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A Long, Strange Trip., posted by Derek

As mentioned here, my laptop has been angry with me for going on 4 months or so.  This cause me to retreat away from my usual comfort space of Team Fortress 2 and MMOs, and try to find ways to amuse myself.  I went two totally different directions – Facebook games, and diving back in the Xbox 360.  It’s come back now, in time for me to test SW:TOR and get back in to WoW for Cataclysm, but the damage has been done.

Facebook games are what they are.  I found a couple nice card based ones that occupy me well enough (Eredan and Urban Rivals, primarily, though Clash and Tyrant are in there too).  It’s the 360 part that’s really interesting to me….

I’ve had a 360 for years, and played it a lot.  I typically play things like RPGs, or games like Culdcept or Guitar Hero/Rock Band.  It’s fun.  But Team Fortress 2 is one of my all time favorite games, so I’ve been paying more attention to shooters in the enforced no-laptop time.

I’ve never cared about Halo – I played Halo 1, and liked it well enough, but wasn’t thrilled.  Never tried Halo 2.  Halo 3 was very “eh” to me.  I think I played it a couple times over at Casa Kramer, during one of the big shindigs, but that was really only fun because we were all there, shouting and laughing.  I had ODST, because of the voice cast, but found it just so interminably slow that I gave up.  But for some reason, I started to get really intrigued by the Halo: Reach commercials.  One of the guys at work is a huge Halo player, but he didn’t really convert me.  I think he got me thinking about it, and the commercials (plus the magazine articles) got me interested.  And really, the Armor Abilities sold me.  So I actually picked up Reach on release day, and started playing it.  The campaign was a lot of fun.  And then I did something I almost never do – I launched the multiplayer. 

See, I don’t think of myself as a team gamer – I don’t buy games for the MP, I prefer single player RPGs and the like, etc.  I’m not a social gamer.  Except, really, I apparently am.  I spent *far* more time in TF2 and MMOs over the past two years than nearly any other game.  I love City of Heroes precisely because it makes grouping so easy and useful.  I’ve joined guilds, haunted forums, etc.  My favorite part of WoW became running Battlegrounds.  On reflection, starting about 5 years ago, I really did become a multiplayer person.  I just didn’t realize it. 

I played a few days of Reach.  I sucked.  I wasn’t surprised – I love single player, but I don’t pretend to be awesome.  Even on TF2, I’m happy to get in the top 1/3 for score.  So I was getting murderized in Reach.  Which was not, on reflection, a tremendous amount of fun.  So I started searching around for “tips on playing Halo: Reach” on the internets.  I found several good sites.  I learned I lacked a ton of basic Halo knowledge, and Halo Reach knowledge in particular.   I learned why killing people with an Assasult Rifle was a mug’s game, I learned how shield popping worked, etc.  And I found one tip in particular that has …. well, changed my life is a bit overdramatic.  But severely affected how I game, certainly.  That tip was “Find some friends.”  And I have XBL friends – most of the people on this blog are on my list.  And we did some Borderlands nights, etc.  But it was a hit or miss kind of thing.

The article pointed people to one particular place – the TTL (Tied the Leader) forums.  It said nice things about them, and suggested you go check them out.  So I did.  They have quite a lot to say on the subject of sportsmanship, gaming, and what they kept referring to as “The Good Game Network.”  It was pretty cool, really – this was a group of people dedicated to, in the words of Wil Wheaton, not being dicks.  They were grouped up to play games with people who weren’t idiots, who wanted to have fun, win or lose, and who understood that, at the end, it’s just a game.  That’s almost exactly the creedo of my longtime hangout in TF2, The Old Timer’s Clan.  And these guys played Halo: Reach.  I posted an intro post, and found out that TTL had been closed to new members for quite some time.  But within hours, several people from different groups had posted “Hey, how ya doin’, if you’re interested, come check out our clans.”  Eventually, I learned that the Good Game Network was a large group of clans that all shared the same general ideas – don’t be a dick, have fun, make it a good game.  I checked out a few of them, started adding people to my friends list, etc.

After a couple days, it was pretty clear to me that the guys from Sword and Shield Gaming (SSG) were just the kind of folks I was looking for.  They had an interesting Camelot type theme, were very cheerful, more than willing to help out, and clearly had some coordinated events – Monday Knight Halo being the biggest one.  So, I jumped on.  I wasn’t really planning to join up with them – I was only playing Halo for a while anyway, and didn’t really want the hassle of being part of a group just to play.  But I’d certainly play Halo with them, because they were good guys and gals. 

Fast forward a month or so.  I’ve discovered that I’m a Halo fanboi (although Reach is still the only version I’m really hot for).  I’ve scheduled my gaming around events with the SSG folks, I’ve posted on their forums talking about strategies, weapon locations, etc.  I’ve even signed up for a bootcamp.  And then, after a month of hanging out with them, I apparently amused/impressed/didn’t annoy them enough that they offered me a spot “at the Round Table” (aka in the clan).  I was pretty stoked.  Even in just a month, I’d come to really enjoy hanging out with them, and really respected them both as gamers and as people.  So getting asked to join the clan was pretty awesome.

Fast forward another month, and now I’m at the point where the 360 is a standard part of my nightly gaming – I’ll quit out of Cata or CoH (TOR ended last week, sadly) in order to go play.  And generally, the first thing I do now is not “what game do I want to play” but “What are people playing?”  If there aren’t a couple of SSG’ers on Reach, I don’t even start it up – typically I go play Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.  But even that’s not as much fun without a couple SSG tags in the game with me.

It’s just odd, thinking of myself as the kind of person that is part of a Halo clan, especially this late in the whole Halo clan arc.  But apparently, there I am.  And honestly, SSG (cheesy as it sounds) is more than just a Halo clan.  I know most people’s real names, not just their tags.  I have a number of them in my phone.  I’ve given out my phone number (I think half of the authors of this blog don’t even have my new number) to them for all and sundry.  I’ve gotten text messages from some of the guys.  I know who’s expecting, whose grandmother just passed away, what they all look like in halloween costumes, where they live, etc.  I’m not used to that.  Even among the Old Timer’s, I only knew a couple people’s names, and knew only a bit about them.  But I feel like I could, at any point in time, call up someone in SSG and say “Hey, I’m gonna be in Jackson – mind if my family and I crash in your house?” And they’d be happy to have us there.

And that’s why my XBL friends now have to deal with SSG Wookiee, rather than Ergonomic Cat.

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