Blaugust 2015, Day 5 – The Luxury of Time Travel

If you could be any age again for a week, which would you choose? – Hestiah

I’ve asked myself this question many times. The parameters are a bit different, though: I think of a year from my life that I’d like revisit. When the year is up, I restart at the beginning and get to do it all over again. I can do this as many times as I’d like until I decide it’s time for Scott Bakula to make the final leap home.

We’re in the domain of “let’s pretend,” so thinking about what rules would be in effect is both nonsensical and endlessly entertaining. Isn’t that why we play MMOs, after all? To be entertained by nonsense.

In my case, I run with the fairly common fantasy trope in which you retain all of your current knowledge and abilities; in other words, you get to travel back in time to when you were younger and trounce everything in sight. I do handicap myself though, by adhering to the limitations of the state my mind and body were in at the time, so if I went back to a point in my life when I hadn’t been exercising and my face were covered in acne, I wouldn’t expect to wake up one day and spring straight out of a bed shared by my high school crush into a six-minute mile run. Let’s keep some reality in this fantasy.

There are so many seemingly attractive options here. Do I go back to the days of Nintendo and all-day Dragon Warrior 3 sessions before I became a teenager? Rose-tinted glasses say yes; reality check says I was often bored out of my mind and had nothing better to do in the Section 8, government-subsidized housing I lived in with my chronically depressed, unemployed mother. Perhaps not. How about the days of SNES? Same thing, just better graphics.

When I first got an actual computer and started messing around with BBSs – this is where things get interesting. Perhaps you’ve noticed a common theme by now: the lack of other people in my age selections. I’m an introvert. I played sports with neighborhood kids outside from time to time, sometimes quite extensively during the summer. I just don’t remember the social times as much as I do the alone times, hence the gaming focus.

When I discovered that you could send and receive messages and files via phone lines, my world exploded. Seems quite odd given that I wasn’t particularly fond of communicating; I think it was the medium more than anything that got me hooked. When I had exhausted all of the publicly available shareware games that would run on my 286, I started spamming BBSs looking for multiplayer online games (door games). I found a system with a graphical user interface (GUI – is that acronym still used?) and disappeared for several months.

Reality? The game became a boring-as-hell grindfest. I’d sit down with the radio and a bucket of donut holes and plink away at the experience numbers for eight to twelve hours. Open-world PvP was on by default – I don’t think it had occurred to anyone that there were different rulesets in existence – so anyone could walk up and jack you at any time. The worst was after an all-nighter when an otherwise friendly Assassin class character named Genjuro strolled into the room I had been fighting in and wanted to “roleplay” a dramatic backstab attempt. For whatever reason, he forgot to put the word “say” in front of it. One level and ten hours down the drain.

Maybe I won’t go back to that period in time. I was quite awkward in my late teens.

After that game eventually disappeared, I spent quite some time recreating it first as a BBS door game and then later as a MUD (which made things much, much easier). I was moderately successful; I got a thousand rooms and basic player combat done. I did it by stripping the DIKU base down to the networking code and rebuilding it. It was great fun. Even today I can get lost for hours in programming a MUD from scratch in LUA, the only programming language I really have the patience for these days. Mostly because it’s the language of the gods and lets you quaff tables into existence RIGHT NOW rather than having to do thirty-five special syntactic and compiler dances.

That was a period of high creativity during which I was making and playing MUDs most of the day. It was also before I had started drinking. It was also the point at which all of the other children in the neighborhood (who were now young adults) had moved away and I had basically nobody to play with. We weren’t children any more, anyhow, so I suppose playing wasn’t a thing any more. But it was, for me, in the solace of my bedroom. Seems like a good candidate for time travel, my late late teens and early twenties.

As I navigated my twenties I became an obnoxious forum denizen and a serial gaming enthusiast of the graphical variety. I began drinking to excess. I drank myself into homelessness before being accepted at the university where I now teach occasionally. I wouldn’t go back to any of that, no matter how much I liked classic World of Warcraft or EverQuest or CounterStrike 1.6 or Quake 2. That’s booze territory and I don’t venture ‘round those parts no more.

I guess we have a winner: twenty years old, spending my nights (and days, depending on how “late” I stayed up) programming and playing MUDs while QVC played on another channel. (I was always chasing ASMR triggers in the background.) The MUD grind was monotonous; the coding grind was a time machine because I’d start working on a feature as soon as I woke up in the evening and when it was complete, the sun would be coming up. Who needs a TARDIS?

Blaugust 2015 Initiative Page


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