Saturday, May 3, 2014

Riding Your Demons

This post is a little different to most of my other posts. No tips, secrets, hidden clues or logs are included here. Instead this will be a more personal post about how playing Realms of Despair has influenced my real life and vice versa. I've been reading the new Imaginary Realities publications lately and found myself thinking about an article by Michael “Drakkos” Heron titled Saddle Up - A Personal Story about Riding Your Demon to Success. In short this article is all about how running a mud and writing about it has impacted on Drakkos' life. In it he says the following:
If you're a player rather than a developer, document your experiences and let us read about them. Compare and contrast — build up your critical faculties and you'll be surprised how much easier and better other parts of your life become. Turn the expertise you're accumulating into something more: synthesise it, editorialise it, and then package it up and let people at it.
I have been doing this to a degree on this blog though not so much about myself as a player personally. While I do like to keep my private life private and separate from my mudding here it goes.

My first experience of playing Realms of Despair came around September 1998. I was a first year undergraduate studying a bachelors degree from the University of Western Australia in computer and mathematical sciences. I remember it was in the afternoon and I was supposed to be writing programs in a lab session for a class in functional programming using a Haskell variation called Gofer on a Power Macintosh. This was not fun. I think they tried to bore us so people would drop out. Instead I started messing around using a Telnet window to connect to the university's internet connection and using the Lynx text only web-browser stumbled upon the Realms of Despair. My first ever character was a dwarf thief. I played for half an hour looking around and trying to get the hang of the game before having to leave and finish writing functions. Over the next week whenever I got a little spare time at the university I'd find a quiet spot with a computer and play Realms. From then on I was hooked.

There was a saying that the acronym MUD stood for Multi-Undergraduate Destroyer but in a funny way I found that playing a MUD and looking at the Smaug codebase for it helped me understand a lot of concepts in computer science better including:
  • Integer overflow: In computing terms an integer is a number between -2147483647 and 2147483647. In the old days of Realms of Despair if you went over 2147483647 gold coins you would end up with -2147483647 gold coins. They have changed the gold value from an integer to a long integer since those days but it taught me the concept well.
  • Abstract data structures: In second year of our course we had to do a unit in data structures and introductory algorithms. This class had a reputation of being a tough class - even worse than functional programming. I found it quite easy as I was able to visualise most of the data structures using mud concepts. For example I knew that doubley linked lists were used for in Smaug for things like player inventories. From here it was easy to visualise adding and removing items as well as the effects on the order of items. It also helped me visualise a tree data structure as containers within containers - i.e. an extra dimensional portal with a small birch chest and a pouch of purple cloth inside of it.
  • The use and difficulties of algorithms: Algorithms were a tricky subject and implementing them in code can be difficult. I learnt this from the years that the locate object spell which uses some sort of tree search algorithm was broken. It would cause the mud to crash on a regular basis so was removed for a long period of time. I also appreciated the use of shortest path algorithms in skills like track.
  • TCP/IP, UDP, FTP, Telnet and other networking protocols: In third year I took a class in computer networking and found that my basic knowledge of different protocols and their commonly used port numbers helped me understand the different protocols better. Also sending traceroute packets to figure out why the mud was lagging at times helped.
  • Hypothesis testing: In mathematics this is used to make comparison between two different ideas. In Realms of Despair I've been able to apply this towards testing theories such as does having augurer with 22 luck have more success at popping items than other classes.
  • Regression analysis: The pattern in experience needed to level in Realms of Despair can be calculated using a regression analysis. After playing around with it for the different classes I learnt that a cubic regression gives the following rules:
    • For thieves: 750 * (current level - 1)³
    • For nephandi: 1400 * (current level - 1)³
    • From the above you can see one of the reasons why levelling a nephandi is so much pain compared to a thief or any other class.
I managed to graduate in 2002 which was right in the middle of the dot-com crash fallout. Finding a job wasn't that easy. Most people I knew got jobs doing things like answering phones at ISP's. I learnt early on that I did not want to be doing these things so instead went in another direction which lead to me to today where I am a high school mathematics teacher. Professionally playing a mud has helped me with the following:
  • How to teach: In the mud a large part of playing is teaching other players how to do things such as solve puzzles, kill certain mobs or work as a team. To show others how to do this you need to be able to give concise instructions, attempt to relate it to other experiences they may have had and anticipate common mistakes they may make. An example of how these overlap is on the mud I have to say things like "Don't forget to turn on autoloot before killing Vortex" while in real life this week it has been "When find the co-ordinate of the turning point of a quadratic function in y = a(x + p)² + q form don't forget to it is the opposite sign of p for the x value and the same sign of q for the y value."
  • How to write for others to understand: A large part of my job is to write notes for my classes. To be successful at this I need to think about what are the key points I want them to learn and leave out the other stuff. Writing notes on how to kill beasts in the Barren Wastes is not much different to writing instructions on how to calculate compound interest.
  • Learning about different countries: by playing a MUD based in Canada I've learnt that there is more to Canada than Justin Bieber and Nickelback. This has been handy when I've had Canadian exchange students in my classes and I've been able to talk to them about ice hockey and Nascar racing.
When it comes to relationships Realms of Despair has also had an impact on my life. While I have never found (or tried to find) love on the game it is not unheard of I've found more satisfaction in playing after a bad break up. One time I was in a relationship with a girl who's last name was Nelson. Things ended bad so to get over it I remember locking myself in my room, listening to gloomy emo/gothic music, getting drunk and spam killing Lieutenant Commander Nelson. I think I ended up having most of my characters die and not being able to get back without asking for an immortal corpse retrieval. My memory is still blurred from around that time but I got myself back together and less than a year later I met my wife who I've been with for almost 10 years now. While she doesn't understand the time I spend mudding I don't understand her interest in scrapbooking or the Twilight movies we still love each other and have fun together.

Finally I've also made real life friendships through Realms of Despair. There was a time when there were several players from around the Perth area I was then living in. We'd get together on a semi-regular basis and do things from parties, to nightclubs, bowling, movies and just meeting up for a drink/meal. I always enjoyed catching up with Foamfoller, Sarakin, Holly, Murkius, Jhael, Gatersade, Ghordon and the rest of the crew, well with the exception of when we saw the Final Fantasy film (106 minutes of my life I'll never get back).

While I hadn't seen many of these people for a while in real life or in the game I recently caught up with Sarakin. He invited me to join the order of Arcanes with some of my other characters. So far I've enjoyed the organisation and it does feel like a new home within the game.

Earlier this year I asked one of my classes full of 14/15 year olds to fill in a survey about themselves and their interests. The usual responses of various sports, music and other hobbies were there but this year there was a lot of students listing facebook and their iphone as one of their interests. Talking to some of the ones who said they liked video games of which most said they played xbox or playstation too much. To me it's quite amazing to think that I've been playing on one mud since before they were born. I wonder if facebook, World of Warcraft, GTA 5 or Candy Crush Saga will have as much of an impact in beneficial ways as Realms of Despair has for me? It's not like you can look at the source code for any of them to get any idea of how they work and the social side isn't the same. I guess at least they will still enjoy some stress relief and scheming politics with them.

Overall I find myself fortunate to have been at the right place at the right time to have enjoyed a mud. It has had a positive impact on my life and I don't know how different things would be for me today if I didn't have these experiences. Sure there is the opportunity cost of would I could have been doing if I wasn't mudding so much. I do wonder about the future of muds and online games in general but I still enjoy writing about my adventures and getting something out of them.

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