Tuesdays with Abhorrent Fiends vol. 47: It's all in good fun 'til somebody loses an eye

So I've been out of work for a month and a half, and it has affected my self-esteem. This is not too surprising, since I have the kind of personality that is, shall we say, hypersensitive to the winds of time and circumstance. Like a whippy little reed, bent by the slightest breeze, but broken only by a sub-zero frost followed by a blizzard. Or something equally poetic.

Due to my lack of forward momentum in real life, I've turned more and more to games for that little hit of empowerment and validation they can provide. It's kind of like watering a plant with club soda. It gets the hydration in there and aerates the soil, but ultimately weakens the root system and makes the plant pale and stringy. Man, I've got to get away from these plant metaphors.

I'm aware that it's not entirely healthy to obsess over roleplaying games, be they online or console or PC-based. But the idea of taking on the role of an alter ego is only a small part of the appeal for me. The big draw is that in any game, you know that you will only be presented with problems you can solve. You will never confront a puzzle unless all the pieces necessary to solve it exist in the game, never be presented with a monster that is actually impossble to defeat. If you, the player, are patient and plan ahead, load your character up with all the items and skills and spells appropriate to the task, you will be able to overcome any challenge the game sets you.

So here's a list of all my beloved PBBGs.

The Kingdom of Loathing. I don't play as often as I used to--got my big sister into it, and she is a way more disciplined and accomplished player than me. The nice thing about KoL is that once you've beaten the game, you get to "reincarnate" back at the beginning as a new character class, retaining a few useful things you've obtained or accomplished in your previous run. It's turn-based, so you can only spend a finite amount of time on it every 24 hours. Also it is freaking hilarious.

I'd also signed up for a game with a similar gameplay layout to KoL but which is not funny. However, I've forgotten the name of the game, hence can't go back and play my characters. Yes, characters. It is a rare game that'll have me playing less than two characters. Many games frown on multis because people might use multiple characters to beef up one character with the items and buffs meant for a single one. But me, I crave perfect information. I want to run the first one through as a test character, with all the skills I might like to have, testing out the various action options and sequences of events. Then for the second character, I know which skills are actually more powerful, which courses of action most likely to bear fruit, and I can concentrate on those. Or, in the case of KoL, just have two characters in different phases of the game at all times so in case I get bored bashing hippes for the war effort, I can go fight possessed cans of tomatoes to help out the Captain of the Gourd.

BARP. Very, very similar to the NES game Ultima, if y'all have ever played that. A 2D, low-rez, graphics based environment that runs fairly speedily in a browser. I haven't played all that much for awhile, ever since I managed to get my character trapped in some underground caves filled with extremely powerful enemies, and haven't been able to find my way out. One nice thing about it is that you can load your own custom character icon. (Mine is The Cheat.)

Sryth. A text-based RPG with a very D&D style combat system, truly well-written quests and interesting dungeons. The major drawback? More than two thirds of game content is only available to subscribers. Arrgh.

And, most recently, Perenthia. The gameplay itself hearkens back to Zork, the grandaddy of all text-based dungeon games. But the game runs on the Microsoft Silverlight plugin, for which I had to use IE because it runs like a sullen, arthritic slug on Firefox. But the very best thing about it from my perspective is that it is still in the Alpha testing phase.

Every social group of living creatures has a hierarchy. From ants to chickens to chimps to people, there are those whose opinions hold weight and those whose views are brushed aside. And as anyone who has dipped a toe into an online community knows, alpha testers are the slightly less miniscule fish in the incredibly tiny pond, second only to mods and programmers. All others, however impressive their accomplishments, are mere Johnny-5-come-latelies. They get to reminisce about the old days before all the bugs were fixed and lord it over the newbies in the forums. They

When I realized how happy I was about this, I began immediately to question my motives. Am I so desperate for social power? Am I so frustrated with the trials and tribulations of real life that I turn to a crappy, bugs-not-fixed-yet text-based online universe?

Yes. Yes I am.