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 cliché 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?


I think it's 40 days for Noah and the flood and 40 years for the wandering around in the desert. I'd imagine most of the real complainer types were violently strangled by the end of the first year or so.

As to why our gaming groups fall apart, I think it's because we have no attention span whatso... Ooooh a bunny!

Fletcher1138 wrote:

We're James Bond types, Dotty. Loners, rebels.

You know, I actually used that same PeeWee's Big Adventure quote in conversation a couple of days ago. In reference to myself, of course. Then, when nobody smiled or laughed, I screamed, "Is this something you can share with the rest of us Amazing Larry?!?" That didn't really work, either.

Your article makes me think back to my days as an original member of good ole' Clan PCXL, the official TFC/HL-DM clan of PC Accelerator magazine. A few months after we formed, a number of people began drifting away from the clan, never to be heard from again. This frustrated me to no end, so then I drifted away... and in so doing, I became my own worst enemy! OOOHHHHHHH!!

JoeBedurndurn wrote:

I think it's 40 days for Noah and the flood and 40 years for the wandering around in the desert...

He then called thee Biblical Fact Checker and it was good.

Oh god I hated group work in school... I was always one of those "certain students". In high school I used to fail on purpose because I hated people using me for a free ride. In college I discovered being 'team leader' was much more fun because then I could yell at people

As far as gaming, I have a natural aversion to making plans of any kind (much to the chagrin of my gf...). I like to stay as flexible as possible. So zombie skate is kinda an annomaly for me...

Well, I think we game to have fun. When it's no longer fun and you're on a schedule and it feels like work, you drift away...

I wish my recent college experience was an all adult class. I would have rejoiced. Instead, every class had 2 or 3 adults (usually we ended up sitting near each other too, kinda funny) and 15 or so bright eyed 19-20 year olds, all of whom were going to Change The World and make 6 figure incomes - right after they pass this Speech 101 class.

I figure half of them are flipping burgers right now.

I thought theater majors didn't like g-

Ooooh a bunny!


Ooooh a bunny!

I think that the stacks of unplayed games, half-finished story ideas and assorted half-baked projects laying strewn about my lair attest to the fact that I am 100% guilty of this disease.

...and in so doing, I became my own worst enemy!

Me too.

When it's no longer fun and you're on a schedule and it feels like work, you drift away...

Agreed. In fact I had an entire comedy troupe walk out on me after almost a year of performing together because "it just wasn't fun anymore." At the time I was pissed, but I have to admit that they had a point.

regular game nights turn into barren, nostalgia-driven social hours attended by the most bored common denominator.

So I take it no Halo 2 for you this week?

Yeah, everyone has fickle tastes. The trick is to know when to walk away, and replace it with something else. That's why I don't mind the "Game of the Month" syndrome around here, as it'll be a new game soon enough. So Halo 2 may be winding down, but we can pick up another game just as easy.

Nice article, Fletcher1138. About halfway through I was thinking you'd decided that writing about gaming for a gaming website could go on holiday while you went on an Easter tangent. Nice recovery. Good tie in.

Nice article as usual Fletch.

Keep up the good work.

You're too good Fletch... stop being so good. You make the rest of us feel bad.

Hehe, in all seriousness, keep up the good work... and according to my favorite comedian... the Jews broke off and settled as they got bored. So it's likely only Moses and a few good friends made it to the promised land.

It's all about forced interaction.

I remember, back in the day, when our neighborhood group had to go outside to play a game of _________ (fill-in with football, basketball, baseball, and when we were younger games like cowboys/indians or cops/robbers). Heck, if we wanted to go dungeon hacking we still had to gather--as a group--around a table, making sure we brought our characters and dice.

Now each of these have slowly been replaced by like activities that can be downloaded, reloaded, dialed-up, or connected.

We no longer have to sweat out a twenty yard run towards the endzone with three of our heathen friends chasing us, screaming, hands flailing for a grab that leads to a tackle. CounterStrike has replaced cops and robbers.

And fantasy role playing, while very much alive under the very mantle from which it sprang (Dungeons & Dragons), has competition which has completely taken away any creativity from the player; nay, anymore the player simply creates a character name, assigns a class, and *poof* they walk into a World of Whatever and never wonder about why their character acts the way it does, its motivations, fears, interests, or why they like a frosty mug of ale. They no longer have to seriously interact with anyone, they can remain EverQuiet for their sole existence. You don't like the people you're grouped with? All you have to do is walk away, find another group and off you go; you no longer have to find a group dynamic that works by testing yourselves.

Now I know my little tirade here is full of holes. I own a PC and have found myself chained to it out of sheer need to gain one more level, explore for one more hour, wait for one more instance. I have a gamepad that has molded itself to the contours of my hand from countless hours of Halo and NFL2K5.

But I still remember a time when I could feel the sting of a well thrown pass as it landed in my outstretched hands. There's a huge difference, one which most people today will never, ever know.

I would just like to admit that I, like your friend Jack, am not a good wilderness buddy. I become the Princess of Eeeevil when confronted with tents, camp stoves, sleeping bags, and backpacks.

Here's about how the conversation would go:

Duck: Hey baby! Let's take the boy camping!

Me: What? In the woods? With the bugs, and the bears and the rabid wolverines?

Duck: Wolverines?

Me: And the snakes...don't forget the snakes. And deadly spiders. Also, it's damp. And the ground is particularly...I dunno, ground-y, with the hard, and the pointy and the occasionally moving because of the vampire voles waiting for you to fall asleep so they can do unspeakable things. Is that what you want? To sacrifice your son to vampire voles? You bastard!

Duck: Wait...what happened to the wolverines?

Me: Oh well, if you're going to bring up old topics, I think this discussion is over...

This article rings very true to me. Scheduled activities that I have drifted from in the last 6 months to 1 year:
-Ball Hockey
-Trivia night
-Monday night CoH
-Movie night (trying to get it going again)
-Ultimate Frisbee (only runs June-Aug, but i dropped out early)

Currently I am involved in:
-bi-weekly poker night
-10 weeks of ballroom dance lessons (Fri nights)
-playing WoW every spare minute