Games have rules; everybody knows that. There are certain acceptable ways to play, certain strategies that have stood the test of time, and certain rules you just don’t break.
Recently I’ve come to a conclusion watching Fey demolishing pixels on City of Heroes, an extremely popular MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) she’s been participating in for a couple of years. Fey, being Fey, has never been a cookie-cutter type of girl. Even her cookies aren’t cookie cutter.
Like pretty much everything in her life, Fey approaches her game the way a chef would (or a good scientist). While she is aware of the recipes others have suggested for success, she is more interested in learning about the component parts and figuring things out for herself. Each skill set, each defense, each attack protocol, has its own characteristics—much like an herb or spice has a particular flavor and reacts differently in various combinations.
Fey’s approach to City of Heroes (and cooking) is to think about the component parts and explore the potentials they have in various combinations. And just like in her cooking, she has an almost uncanny ability to predict which combinations will produce just the right effect.
But Defending Paragon City from Evil is Not Baking Cookies…
Certainly baking and online gaming are not the same thing, but it does bring up a point that I’ve been considering lately. In both disciplines, there are two main styles of play.
The Rule Follower: The Rule Follower is that person who wants clearly delineated guidelines for success, straightforward steps to follow that will guarantee the outcome they desire. The Rule Follower wants order (usually enforced from the outside) and structure. Mostly, they want a definite brand of Right and Wrong. Here are a few things you might overhear a Rule Follower saying at any given time:
• That’s not the way we’ve always done it.
• Nobody can possibly make that work. It just isn’t done.
• I don’t want to rock the boat.
• That’s not my job.
• Nobody told me I was supposed to_____.
The Rule Follower is not bad, nor is he or she a weak person. So much of civilization is driven by the Rule Followers. These are the people who pay their taxes and work their jobs and live their lives according to the accepted rules of society, and they are the bedrock of civilization.
The Alchemist: The second type of player is one I call The Alchemist. Now, The Alchemist is no less addicted to order and structure than The Rule Follower. Order, after all, is what makes the Universe tick. The Alchemist, however, cannot and will not accept an arbitrary system of order that is imposed upon them from an outside force. The Alchemist must find this order for themselves. They are the misfits, weirdoes, geniuses, revolutionaries, and explorers. Life for an Alchemist is rarely typical. In fact, many of them experience great difficulties fitting in to a society that glorifies the average and predictable. Here are a few things you might overhear a Rule Follower saying at any given time:
• How can we do this smarter?
• I wonder how this would work out…
• But their way makes no sense!
• If you take this and add this…
• I don’t care how many people do it; it’s still wrong.
The Alchemist is not obstinate, nor is he or she a purposefully contrary person. It’s just that The Alchemists simply cannot resist their overwhelming curiosity about life, ideas, people, and things. Where The Rule Followers are the bedrock of civilization, it is The Alchemists who fire the imagination and quite often are the impetus for cultural burst of evolution.
We Can Work It Out
As you would expect, the two groups rarely play nice together. The Rule Followers consider The Alchemists to be dangerous radicals would wouldn’t know common sense if it bit them in the Mensa ID card. And The Alchemists often see The Rule Followers as mindless sheeple blindly following the status quo without ever putting forth an original idea.
Well, they’re both kind of right. And they’re both very wrong. As with everything in nature, society depends on balance if it’s going to have any kind of longevity. It is the combination of tradition and innovation that keeps a culture thriving; rule out one or the other, and you’ve put that culture in danger of stagnation or unraveling.
So the trick is to find a way to honor the styles of both sides—the traditionalists and the progressives—without either group having to sacrifice their views and values.
Steady as She Goes
Fey, my gamer Alchemist, does not reach the high levels of gameplay by ignoring common sense and tradition. She is actually very much a follower of rules…if they are practical and make logical sense. She believes in consistency and accountability and all those other things Rule Followers so adore.
But she has discovered that if when you do what everybody does, you tend to get what everybody gets. It’s much more interesting and challenging to look at the game as a series of components that can be combined in various sequences to create a vast array of different experiences.
My life is like that, I think. I’ve spent years looking for the right recipe, the right skill set so that I could Be Happy™. Go to the right school, take the right classes, get the right job, learn the right skills…all these lead in the absolutely unshakably perfectly right direction of Right.
But in life, as in cookies and MMOGs, if you do whatever everybody does, you tend to get what everybody gets. My dear friend is a New York Times best-selling romance writer. To all external criteria, she has the life I want. Bless her, I wouldn’t trade with her for a moment. Not that I don’t want to be a professional writer. But that is her path, which is blissfully perfect for her, but would be a nightmare for me.
Fey has taught me a good lesson with all of this City of Heroes she’s been playing. Life is a series of component parts, ingredients we put together to create the life we want. There are guides and rule books and recipes for putting those ingredients together which will produce predictable, and these are wonderful things.
But sometimes, if you want a life designed specifically for you, not a copy of someone else’s life, then you have to break things down into their component parts. You have to put things together and take them apart and risk getting messy or bad data or the occasional exploding hard drive.
Life isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s downright hard. But there is a joy to it, when you remember that it’s just another sort of MMOG– massively magnificent organic game. No matter how you choose to play it, the game is always challenging, creative, and lots of fun.
Recently a Canadian friend broke one of her own rules and suggested it might be best for me to consider moving north to Canada with my partner. In Canada, she said, not only could I legally marry my partner of 10+ years, but I’d have access to universal healthcare and Social Security that actually means something. In addition to the legal and financial benefits, I’d be out of this insanity that seems to have gripped my home country by the throat.
I have to admit, the thought is alluring (especially when she assured me Canada is not all ice and snow, 365 days a year). I’m currently a resident of my third U.S. state, and I still haven’t managed to live anywhere “blue.” I went from conservative Catholic country to conservative Mormon country, only to land up most recently in conservative Baptist country. And despite the various differences between the three groups, they all seem to be agreed on one general belief: people like me are dangerous, offensive, and definitely going to hell.
Then there is the matter of corporate takeover of our entire way of life, from government to the quality of our food to the music we listen to on the radio. There are the increases in crime and decreases in income to consider. Bigotry against minorities, erosion of educational standards, pollution and a crumbling infrastructure–oh, my!
Let’s face it–the United States of America in 2011 is a freaky kind of place. And my Canadian friend is not the first person to suggest I might be better off leaving America for a more stable, rational locale.
It Wasn’t Always Like This (Was It?)
I was born in the mid-Sixties, just as the Movement Generation started gearing up in earnest. The Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, and the GLBT Equality Movements were the soundtrack of my formative years. My earliest lessons were about how you shouldn’t exploit the migrant workers, how girls should have the same opportunities as boys, how we were here, queer, and everybody should just get over it. Gloria Steinem, Sally Ride, and Joan Baez were placed before me as the Feminine Ideal. Sesame Street was my summer home, that glorious rainbow of education, kindness, and creativity.
Somewhere, though, it all started changing. Somewhere the peaceful voices singing folk tunes switched to greedy songs of misogyny and racism, hatred and aggression. Somewhere the idea of saving the world turned to dreams of owning the world, and everything in it. Politics became meaner, society became harsher, and that American dream we all were taught to believe in started looking more like a drug-induced nightmare.
Maybe I Should Leave
In the wired up world, it’s become more and more clear to me that America is not exactly like the rest of the world. This craziness of hatred and financial devastation may exist in many countries, but not all of them. There are places in the world that are not overrun by this rabid, polarized ideological zeitgeist that continues to rip my country to shreds.
Some places are better. Safer, for people like me. Some places seem very much like a haven, a refuge for the weary American worn out by the fighting and the drama and the fear pushed on us by individuals and institutions that prosper from chaos and terror.
It’s hard to say no to the chance at a peaceful existence, where half the population doesn’t consider me a sinner, a pervert, or a nutcase.
It’s Really That Simple
When I look around at the state of my country, the promise of democracy, “the greatest country on Earth,” as we were taught in school, I want to weep. In the richest country on Earth, over 43 million people live in poverty, with a third of them under the age of 18. In 2009, according to Feeding America statistics, over 50 million Americans lived in what they call “food insecure” households. As of September 2010, over 50 million Americans did not have health insurance. One in four American women has experienced domestic violence in her life time, and there were over 6,600 hate crimes in 2009, based on race, religion or sexual orientation.
This is not the America I love. This is not the America I believe in. This is some Mirror Universe America, where the bad guys win, hate is the order of the day, and people just get stupider every year.
At the bottom of it all, though, no matter how much greener the grass may look in Canada or the UK or other countries, I am an American. I was born here. I grew up here. I get the jokes. I know the terrain. I understand the people–at least, I think I do. And I know that we are not seeing the best of America. I know that within this cauldron of diversity and conflict we can find an amazingly complex and potent combination of values and ideas–if only we have the courage to move beyond our fear and prejudice.
As long as I’m here, paying my taxes, casting my vote, contributing to society, I have a voice and the right to use that voice to speak up. I cannot fight the good fight from the outside. Once I leave this country, I leave it for good. I’m no longer “one of us.” My voice will lose its potency, dimmed by the fact that “I turned tail when the going got tough.”
Just like no American has the right to bitch about the government if they don’t bother to vote, I don’t have the right to bitch about what’s going wrong in the country if I move away. (It may not seem logical, but it’s an American thing.) If I want to have a voice in the future of my country, the country where my nieces and nephews will grow to adults, I need to stay here. I need to stick it out, no matter how unwelcome my fellow Americans sometimes make me feel.
The Thorn in the Paw
America, my home, my beloved country, will never pull itself out of this self-destructive quagmire until its citizens stand up and speak clearly. Until voices of reason and compassion rise up to drown out the hatred and propaganda that threatens the true values of America–freedom, integrity, and justice–the fight will not be done. Until human life has more value than corporate profits, and respect trumps hatred, I can’t leave the United States of America.
To my friends in other countries, I love you. I thank you for your concern, and for considering that I might be an asset to your homes. You can’t know how honored I am to know that you would welcome me, were I to turn up on your borders. You don’t know how grateful I am, when I turn on the television and see yet another story on how things are going to hell in a hand basket, to know that the entire world hasn’t gone mad.
But this is America, and I am American. This is an amazing country, filled with beautiful, amazing people. I am a citizen of the world, yes, but this is my home. This is where my family is, where my memories were made, where my values were formed. I won’t abandon it now, when it needs me the most.