My life, at present, is a sea of blerch. I quit Warcraft about two weeks ago to focus on working two jobs for a few weeks (there’s a tidy extra grand to be had from marking exam papers at this time of year), and I hadn’t quite realised how much of a hole that game would leave. Sure, I was dimly aware that there was this thing I was doing more or less every night, but I was still going out to work, I could stop for an hour to have a chat in the kitchen, it wasn’t completely ruling the roost… but I knew that if I didn’t stop the sub, there’s no way in hell I’d do any work in the evenings. It’s not like I’m even that hardcore about playing; I set myself a goal, I’ve achieved it, to be honest I’ve not focused on it super-hard… a lot of the time, I’ve just been blerching.
To blerch – and isn’t that a lovely word? – is to do the stuff that the image above represents. To vegetate. To put down taproots from your arsehole into the armchair or sofa or bed and just settle.
It’s easy to make excuses for the Blerch. “I’m working!” (marking one and a half exam papers an hour while watching Ashes to Ashes marathons doesn’t really count as ‘working’, though, if we’re honest). “I have a bad back!” (and I do, but I hardly think the weight gain and stiffness from six months unable to properly exercise is helping). “Everything I want to do costs money!” (balls does it, you have all this stuff to entertain you and you still want to buy more stuff? It’s not about the stuff, is it, it’s about the buying, the ownership… the commodity fetish… the capitalist slavery…).
The truly nefarious aspect of the Blerch, though, is its long-term partnership with something I’m going to call the Groan. Let me introduce you to her through examples of her work.
Most people who are on WoW every night are TEH HARDCOREZ and at least have the comfort of knowing that their NUMBERS are the best NUMBERS in all the land; I vacillate, ambling around doing world bosses and the odd daily quest and not really driving toward anything except a vague “do this before the expansion is over” scheme. I’ve fallen in with people who, while lovely, are playing the game in a way that’s far more focused and ambitious, and joining in with them just leads to this dissatisfied feeling of being carried, unnecessary, only there for the dubious pleasure of my company.
After eight years of playing Warmachine, you would expect me to be vaguely competent at it – not infallible by any stretch of the imagination, but at least capable, and yet in almost every game I play I look down in bafflement at the field and the pieces and the possibilities and do something massively gimpy, like try to eyeball an 18″ distance and decide that that 24″-odd is totally similar and leave my caster parked where a Bronzeback Titan can get to her. I don’t seem to have any real grasp on space or position or placement any more.
The Groan is sister to the Blerch. The Groan is that deep “oh why do I even bother” noise that wells up in your throat. The Groan is annoyance, disappointment, self-loathing; the Groan wants you to care enough to get stroppy about not doing well, but not enough to actually focus your energy into doing well. The Groan wants you to compare yourself to your peers, to compete with them – or rather, to perceive everything as a competition that you can’t win, and should just complain about, until you’re blue in the face.
I haven’t run, or participated in, an RPG session in just over a month – before that, the drought lasted half a year. I’m supposed to be setting up an RPOL site so my Dark Ages Vampire players can tick over and correspond between sessions; the Blerch seems to be keeping me from doing that (“c’mon, man, RPOL is fuckin’ fiddly, why embrace such clunky tools?”), and the Groan loiters around WoW-RP (“why do you care so much? you get nothing but grief from these people… they whine at you for doing something and then proclaim some old-schooler god-king of the server for doing the same… why bother? you’re shit at this anyway, it stresses you out, just let someone better do it…”) and poisons every initiative I try to take there.
The malaise is spreading to my ‘proper’ life, too. After five years as a teacher, I can feel myself phoning it in; neglecting my responsibilities, not really caring whether my students learn anything or not. I’ve always had a contempt for the busywork around the profession, and I’ve never been one to walk into the room projecting authority, being top dog, not smiling ’til Easter, but now I’m not really interested in my work either… and to be honest, with the way the education sector’s going in this country, I’m only here because I can’t think of anywhere else to be. My entire life, with the exception of one terrible, terrible year, has been spent in education, either as a student or a teacher; I have no idea how the rest of the world works.
I have a sticky note on my computer desktop – or had, before a recent reformat. Here’s what it says.
You fail because you do not force yourself to be inspired by others’ success; you use it to dispirit yourself. You fail because you do not focus your energies toward a goal; you quit, and flit, and flutter. You fail because you mistake abandonment, retreat and resignation for real change; you change your surroundings and not your self, and then you are surprised when your self contaminates your new surroundings. You fail because you cleave to things which you believe have ruined you. You fail because you burden yourself with psychic vampires and call them friends. You fail because you do not know what you want; you do not know what there is to want. You fail because you are alienated from your own body, and make it something which revolts you further. You fail because you have standards to which you yourself do not adhere.
You get the idea. The Blerch, and the Groan, are me. The Groan is the part of me which hates my hobbies; the faction swapping, the negative outcome of every game (if I lose I’m shit, if I win I’ve fluked it), the toxic snapping and sniping, the endless comparisons and competitions, the rod for my own back. The Blerch is the part of me which won’t get up and walk, away from the things that I use to punish myself and toward the things I’ve decided are better.
If I dislike wargames made to sell their manufacturer’s miniatures, with all the commercial demands of same, why am I playing one? If I dislike three hundred page RPGs with endless, complex mechanics and a hundred page fantasy encyclopaedia and an hour of filling out forms before you get to play, why am I playing one? If I give so many shits about being bad at games, why aren’t I getting better at them? If I’m fat and stiff and my back is killing me, why aren’t I out there loosening up and slimming down?
James – sorry, beat ronin – said something a while back that’s really stuck with me. If gamers spent all the effort and thought they invest in, say, 40K rumours, on stuff that actually mattered, we’d have the world’s problems half-solved by Tuesday. I sometimes wonder what I might have done with the last eighteen years if I hadn’t invested so much of my time, and energy, and money, and memory, and creativity, into games. I’m twenty-eight, I’m allegedly smart, and there are people younger than me making art and performing and politicking and moving and shaking and I’m sat here on my sofa stressing out about the games I play. On the other hand, how much of my potential would I have discovered if I hadn’t been writing fanfiction, running RPGs, stringing games and stories together for all this time? I don’t know.
Tell you what I do know, though. I cling to my games and my profession and my half-hearted pretence that I’m totally going to get a PhD one day and get out of this rut… and I’m throwing money and time into games for which my attitude is all wrong, I’m going out to work in a job I don’t care about (and teaching is a job you really shouldn’t be doing if you don’t care about it), and if I’m so serious about this PhD, where’s my work plan, where’s my research, where’s the networking where I go out and meet potential supervisors and make opportunities for myself?
If this sucks so much, why do I keep doing it?
The thing that really needs to change is me, of course. The only person that can banish the Blerch and silence the Groan is me. The games don’t need to change, my attitude to them does. The opportunities are out there, I just need to pursue them.
Why don’t I?