5 Things I Learned Playing Text Games

A brief introduction for the proletariat. A MUD, or multi-user dungeon, is a text-based multiplayer game that’s been around since the dawn of the internet era. Way before AOL started littering the world with free connection discs. Back when your OS was DOS, and you connected through telnet. The artform of MUD gaming has evolved along with the rest of the technological world, but it still involves connecting to a completely text-based world and interacting with what you find there through text. It’s delightfully immersive. I first discovered MUD games at the tender age of roughly 7 or 8 when I was exploring local BBSs (online bulletin boards/chat rooms, again, pre-AOL). I was hooked, and I’ve played them off and on again ever since.

1) I learned how to be social on my terms. I know that sounds odd. Learning to be social while sitting alone on a computer in a dark room. Especially for the child born of the Queen of Social Butterflies. Everyone in the entire Puget Sound region knows my mom, and through her bombastic stage presence, quite a lot about me as well (my first menstrual cycle was announced on stage before a large collection of bikers. Strangers were coming up to me in public and congratulating me on becoming a woman). I grew up having intense philosophical, political, and other intellectually stimulating conversations with adults.

Despite all that, I never learned how to -connect- on a real level with another human. I can chat up anyone, on any subject, in any environment. I couldn’t make friends. I moved so much that I never learned the trick of it. I’m still pretty bad at it. Without MUDS and their ability to connect me to other people with at least one common interest in a relatively safe environment, I would be a very lonely person.

The friendships I forged in text-realms have emerged into the real world. When my partner died, friends I made in text games pulled together and sent me money to get my kids through a terribly broke Yule/Christmas season. I’ve had text-game roommates and gone across the nation on adventures to meet people I’ve known for a decade only in digital form.

All of this has helped me learn how to connect emotionally with people I meet first in the real world. I’ve learned things like how to stay in touch and how to shut up when someone just wants to vent (I’m not good at that, still, but at least I try).

An artist's rendition of one of my characters
An artist’s rendition of one of my characters.

2) I found incredible love and companionship. My current sweetie I met in a text game. We had a text flirtation, dated in text, even had several marriages across different characters in text games. I am incredibly content with our relationship. We don’t fight. He is deeply affectionate and supportive of me. He even washes dishes and cooks delicious meals! Plus he’s wicked smart, totally adorable, and funny. He keeps me on my toes, and I can spend most of my time in the same room with him without wanting to string him up by his toes in the closet.

He’s not the first.

My deceased partner also emerged from a text game. I don’t know that we would have ever had a romance if not for how we met. He was permanently disabled with a degenerative disease (Muscular Dystrophy). I probably would never have looked at him as a potential mate because he -looked- frail, like touching him would break him in two (he wasn’t). Without a text game, I would have missed out on seven of the best years of my life. I would have lost all the lessons he taught me patience and compassion, in endurance with grace, in what genuine love looks like. My kids wouldn’t have gained an -amazing- father.

My most successful dating has emerged from a text-based world.

3) I gained the confidence to pursue my passion. Text games are in large part responsible for my

Another artist's rendition!
Another chibi-alternative me!

current profession – freelance writing. A great deal of my time in MUDs is spent writing in-game books, histories, describing items to wear or to eat, or crafting storylines between my characters and other players’ characters.

After a decade of that, I branched out into building. That means I created the room descriptions, items, quests, mobiles (non-player characters), and actions in each area I took on within a game. I learned a lot from that process and discovered that I have a knack for putting words together. The encouragement of my partners and friends pushed me the rest of the way, and now I pay my bills and feed my kids with words.

4) I learned the value of community. MUD communities can make or break the enjoyment of a game. I’ve been privileged to be a part of really vibrant, close-knit gaming communities that support each other and help make the game world a living, breathing place full of wonder and excitement. I’ve also watched decent communities shatter because the administration of the game allowed negative elements to fester unchecked.

Fostering a positive, safe place is vital not just to gaming environments, but to -any- environment where you want more than two people to interact for an extended period. Especially if any element of that community has competition (and, hey, all human gatherings do).

5) I remained insulated against the vitriol often shot towards female gamers in a multiplayer environment. For whatever reason, girls playing MUD games don’t get the same stupidity as girls playing other multiplayer games. I think it’s because our communities are much smaller and tend to have a considerably longer lifespan. One of the primary games I play is over ten years old, and most of the core playerbase has stuck it out for the duration. You don’t want that kind of negativity coming back to haunt you for ten years.

Since MUDs took up most of my game time, the remaining play time was spent mostly exploring solo computer and console games. I find MMOs to be incredibly dull in comparison to the rich immersion I can get out of a text game. It astonishes me how nasty the larger gaming community has become to chicks. We’ve always been here. One of my favorite early game programmers -was- a woman. Roberta Williams. She made the King’s Quest games and the Laura Bow series, among many others. I am glad that I remained largely in a community free of gender shaming.

Have I piqued your interest?

I hope so. MUD games are tons of fun. If you have an interest, send me a message and I’ll help you get started in the game I’m currently playing: Imperian. I can also reccomend a number of other games that might be more suited to your interests.

Have you played before? Tell me about your experiences! What’s your favorite text-based game?

The Slippery Slope: Polyamorous Marriages

Unlike ‘all girls’, I spent my childhood envisioning a future in which I explored space in my personal cruiser, delved into the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench hunting for yet undiscovered species of fish, and produced fantastic murder mystery computer games in my down time. Marriage was not on my radar.

Somewhere in my preteen years, I was given a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land. There were many layers of that book that I didn’t clue in on till I was much older, but the relationship model presented towards the end made a profound amount of sense to me. I ‘grokked’ it perfectly. If it took a village to raise a child, and if we can love more than one person in a non-romantic way, why would we foolishly limit ourselves to the love of just one other human, presumably unending for the remainder of our adult lives? That seemed like a needless restriction. Like painting in a single hue. It could be done, and probably done well in skilled hands with the right subject, but I’d prefer the full palette, thank-you-very-much.

The world didn’t work that way, though. So while I believed then, as I believe now, that the science fiction book had keyed in on something vibrant and beautiful, I settled into a life of monogamy.

Trust and honesty are vital to me. If I enter into a romantic entanglement, I’m going to abide by the expected boundaries. If I can’t, I’m going to renegotiate before I do something stupid or leave. Thus began a series of unfortunate relationships.I have been engaged four times. I had a beautiful vintage diamond in a handcrafted platinum setting worth more than my last three cars combined the last time around. My fiance had a wonderful family. I still miss his mom. No matter how idyllic or classically perfect my betrothed was, I fled before I could say ‘I do.’ The closer I got towards wedded bliss, the less content I was with my relationship.

I was doing everything right, but nothing was working.

The problem was that I was trying to fit myself into the mold of societal expectations. That single color palette. It turns out, I can’t love in monochrome. I feel strangled by the idea that I am forbidden from pursuing an incredible human, should they wander into my path, simply because I already love another.

I became anti-marriage as a result. When asked, I had a ready answer: It’s not for me. It’s an outdated concept. It’s restrictive. Society views it based on a patriarchal model that sees women as commodities, not as equals. All these arguments are fair, but none of them quite fit my feelings.

I lack marriage equality.

I’ve known this for awhile, and for awhile, I accepted the common arguments against allowing multi-partner marriages to exist.

“It’s too complicated.”

“Won’t someone think of the CHILDREN (‘s custody disputes)!?”

“How in the world would taxes work?”

“Insurance providers would never go for it.”

“Next up on Oprah: How My Goat Won Over My Heart – or the muddy hill those cooky poly’s left us.”

That all settled me out for a time. Until I watched my partner seize up while we were laying in our bed, talking into the early am. Until I stood feeling completely out of my depths while the paramedics took his seizing body out of my house. Until I ran around in a panic not sure if I should rush to the hospital, call a friend to watch our kids, or collapse in a puddle. Until I sat, numb and aching with a pain overwhelming enough to drown Manhattan, listening to the doctor tell me that I, as his legal caretaker and 7-year live-in partner, had no authority over what happened to his comatose body. Until they informed me that I lacked the legal right to tell the doctors his final wishes. Until I discovered that right, instead, reverted to parents who’d had little to do with him since we both fled the California desert half a decade earlier. Those parents who knew nothing about the life he’d built for himself, the man he’d become, the children he’d helped mold, the future he envisioned. Those parents who’d never seen him vital and living, only patiently waiting for the death his chronic medical conditioned promised him.

I can’t explain the agony of waiting in the lobby of the ICU, receiving 15-minute updates from the physician about whether or not the love of my life was still medically living. Whether his heart had given up the ghost and let his body seek its final rest.

I can’t explain the call I received from his grandmother, yelling at me. I have no idea what she said anymore, only that I was too hollow to respond with anger or bitterness. I could only tell her in a preternaturally calm voice what was. What would be.

I can’t explain the constant buzz of panic and anguish during the few days I waited to find out if I’d be able to receive his ashes. The wait to discover if they’d cremate him as he’d wished.

All of it was a brutal reminder that marriage matters. Marriage is a blanket of protection built around a life shared. Marriage provides a social seal of approval. It grants essential rights.  The protection of parentage, the right to be at the bedside of a sick loved one, the power to make decisions about how their final moments go, and the ability to handle the last memories you will make with them.

I was lucky. His parents respected their son enough to abide by what I passed along. They wouldn’t try to keep his lifeless corpse alive with machinery. They would grant his body peace. They wouldn’t try to bury the body he wanted cremated, and they would allow me and my family, his family, to keep the ashes. The team at the hospital was gracious enough to keep me informed. In some states, I’d have been kept out entirely since we had not created any documentation beforehand to cover such an event. It could have been far worse, far harder, on my girls and I.

Now I know that those excuses are a dike built of sand.

If insurance providers can cover the children of Quiverfull families without tossing them off their rolls, then I should be able to have an extra spouse or two without destroying the world.

If we can manage the complex tax code of multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporate entities, then we can manage a tax code covering considerably less complex poly families.

If we can manage custody disputes involving non-traditional families where a child is being raised in part by grandparents, aunties, uncles, step-parents, and all manner of complex, modern configurations, then we can sort our poly custody disputes.

Polyamory is about love, honesty, commitment, and respect. It’s not swinging, not that there’s anything wrong with swinging. Poly folks acknowledge that love is bountiful and we need not restrict ourselves from enjoying the full kaleidoscope of loving entanglements. It’s not about being afraid of commitment. Poly families tend to have strong feelings of commitment to one another. Poly requires a higher level of emotional discourse, of raw honesty, than is necessary to keep afloat a traditional monogamous relationship. This is in no way the equivalent of a man seducing the neighbor’s horse for a moonlit affair.

It’s real, and it’s a pattern of behavior that has been relatively normal throughout human history. Legalizing polyamorous marriages doesn’t destroy monogamous ones, or somehow negate the value of monogamous marriages. Some folks prefer to stick it out with one person. Kudos to them.

The author, author's child, and a friend holding marriage equality signs at a rally.
Best friend to the left, daughter in the middle, me on the right marching to our courthouse to celebrate marriage equality.

I marched with my daughter and her best buddy to my local courthouse with a collection of folks who’d gathered at the local GBLTQ community center to celebrate the final victory that made marriage equality the law of the land – so long as you stick to two. I am thrilled that we finally have sensible, fair protections for gays and lesbians.

Polyamory needs to be next.

Coloring Therapy & Depression

I have been dodging my personal writing projects in the pursuit of professional advancement. The real result of this is that I’m rapidly becoming burnt out on the paid-for words. So, I’m renewing my commitment to come here and let off some steam.

I am a fat chick. I also workout. I do so because I like being strong and flexible. I love being able to go on challenging hikes or take my kid out for a kayaking day trip. Since I’ve begun putting a focus on my fitness habits, I’ve gained weight, not lost it (Hello, you sexy muscles you).

Part of my method of holding myself accountable to my fitness goals is daily blogging through Sparkpeople.com. They offer free trackers for food and fitness, useful calculators, free workout programs and videos, and other useful tidbits. They are also a social networking platform that offers status updates, friendships, forums, and blogs. For whatever reason, I can manage a quick blog there daily but I can’t force myself to sit down HERE and write.

Overly long introduction made not one bit shorter; I’m using the fitness blog post of today to inspire my blogging here. And maybe shaming myself a bit for being a lamer and dodging this while being consistent at that. (Bloggers there barely read what I write, they usually just comment with YOU CAN DO IT! Stickers. It’s hard to be scared of soccer moms doing Pilates in the basement while the kids are in school.)

Here goes:

Yesterday was tough. I have been low for a week or so. Yesterday I took a nose-dive towards the black abyss that is clinical depression. I’ve suffered from persistent depression for most of my life. These days, after much pain and struggle, I usually have pretty good control and rarely collapse into depression. Yesterday was a rarity, but no less challenging for being so.

For absolutely no discernible reason, I was depressed. It took me most of the day to recognize my state and start to take action for it. I hate when that happens. It wastes the day and all the while everything I SHOULD be doing is building up in the background of my mind. It feels like the constant buzz of the too-loud fridge at 3 am when you should be sleeping. I don’t quite know what’s bothering me, but SOMETHING is, and I can’t ignore the feeling.

By the time I realize I have things I should be doing, I’m in a rush and feeling overwhelmed. I become the worst human on the earth. Too lazy and mindless to be a writer. Too mentally cluttered to run a business. Too crazy to be an adult.

I have a pretty good internal voice. By nature, I am far more rational than emotional. When depression kicks in, emotions take over and my usually upbeat, thoughtful self devolves into a mass of jumbled and frayed wires, sparking pointlessly and melting fuses.

It’s hard to climb out of that mess. It’s hard to even find the starting point in the chaotic spider web of tangled lines and painful electrical surges.

I feel the need to pause here and break something down for the uninitiated.

Depression is not being sad.

Let me repeat that.

Depression is not being sad.

People can ‘feel depressed’ as a result of a traumatic life event. You can feel depressed over the ending of a relationship, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job. That’s a normal human response to Life Happening. It’s cool. Grieve, process, grow.

Clinical depression can result from that sort of depression. Clinical depression also may not. I did not descend into a clinically depressed state following the wake of my life partner dying unexpectedly in our bed. I grieved – I’m still grieving, in fact, but I did not become depressed. Clinical depression can strike at literally any time for absolutely no concrete reason. You don’t need Life Happening to trigger depression. Sometimes, your brain just decides to kick out the wrong combination of chemicals and knock you on your ass, #sorrynotsorry style.

Here’s what it feels like to me:

  • Super fatigue. Have you ever been so exhausted that the mere idea of moving itself expends the remnants of your energy? I have.
  • Brain fog. My thoughts must move through molasses, the already dusty and poorly managed banks of memory become impossible to access, and 2+2= ?!?.  This is frustrating. My sense of self is deeply connected to my intelligence. Feeling stupid, slow, and mindless heightens my feelings of worthlessness like nothing else. Take away my brain and what am I left with?
  • Debbie Downer Syndrome. All the bad things I’ve said and done, every nasty word aimed my direction, every awkward social interaction I’ve had – it all comes back. I relive my worst moments in my head like a video reel on repeat. It cements the depression reality that I’m a terrible human being, and everyone is just too polite to tell me so.
  • Ennui. I cannot get excited about anything. The fun leeches out of me, and I can’t motivate myself to focus on even the laziest of activities. I can’t enjoy watching a TV show, or read a book, or play a game. I just don’t care. So even while I’m incapable of working effectively, I become incapable of leisure as well. All I can manage is to lay around and wait for it to pass, or sleep.

Depression for me is far more physical and mental than it is emotional. It blows. I’m a glass-half-full kinda gal. I am confident. I love who I am. No matter how much life throws at me, I gravitate towards joy and thankfulness. Depression is a deeply painful experience because it transforms me into something other than myself. I despise it.

After years and years of trying and failing to find a pathway out, I buckled down and went to a doctor. I was on oral meds and went to therapy for roughly a year. I went off the meds about three months in. Once I had my body in balance, it was just a matter (for me) of learning to recognize those days and weeks when I’m spiraling downwards and take steps to keep myself afloat till my positive self beats back the depression demon.

After being miserable all day yesterday without understanding what was up, I finally paused and gave a legitimate answer to the question my mister asked me a dozen or more times, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m depressed. It’s okay, I’ll emerge,” I answer.

Once I spoke the words aloud, I recognized the truth and saw my pathway back out of the hole I had been digging.

Do something nice for myself.

Do something useful.

Ask for help.

A coloring page of an owl, completed in colored pencil.
My rad retro-colored therapy owl.

Cool. Got it. I forced myself off the bed and into the shower. I read a little more of Stephen King’s On Writing. I went to the store and bought veggies to snack on (to make up for my crap eating of the day before) and picked up a very nice coloring book and a set of colored pencils. I made myself complete my daily (40 minutes) or exercise before I could color my first page. Then, I colored my first therapy owl.

He’s hanging above my monitors now, watching me with his wide yellow eyes. I think he’s a decent reminder to take care of myself. I’m going to imagine he has the voice of the owl from the Hundred Acre Woods.

I’m not all the way better today, but I’m getting there. It just took a moment of honesty, a partner who loves me, and a little bit of self-care.

If someone you know suffers from depression, do not expect them to simply snap out of it. Don’t expect their experiences to be like mine. Don’t make demands on them. Be there, if only for quiet companionship. Remind them of why you value them. Help them take small steps towards what they need to accomplish. Recognize that simple tasks can be overwhelming to someone in that state. Know that if they could, they’d very likely give up a useful limb to feel better.

If you are depressed, don’t expect to will yourself out of it. Go talk to a doctor, to a therapist, to a friend. Depression is a two-part problem. It’s not in your head; it’s in your biology. Sometimes, even the strongest person needs a medical push to navigate out of the maze. Don’t be ashamed to ask for that gentle nudge.