mind swans.

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


What do you do for a living?

At the moment, I’m between careers and doing lots of voluntary work (I volunteer as an adviser at the CAB *plug*). Before that, I acquired a PhD in digital signal processing and spent 20 years or so working as a design engineer, mostly designing mobile phones. The work also drifted to low level software engineering and I have worked on operating systems, my particular speciality was filing systems.

I’m one of the few coders I know who has actually worked on production assembler (ie. programming in assembler for mass market devices). These days even low level coders usually work in a higher level language.

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

Opera singer, but I’d need to reroll my larynx too!

I am actually working on rerolling my career at the moment, most likely towards social work.

List five random things most people don’t know about you.

  • I chew my nails.
  • I have been hang gliding and it was great.
  • I once ate roast sparrow (on a stick) in Japan.
  • I once played the role of Aouda Fogg (the Indian woman who married Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days) in a live RP and had to learn how to put on a sari. Fortunately I found the info on a web page.
  • I’m a big REM fan and met my husband via an argument in my sister’s kitchen about which was their best album.

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

I have two awesome sisters. I am also happily married to the most patient man in the universe.

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?

We’ve always been playing games as a family. I remember playing card games like Whist and Rummy with my great aunts, I remember playing Monopoly with my cousins, I remember playing Scrabble with my friends and their parents. And I remember playing lots of board games and card games and lets’ pretend games with my sisters.

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

Piano, fencing, swimming, reading (lots of reading!)

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

lol yes, I’ve played, run and written a lot of pen and paper RPGs. I don’t remember the first but it may have been boxed set D&D which I played (kind of) with my sisters. We had an AD&D game going with cousins also.

Pen and Paper RPGs were big at the time.

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.

Yes. Read lots of everything. I remember loving lots of authors and titles, anything I pick out would be arbitrary.

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.

Probably. I enjoyed escapist fiction and games, but I just got into games in general at an early age. And stayed there. A lot of my friends are gamers, we often bust out a card game or board game when we get together. I liked computers a lot anyway, the difference between programming and computer games didn’t come clear to me until later – I just thought they were both fun things to do with computers.

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

Don’t remember precisely. I know one of my friends had a ZX Spectrum. And a friend of my dad’s had a build-your-own computer (a Sharp I think) and he’d got some really really basic games for it which we adored. First computer we owned was a VIC-20, and I remember spending a fair amount of time typing games into it from computer magazines.

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

Not much.

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

I was blown away by Elite when I first saw a friend play it on her BBC B. It was also the first game I ever actually finished, some years later, when it came out on the Atari ST.
I loved the novella that came with it.
I loved flying my spaceship around, struggling to learn how to dock and being able to trade up to better ships and weapons when I’d earned enough money trading.
I loved that space was just so /big/. It was one of the most immersive games I’d ever played.
I also love that so many gamers and designers of my rough age pick it as one of their favourite ever games — it reassures me that we all have great taste 🙂

I also don’t remember which was the first roguelike game I played but like so many people, I was hooked immediately.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

gameboy, gameboy advance, DS, PS, PS2. I think that’s it.

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

OK, the epic tale of WHO KILLED BOB?!

This is not really from my childhood but from when I’d just moved into a flat with my sisters after leaving university. I had a dinky Apple computer which I’d gotten cheap from uni (I was a postgrad) and one of the few games I had that ran on it was Angband. Which is a roguelike.

So my sisters both liked the game too and we took turns playing it. And then … the terrible night when one of them logged on and … her character was gone *dire music*. We never did find out who killed Bob (if you’re reading this, I swear it wasn’t me!!), but I remember lying in bed and listening to her recite Bob’s entire gear list mournfully from her bedroom across the corrridor.

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