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Offline: my quest to find a ‘StarCraft’ replacement in my life

paul offline warhammer

I miss StarCraft, man. I just miss it.

StarCraft wasn’t a game for me, it was a lifestyle. It was a “no, I can’t go out tonight” sort of thing. A start-at-7PM-end-at-2AM thing. StarCraft bent me to its will. It made my brain operate in new ways, taught my fingers to click and type in a new rhythm, conditioned my ass to fight the burn of sustained sitting. It asked me to learn how to lose without rage, to learn from my mistakes, to iterate, to memorize stupid build orders. Most of all, StarCraft was a new way to be friends with people.

StarCraft was a start-at-7PM-end-at-2AM thing for me

On a typical StarCraft night, I’d hop on to see if any of my friends were around. I had a “crew,” I guess you could say, and if any of them were around we’d chat a bit, figure out the status of our other members, and then jump into a team battle. If it was just me, I’d dive into random 1v1, the “real” StarCraft multiplayer. The balance of these activities was important: the 1v1 made me a better StarCraft player, a more valuable member of the crew; the team battles were why I played StarCraft.

Without the internet, StarCraft II is inoperable — and besides, I never cared much for the single player campaign or AI battles.

The worst part of losing StarCraft has been losing touch with my buddy Erik — an old friend from high school who has stayed in touch over the years. Before I left the internet, we would play StarCraft a couple times a week, regularly plotting strategies in gaming and in life over the phone. Once I left the internet, our phone conversations became more frequent. He was a lifeline to that world, and of course we leaned more on our extra-StarCraft commonalities, which was good for our friendship. And then, in the fall, he moved to China.

In an age of email and Skype, other-side-of-the-globe isn’t a total tragedy. But in my self-limited version of life, it’s meant that Erik and I haven’t spoken since he left. I don’t even have a mailing address for him… we didn’t exactly think this through.

I guess I thought by now I’d have found an alternative to StarCraft, a new game, a new “crew,” maybe even a new Erik. But it’s just not that easy.

I bought an expensive Warhammer starter set, and painted a couple figurines — it was all going so well

Originally, I figured I’d replace StarCraft with Warhammer 40,000, a tabletop wargame with aliens and space marines doing battle — in fact, much of StarCraft’s lore was ripped directly from Warhammer. I bought an expensive starter set, and painted a couple figurines. It was all going so well. Everybody wanted to know when I was going to play Warhammer. Everybody thought it was so cool that I was going to play Warhammer. The trouble was, nobody actually wanted to play Warhammer, least of all myself.

The problem with Warhammer is that it’s insane. Matches take days to unfold, especially once you get up to the recommended number of troops. To do battle in Warhammer you roll a number of dice for various reasons, and use a measuring tape or protractor to plot out moves for your troops, and roll more dice, and fight each unit against each other unit in painstaking detail. In StarCraft you just click once to perform all of the above. The other problem with Warhammer is that it takes a lot of space. I have to nearly rearrange my entire apartment to get a game of Catan going — a Warhammer setup would destroy me.

The final nail in the Warhammer coffin is that it’s more than a game — it’s a hobby. I had a hobby, with a capital H, once upon a time. Model trains. I inherited some HO scale electric trains from my grandpa, and my dad and I set out to build a track in our basement. We got about 10 or 20 man hours in and gave up. We had that piece of plywood, with the cork rail base nailed to it and a big chunk sawed out, for years, but never touched it again. The idea of collecting and painting little Warhammer figurines gives me model train flashbacks.

Magic the Gathering is the real king of offline games. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s a card game sort of like Pokémon or Yu Gi Oh, except it’s more “grown up” and harder to play ironically. There are monsters and spells and mana and elaborate illustrations on every card of bikini-clad sorceresses and large-thighed barbarian warriors.

At first I thought I wouldn’t like Magic because of the hobby-ish, card-collecting aspect and the embarrassing fantasy trappings. But after further investigation, I discovered I didn’t like Magic because it’s hard.

I dropped by a “Friday Night Magic” in Long Island a few weeks back to check out the scene. This wasn’t the sort of detached I-used-to-play-this-growing-up Magic that NYU students play in Manhattan clubs. This was a serious nerd haven. Gameplay etiquette was at a maximum, hygiene was at a minimum, women were scarce, and many guys were wearing what appeared to be pajamas while addressing each other as “sir” in a sort of Renaissance-Faire-lite affectation. Everyone I met was nice, welcoming, helpful, intelligent, passionate, self-confident, at ease, and basically great. But I still felt like I didn’t belong.

I need to hide behind screen and keyboard

There’s just no shortcut to being part of a community like that. Most people I met grew up with Magic, perhaps even grew up via Magic. Without extensive knowledge of the cards, the gameplay, the “meta game,” the people, or really anything relevant to the situation at hand, all I could do was sit there and ask dumb questions. With StarCraft, I’ve already asked most of the dumb questions.

Of course, I might just be nerd prejudiced. The “Friday Night Magic” crowd wasn’t enough like my crowd, the BarCraft and Twitch.tv scene, for me to feel at home there. Maybe I’m not man enough to game out in the open like that, face to face with my opponent. I need to hide behind screen and keyboard. In StarCraft, etiquette extends to saying “glhf” before a game and “gg” after. In Magic, you can get in trouble for not shuffling your cards correctly.

Whatever the ultimate reason might be, fear, inadequacy, or just plain good taste, I’m sticking with StarCraft. I have three months left without the internet. I’m going to wait it out.

The Verge
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