An Internet Thanksgiving
"What are you thankful for, Daddy?" asked Peter at dinner this weekend. Thanks to the omnipresence of Thanksgiving as a cultural touchstone here in America, that this question is propping up a week before the actual death-to-large-fowl event isn't surprising.
"My family," I replied, with a genuine smile on my face. Of course this is true. But it's also a cheap answer. It serves the purpose, making Peter smile and allowing the conversation move on to less saccharine topics. But hours later, I realized that my real answers, the ones one layer deeper than "family, food & shelter," were harder to come up with. I know what all the answers are supposed to be. But in my heart of hearts, the thing I'm thankful for every day are just plain embarrassing.
"Honey, the Internet's down," calls Jessica from the basement.
"No it's not," I declare. My geekcred on the line, I run to the basement and check the DSL modem. It says everything's fine. I walk over to my computer and probe the router, everything seems fine. I reboot everything I can think of. My heart rate rises. The white walls close in on me. The air thins.
No pings. No trace-route past three hops away.
Red with rage, I call Verizon. An hour of verbal demolition derby ensues, culminating in a call to the Cable company to reinstall cable-modem service.
I'm not addicted to the internet. That implies potential for withdrawal, as if I could grab a paper cup full of methadone and be just fine in the morning.
I can imagine an apocalypse in which I am required to learn how to manufacture my own gunpowder and raise chickens more readily than I can imagine a world without the internet. Not only would I be unemployed, but I would have no useful skills whatsoever. I would have virtually no good friends, not the kind who share my interests. Forced with facing only my own thoughts and the blank page for more than a day at a time, my cognitive faculties would be slowly eroded by acidic secretions from my hypothalmus which can only be tamed by the continuous input of information.
While there are many other things, particularly as a gamer, that I am thankful for, most of them come back to "The Internet."
My sense of home should be firmly rooted in the place I live: a small town in rural Massachusetts which I have lived in, off and on, for 37 years. But the honest truth is I take it entirely for granted that my children are growing up somewhere where they can walk the streets not because they are some how preternaturally safe, but because they personally know every third person they see: every shopkeeper and librarian and firemen and gas station attendant and the waitress knows them by name, and likely went to school with me. But it's not really where I feel "home" because I just don't spend that much time there.
Where I spend time is here, out in the cloud of information, connected to a few hundred of my closest friends and colleagues by instant messenger, Skype, Twitter, email, tokbox, message boards, Facebook and yes, games. My shopkeepers and librarians are virtual. My closest confidants sit at the end of never-closed IM windows.
Perhaps this is sad. I find it wondrous. I feel like my life is overflowing with rich and real human contact, even if I only see many of my friends a few times a year face to face. But when I do, the conversations aren't awkward, they flow from moment to moment and topic to topic as effortlessly as any other conversation with good friends.
Without a doubt, Gamers With Jobs has become my primary domicile. Not just the actual posts and discussions surrounding this page, but the people, many of whom have become dear, dear friends. It's destruction would feel no less painful than my house burning down, without the benefit of insurance.
Over three years ago, my entire experience with podcasting was hitting "play" on a few websites that offered streaming audio. I didn't own an iPod. I owned a crappy 256 megabyte MP3 player I dragged individual files to, and it never occurred to me to drag a podcast onto it. That was until I started listening to "Gamers With Jobs Radio," the predecessor to the current Gamers With Jobs Conference Call. When GWJ Radio went dark with Russ "Fletcher" Pitts departure to The Escapist, there was gaping hole in my weekly running schedule. Where once I had had these anonymous friends who talked to me while I challenged the barrier of turning 40, now there was silence.
My first show was Episode #2, following GenCon in August of 2006. And while I haven't made every single show since, it's become the anchor of my week. I've made the Conference Call with more regularity than I've made it to Church, where I'm the guy responsible for passing the cup around.
The reason for this seeming madness is simple: how many hours a week do you spend talking with your best friends about the things you love most in the world? Until the conference call, the answer was "hours?" That 29 million of you find it interesting, infuriating, or entertaining is still unfathomable to me, but I to say that I'm thankful for it seems a nearly taciturn sentiment.
It's not novel to suggest that the internet allows for people with narrow interests to find each other and develop communities. In my own case, my tastes have never led me to feel like I was the only guy around who played games. As a kid, in college, in graduate school, I was always able to find a game group.
That was before the seizure. Once the floppy chicken became a regular dance routine in my repertoire, my physical roaming range became more confined than that of a red-tailed fox. If I couldn't walk there, I basically didn't go. I fought hard, and "not driving" never stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do -- except game. Hauling my hot 486 to Quake II lan parties or my miniatures to a convention is problematic when you're on foot, bicycle and subway.
The rise of internet gaming, particularly post Counter-Strike, has completely changed my gaming life. Face-to-face gaming is now about being social, not about getting my gamer-fix. And while there are still gaping holes in the catalog of what I'd like to be able to play online, those holes close with each passing XBLA release, and with each hardcore game designer who migrates to Facebook as a platform, not a novelty.
To the meal
Every Sunday and most evenings, I verbalize my thanks to my family. I give thanks for them, for my community, for my friends, my church, my (compared to most of the world) profound lack of poverty and extraordinary comfort.
Thanked, and taken for granted.
But not you, Internet. This Turkey is for you.