Dreams:

I’ve always been a big proponent of following up on your subconscious dreams – perhaps it has to do with the stark reality that I don’t dream often, and when I do, more often than not I don’t remember them past the initial phases of waking up. I think that’s pretty common, slight subconscious undertones that guide us through life replayed through our dreams. Our fears, desires, anxieties, and hopes are screened for us as we rest, allowing us to sort through them at an unconscious level and be better prepared to handle them in reality. At least, I hope that’s how it works. That said, when I do remember my dreams, especially when I have recurring thematic dreams for a few days or more, its either to do with strong medication (thank you Mefloquine), or with something that I need to address and handle in the waking world – something pressing that needs to be taken care of, or at least recognized.

What sparks this note? Well, I’ve been having dreams about EverQuest II, for the last week – that’s a big deal, a week – seven days of different content but the same theme – EverQuest II. For those of you who are unfamiliar with EQII – here’s a brief summary from the EQII Wikipedia.

“EverQuest II (EQ2) is a 3D fantasy massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) developed by Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), based on EverQuest, and shipped on 4 November 2004. It features updated graphics and different gameplayfrom its predecessor. EverQuest II is set on the fictional world of Norrath five hundred years after the The Planes of Power storyline of the original EverQuest game. The gods withdrew from the world in retaliation for mortal incursions into their planes. On Norrath itself, Dark Elves and the Orcs destroyed much of Faydwer; while the Ogres, Goblins, Orcs, and Giants ravaged Antonica. Transport and communication to the moon Luclin were cut off.

The storyline says that 100 years ago, the continent of Antonica was ripped apart into smaller islands, which are now called theShattered Lands. The oceans became impassible, preventing contact between the continents of Norrath. Fifteen years ago, the moon Luclin exploded and parts of the Shattered moon remain in the sky. EverQuest II takes place in what is called the Age of Destiny. In this setting, Queen Antonia Bayle of Qeynos is a benevolent sorceress who welcomes all goodly races to her city to help rebuild Norrath. The Overlord of Freeport, Lucan D’Lere, a centuries-old fallen paladin, (who was oddly enough a warrior trainer as well as Leader of the city in EQ1) rules the evil races in his plans of conquest.

Within EverQuest II, each player creates a character to interact in the 3-D fictional world of Norrath. Within the game, the character can adventure (complete quests, explore the world, kill monsters and gain treasures and experience) and socialize with other players. The game also has a ‘tradeskill’ system that allows players to create items for in-game use.

In the creation of a character, the player may choose the character’s race and class. Various classes have specialized abilities that are complementary to their class. (Monks will get mainly melee combat abilities that use their fists or fist weapons, or a Warlock will get mainly spell abilities that do large amounts of spike damage but cost a lot of mana.) EverQuest II enables social interaction with other players through grouping and through the creation of guilds. Like players, guilds can gain experience and levels, partially from players completing special tasks called Heritage quests, but primarily from guild-oriented quests and tasks called “writs,” and gaining guild experience by killing epic monsters. Higher guild levels open up special rewards unavailable to non-guilded characters, and cause certain other rewards to cost less. These rewards include housing options, mounts, house items, apparel, and special titles.”

There’s a lot more to understanding the game, but as it stands it’s a pretty interesting experience. It’s completely immersive, and you’re in control of a player avatar that you create, customize etc. It has its own market economy, guild systems, and players work together to best challenges in the game play.

Now, with that background, it’s easy to understand why games like EQII and WoW can be so addictive – they offer a whole new fantasy world where players can be whoever and whatever they like, but are also required to socially interact and interface with fellow gamers. I played the Original EQ from 1999-2004, and EQII from 2004 until 2011 – that’s a lot of time spent in a game, but it was an escape from the rigors of my challenging school requirements, and more importantly it had its own lessons to teach – I learned Marketing, Economics, Social Responsibility, Peace Building, and Leadership skills from first hand experience in the game – making mistakes that in the real world would have cost me dearly. I was also able to play, enjoy the story line and content, and learn complicated statistics and mathematics to understand the physics engine and combat system (how to maximize the performance of your character within the game’s constraints). All of that before I’d left High School – My brother wrote his undergraduate Thesis on MMORPGS and Gaming, and my father worked together with us to study it and with my brother has written on the possibilities of integrating gaming technology and immersive worlds, into education to further facilitate automated, but hands on, experiential learning. As I matured I also become more and more active in the community side of the gaming world, and became a member of a top raiding guild (groups of up to 24 people’s characters come together to work as a team in order to defeat an extremely difficult encounter – sometimes fighting the “monster” for hours or days in order to better understand the dynamics of the fight and thus win). I had responsibility to my fellow players, and just like a soccer team going in for practice, had set hours to log in and work with the rest of the team.

I think you can start to grasp the real attraction that these types of games hold, and also some of the benefits. So, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make the snide comment, oh – its just a game. For millions of users worldwide, It’s more than that, it’s a learning environment, a social environment – perhaps not in the traditional face to face definition, but definitely in terms of real meaningful interactions with fellow human beings, through text, voice, teamwork, and mathematics – albeit in a fictional atmosphere.

So, back to these dreams? What’s going on that’s bringing back these powerful memories and recalling the learning experiences and sense of achievement I’d found in the game progression? Especially since it’s been nearly two years since I’ve played the game, or been a part of that community – and in order to answer that question I think it’s important to recognize how meaningful the sense of achievement, teamwork, community – and of course power over the environment of the game, was to me during High School and College. It didn’t detract from my social life, it didn’t impact my studies. In fact it helped me quite a bit in a number of areas – communication classes, mathematics classes, and understanding globalization and culture through xenography – albeit studying orcs and dragons and increasing your faction standing in a closed fantasy community doesn’t seem like a logical step to understanding French and German relations or international politic, it strangely fits together nicely. You would be surprised the way your mind processes relationships. It also increased my ability to empathize and understand foreign cultures and participate in cross cultural learning. So, this escape, this heightened sense of tangible (albeit digital) achievement… Why is that so important to me now?

Why these dreams of leveling up, gaining experience and completing quests and storylines? Why? Because my service is coming to a close, and as is normal, I feel both frustration and disappointment in myself. Let me be exceedingly clear here – I have accomplished monumental change and works during my time – but as always, I’m not satisfied because deep down, there’s always something more that I could have done – even if there actually wasn’t. I don’t regret my time, or my actions. Nor do I feel guilty for the short vacations (I still have nearly half my vacation time sitting unused) – but as I wrap up my projects and look forward toward the future and what’s next in my life, I feel a longing to have a series of real, tangible and visible achievements. Monuments to leave behind not for the community (I feel they’ve benefited much more from the type of work I’ve done), but for me to look back and say – I built this, instead I can look back and say, I made these people better, I gave them knowledge, and their lives will be of a higher quality. It’s just a frustration with the nature of preventative health and the definition and goal of Peace Corps work – which is human capacity building. The tangible result isn’t there. I didn’t build a school, I didn’t construct a dam or a hundred wells. I built upon the knowledge and strength of the community, and helped them better their communities in the way they saw was best (with a little nudging here and there toward better practices). That’s what’s meaningful, but as a young man, reaching forward into the future and thinking about what’s been done – there’s a primal urge to leave a lasting mark on the community – to build a legacy… an urge that I both appreciate and dislike – because it isn’t the monuments that make the world better, it’s the investment in people and their independence.

So, instead my mind is rushing back to the familiar – to a digital immersive world, where with a few hours of work I could look back and say – see I did this, and this and this, and I completed this, and my character now has this and this, and… etc etc etc.

And I guess that’s what dreams are for, to let us explore our desires, and to give us a sense of a certain type of achievement when we’re lacking one. The subconscious mind is filling in the missing monument – via past experiences. Pretty neat.