Forty Years in the Desert
I took a couple of night courses a while back to shore up my degree, one of which was called Working in Groups. It was geared towards cubicle-dwellers looking to move up the ladder and, as one might infer, was about working in groups. It was nowhere near being up my alley, but I had to take it to take another class that actually meant something to me.
Kind of like when I had to take Algebra 101 for my Theater Major. The math building at my college was across campus from all the places I hung out, and the stupid class met at 8am. Like they knew that it was full of non-majors and wanted to inflict the maximum amount of punishment on us. The phrase "I'm never going to use this" emerged from between my lips more than once, more often than not as I was putting aside my homework to get drunk or have sex with a girl (see: Theater Major). One morning I woke up and decided that I was done, like Ron Livingston in Office Space. I started using my MWF mornings to catch up on sleep, did the minimum amount of work, showed up on test day, passed with a C, and never looked back.
Working in Groups turned out to be quite a different experience. For starters, an adult taking a night course is usually there for a purpose, so there was a much higher attendance rate and a lot less screwing around. Which turned out to be a good thing because, as I discovered, most people wouldn't know a group dynamic if it jumped up and groupthunk them in the ass.
This year (and every year that I can remember) The Ten Commandments came on TV just in time to remind the American, television-watching, Christian public that it's time to get in one of their two yearly church visits. I like to watch this movie, not because I'm big on Christ or anything, but because I find Charlton Heston remarkably manly and aspire to be like him one day. I mean seriously, no man ever did more for perspiration than he. Cray Grant had us all thinking that real men never sweat nor wore corduroy and then came Chuck, shirtless and covered in man-juice to remind us all what a real man looked like in a moment of crises: hot, sweaty and full of verve.
I somehow doubt that Moses was really Chuck Heston level manly, but like a lot of things in the bible, there's some wiggle room. Take the whole wandering Jews thing. Forty years is an awful long time to be lost in the desert. I went on a camping trip with my friends Don and Jack once, and we were ready to quit after five days. Although that probably had more to do with Jack than anything else.
I'd been on a few trips with Don before. We had our Men in the Wild thing down to a science. We hiked, we camped and we worked, but we rarely spoke. It was very regimented and very endurable. Don and I could easily have done forty days in the desert together, but Jack was another story. Jack was like the bit of grit in an oyster that eventually turns into a pearl, except that he didn't turn into a pearl. He just stuck in there annoying us for five days straight.
For the first twenty hours or so he bitched about the weather (South Texas in July can get a little toasty). He then spent the next forty-eight or so complaining about the way the purification tablets made the water taste and then at some point he switched over to moaning about the way his backpack chafed his shoulders and "… you get the idea. Basically he hated camping and he wanted us to know it.
Don and I tried to take this all in stride. Jack was usually pretty likeable in the real world, and we knew he wasn't trying to be annoying. He was just outside of his comfort zone, and not dealing very well. It happens to people all the time, especially in the wilderness. Still, it got old pretty quick. By the end of the trip we were ready to push him off of a cliff.
Now imagine being on a trip with a guy like that for forty years. Compared to Sinai, South Texas is a paradise, and Moses didn't really ask the Jews if they wanted to go camping. He pretty much bullied them into it. Now we all know that the old clichÃƒÂ© about Jews griping a lot might be a tad overblown, but out of the "multitudes" who went camping in the desert with Moses for decades, there would have to have been at least one bona fide Complainer. Manna again? And what's with all the sheep?, etc.
Because the basic fact is that people suck.
We really do. Nothing is ever good enough, temperate enough or comfortable enough for at least one of us in any given group, and that was the basic gist of my class on the subject. The folks who wrote the textbook we used in this class (Communicating in Groups) aimed not to eradicate this basic component of human society, but instead to enable us to overcome it through effective communication and an understanding of the dynamics at work in any group of any size.
To aggressively paraphrase: every group needs two basic things to function focus and direction. Remember that. There will be a quiz.
In order to maximize the lessons learned, this class was organized into Study Groups, and each assignment then took the form of a group project. My grade (and everyone else's) was dependent upon not only my understanding of the course material, but that of four other people as well. Extra points to those of you who can see where this is heading.
As Adult Learners (i.e. students with jobs), most of my twenty-four or so classmates occasionally had more important things to do than come to class. This was understood, even expected. Unfortunately a lot of folks soon decided that things like watching Survivor, baking cookies and/or doing laundry were more important than going to class. It wasn't long before the study groups were in complete disarray, certain students were shouldering the load for the entire class and the basic organizational system of the whole course was falling apart before our very eyes. In other words, even in a nurturing, supportive environment, with professional guidance and a book on the subject, twenty-five people somehow couldn't function as a group long enough to pass a class which we were paying hundreds of dollars to attend.
As gamers, we tend to avoid groups as a general rule. We're James Bond types, Dotty. Loners, rebels. Even those of us who play online multiplayer games are ultimately alone with our machines. The recent depopulation we've been experiencing in some of the more popular groups here at GWJ is a symptom of this basic loner tendency. The bottom line is that our groups are ourselves, our goal is to have fun and our direction tends to be driven by our own whims. As a result, football games go un-played, servers depopulate and regular game nights turn into barren, nostalgia-driven social hours attended by the most bored common denominator.
It's important to remember though that this is not a flaw. Absentee gamers are not bad people, sore losers are not products of childhood abuse and h4x0rs are not mutants. Even God's Chosen People sacrificed the goats and threw an orgy while Moses was looking the other way, and none of us here is Moses (or Charlton Heston). There's no earthly reason why any gamer should be expected to display the resolve, dedication and sacrifice to stick with the flock even when the manna starts to run low. When the going gets tough, the most we can hope for is that our fellow gamers will not shout any obscenities at us as they hurl their controllers across the room and unplug their machines, but even if they do, it's okay. Because it's not like they're really part of our group or anything. They're just ghosts in the machine. A.I. with opinions. We don't even know their real names. And really, isn't it better that way?