Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces


Posted by Randolph Carter on March 25, 2009

MMO community connection:

Fool’s Age

Chapter 1: Introduction

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

I have several depending on the online community, but for the purposes of this survey I answer to foolsage; that’s what I blog as and the name I use to comment in other blogs.

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

I write Fool’s Age and comment where and how I feel drawn to in other blogs about gaming and popular culture.

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

I write about games and especially game design, with focus on RPGs and especially MMORPGs. I also write about various bits of popular culture or random thoughts as they occur to me.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in Denver and raised in the San Francisco Bay area.

Where do you live now?

I live in San Jose, CA now, having recently returned from 3 years in Australia.

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.

I’ll go with 31-40 for now, thought I reserve the right to level up when appropriate, usually about once a year.

What do you do for a living?

I design products used in cancer surgery and train surgeons to use said products (Director of R&D).

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

A wizard, definitely. They get better feats.

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

Hrm – well, most people don’t know me at all, to be precise, but I’ll assume this refers to people who know me.

  • I have double jointed toes.
  • I speak 10 languages, mostly poorly.
  • I have a massive library; about 2000 books and 10,000 comics.
  • One of my characters in an online game literally became a god (i.e. became an NPC deity).
  • I had a piano scholarship to UCLA.

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

I have the requisite number of parents, a sister, and a half brother. I’m divorced.

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 loved games as a child and still do. I started with checkers and chess, then moved on to board games like Monopoly and Life, then more complex stuff like Risk. Then this amazing new game called Dungeons and Dragons came out and the rest is history.

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

I played soccer for 10 years, played trumpet and baritone in band, and debated in the National Forensics League. I was also in the Boy Scouts (Eagle Scout).

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

Well, I’ve played or DMed almost everything released in the last 30 years, and have playtested several games prior to release. I also have coauthor credit on a couple of D&D supplements. So, yeah, I was exposed.

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 the Lord of the Rings when I was 8 years old and loved it. I’ve read it at least once every year for the last 3+ decades now. See above re: my library to get a sense how much of a bibliophile I am in general.

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.

Absolutely; Tolkien influenced my love of the fantasy genre, which has led to fantasy being my favorite genre overall for gaming. I like scifi and comic themes as well but play more fantasy-based games than any other sort.

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

I remember seeing Pong in a pizza parlour when I was quite young, and being intrigued by the bouncing ball. I moved on to proper arcades in the late 70s through mid 80s, playing stuff like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. At the same time I started computer gaming, with stuff like the Wizardry and Ultima series. At that same period I also used to get computer magazines like A+ and Byte, and use the code published therein to write my own games like Wumpus hunts.

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

Heck yeah, see above answer. I used to spend a lot of time and money on Kangaroo and Galaxian and that era’s titles.

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

The Wizardry series is the first that really drew me in collectively, and made me care about the overall plot. It was the closest I could get to computer D&D back then.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

Atari 2600, XBOX, Wii, XBOX 360.

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

When I was around 9, my parents and some friends were playing Risk, and invited me to join them. Long story short, I won fairly quickly and they never wanted to let me play again. Thankfully my friends liked gaming, and I focussed on non-zero-sum games thereafter so I wouldn’t repeat the experience. Cooperative is better for me than competitive.

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever exposed to MUDs?

Only indirectly by reading about them; I never played any.

What was your first MMO experience?

I played EverQuest from soon after launch in 1999 till about a year later. It was an epiphany of sorts to find an MMO, something I’d always looked for since my early roleplaying days.

If possible, list all the MMOs you’ve played extensively.

  • EverQuest – Bard 52 or so
  • World of Warcraft – Priest 61
  • City of Heroes – Blaster 40
  • Lord of the Rings Online – Champion 50, Minstrel 50, Hunter 50, Burglar 50 (pre-Moria)
  • Age of Conan – Barbarian 55
  • Warhammer – Archmage 28

What is your current MMO of choice, or perhaps, what are your current MMOs of choice?

I started the EQ2 trial 2 weeks ago and subscribed yesterday.

Which MMO have you spent the most time playing? How long would you say that has been?

I played LotRO pretty solidly through beta and then for a year or so post-launch. I spent more time in game playing LotRO than I think any other MMO.

Have you reached level cap in any MMO? If so, which ones?

See LotRO above; I reached level cap with 4 of 7 classes, and had the remaining 3 classes close to cap.

Loki taps you on the shoulder one day to inform you that you have fallen victim to one of his elaborate pranks. The world you’ve been inhabiting of countless MMOs to choose from and play has merely been a dream. In reality only one MMO exists. After laughing at you for a bit he decides to take pity on you and allows you to choose which MMO will remain. Which one would you choose and why?

Hrm. I think I’d have to choose WoW, not because it’s a better or more fulfilling game than the others, but because it’s done the most to make MMOs and video games in general more widely accepted. Without WoW, MMOs would be in a worse situation overall. Contrariwise of course, with only one MMO (whichever one) we’d lose a lot of the diversity and openness to innovation that’s been slowly developing.

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

I’m definitely intrigued by Champions Online, since it’s a change of pace from the typical fantasy genre, and it’s an IP I appreciate. I like the concept of the Nemesis system and quite enjoyed a lot of features in City of Heroes. I’m also looking forward to both Star Trek Online and Star Wars – the Old Republic, again for the change of pace and for IPs I appreciate. I’m hoping for some good exploration gameplay in Star Trek, and for some interesting moral choices in Star Wars.

Chapter 4: Preferences

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

At my peak, I was playing probably 20-30 hours online, plus another 10 or so hours offline doing design and building work. These days, it’s more like 5-10 hours total.

When during the week are your regular play times?

I don’t have regular play times per se; I don’t play when at the office but otherwise might at any time, depending on other plans.

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

Something of both really. I primarily solo but love having a guild to chat with, and definitely enjoy grouping sometimes. I try to strike a balance between freedom to log off at any time (soloing) and socialization (grouping).

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

I met my ex-wife when we were both admins on a NWN persistent world. I made a few other lasting friends there as well.

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 occasionally have explicit goals, but that’s fairly rare (e.g. in EQ2 my Fury hit 20th level so when I played yesterday I wanted to start the lvl 20 armor quest series).

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

I’m a serial monogamist and generally only play one MMO at a time. I do sometimes beta test other games at the same time though, but that’s casual; I’m not cheating on my relationship. 😉

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

Definitely. I enjoy single-player games (PC/console) and play them a fair amount. I also play in a tabletop D&D campaign once a month.

Are you something of an altoholic?

No question. I like the exploration and discovery portion of finding good tactics for each class. I also like having options when playing with friends (e.g. if a friend plays a tank I might bring a healer along). I’m also generally a dedicated crafter and like to cover all my bases by having different alts with different crafting skills.

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)?

Rarely. I generally prefer a high level of immersion when playing games.

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

On blogs, sure. With friends, sometimes… it depends on the friends of course.

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

I felt like I was spending too much of my time and energy on the NWN persistent world I used to play and work in. I was a designer, builder, and DM, and it became really difficult to extricate myself for any free time. On the plus side, I did meet a lot of people there, including as noted above some lasting friends plus my ex-wife. I eventually coped with it terminally by leaving the world entirely a few years back.

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

I’ve taken several breaks when I started to feel burned out on MMOs. Most recently, I grew tired of Warhammer and Age of Conan, and didn’t have anything I felt like playing between November 2008 and mid-April 2009, when I picked up EQ2.

Chapter 5: Blogging

When did you first start blogging?

I started blogging in August of last year. I took some time off at the end of the year, since my life was going through some major changes and I was reassessing how I spend my time.

Why do you blog?

I find game design interesting and like discussing it with other knowledgeable people. Then, too, I simply like to write.

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

Nope! Though I will admit that roughly 95% of my blogging is done at work during slow periods.

Is there some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you cope with it?

Yeah, it’s been a lot of work getting high enough blog faction to start work on my epics. I try to whittle away at it with my dailies but it’s slow going. I’m hoping to unlock the first tier faction quests in the next month, and until then it’s just grind grind grind.

OK, no, that was completely tongue-in-cheek. I don’t treat blogging as a job and there’s no grind. I do sometimes want to write but lack things I want to write about in my blog; this has been ameliorated by getting back into playing MMOs.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

I enjoy sharing my thoughts and ideas, and both giving and receiving feedback.

How many people offline know you blog?

Hmm. If you mean people who don’t actually read blogs, then not many, perhaps a handful. Pretty much everyone I know is online at least a little bit though.

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

Don’t do it! It’s extraordinarily painful, difficult, and time consuming. Or, no, wait, that’s root canals. Blogging is painless and easy, and sometimes can be done quickly. I don’t think people all blog in the same ways or for the same reasons so don’t think general advice is probably helpful.

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

I’m not completely sure that I know anything now, so I can’t answer this.

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

Sure. After the zombie apocalypse it’s all up in the air. OK, ok, more seriously… sure, I might find that I lose interest in blogging at some point. If it ceases to be fun for me then I won’t do it. I’m not getting paid for it and it’s not about padding my resume; it’s just a hobby.

At your funeral, what song(s) would you have played as your corpse is set alight and cast out to sea on a funeral barge?

Well, “Carmina Burana” by Orff is always popular for viking funerals. “Nellie the Elephant” by the Toy Dolls is of course nearly as popular but lacks a bit of the gravitas. I’m rather fond of “Time” by Pink Floyd though, so might choose that one, iconoclast that I am.

One Response to “Foolsage”

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