7.29.2018

The Fatigue of War

Although I'm no longer playing World of Warcraft, I purchased the Battle for Azeroth expansion as a just-in-case measure -- I learned my lesson years ago when I neglected to buy Cataclysm until all of the collector's editions were long gone and we were on the cusp of Pandaria, something I've always regretted. The pre-patch has dropped and people are flocking back to the game to get as much stuff done before the new expansion is live in all of its glory.

And for just a brief moment my finger hovered over the "Play" button in my Blizzard launcher.

But the ugliness I've seen flooding Twitter and other social media sites, with some players taking the "pick your faction" promotion way past the point of good fun, made me sit back and really wonder why the World of Warcraft community seemed to be prone to so much toxicity versus other MMOs out there.

Numbers are a consideration, sure. When you've got a bigger sample size of players, you're bound to find more of the squeaky wheels out there than you would with a smaller MMO. But I've been playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn -- a game I've been playing on and off since its release, much like World of Warcraft -- and even with its comparable popularity, I've never known toxicity to be the norm.

One of the big differences between FFXIV and WoW is that there's no faction system in the former. You have Grand Companies instead, which are chosen purely for aesthetic/roleplay reasons, and are shown to work together rather than against each other. There's the Wolves' Den battle arena where you can play a friendly wargame while representing your Grand Company, but that's it for PvP options. The only "us vs. them" mentality that's heavily stressed is everyone's characters versus the baddie NPCs -- you fight monsters, not each other.

World of Warcraft has always highlighted the differences between the Horde and Alliance, promoting the separate factions as an identity choice since the get-go and returning to its red vs. blue roots with Battle for Azeroth. Yes, players fight monsters, but they're also encouraged to fight themselves, with Horde players boasting that Alliance are noobs and Alliance insisting that the Horde are the biggest jerks of all. While I'd wager that most players out there still consider it as tongue-in-cheek, the environment that it fosters is one of competition and supremacy instead of cooperation and acceptance.

And with the State of the Real World these days... good Lord, I'm just plain burnt-out on all of that.

This isn't intended as a piece to crap all over World of Warcraft and promote FFXIV. Ultimately I enjoy both games, though certainly less lately in the case of WoW -- and I'm definitely not suggesting that video games cause wars or school shootings. But in today's climate, I just can't handle any more divisiveness. I can't handle being told that my fellow players are somehow less awesome because they're sporting the wrong colors. In a way, I feel that game studios who continually release violent shooters or strongly promote faction as identity are being irresponsible with the power they have over us all. Video games can be a vehicle for so much; they're an escape for many, who see it as more than just an interactive story, but a second home. When that second home too closely echoes the home they're trying to escape from... well, you see where I'm going with this, hopefully.

This is why I've been spending my time playing hidden object and puzzle games, or walking simulators, or crafting games, or hack-and-slash games where everyone cooperates to smash the bad guys -- and why I've really thrown myself back into FFXIV, where people apologize for potentially being perceived as "unfriendly" and band together not just against digital monsters, but work to quickly shut down the very few trolls that pop up. These are the games that I feel we need more of, that will let us still explore all sorts of stories and situations while teaching us to work together. The way we interact with people around us in the real world is directly influenced by the messages that we surround ourselves with, so especially today -- why not make them good ones?

5.14.2018

A CPPNow Travel Guide

Disclaimer: This blog focuses more on the travel and community aspects of CPPNow rather than the technical side -- if you're looking for the latter, there are (or will soon be) many trip reports written by people far more intelligent than I who cover this. I feel that the atmosphere and inclusiveness of a conference is just as important as how good the content is; if you disagree, this is not the blog for you.

Last year I put together The Beginner's Guide to CPPCon detailing my unexpected but incredibly pleasant adventures in Bellevue. I figured that would be my last report until CPPCon 2018, but life has a funny way of surprising you, in the form of more C++ conferences.

I'd heard of CPPNow -- formerly known as BoostCon -- from Ben, who attended the 2017 conference, but I didn't know much about it other than it featured much more advanced C++ content than CPPCon. When I asked if I should attend, he inadvertently scared me off of it by telling me I probably wouldn't get much out of the talks because they were so high-level. So when he asked me if I wanted to attend with him this year, I was more than a little wary.

CPPNow 2018 was hosted at the Aspen Physics Center which is easy walking distance of the Aspen Meadows Resort, where most of us were staying for the week. I'd never been to Colorado so I wasn't sure what to expect beyond much cooler weather than what I was used to in Southern California. Stepping off the plane at the Aspen airport, it wasn't just the high altitude that took my breath away.

Spoiler: it was this freaking scenery.
So picture this: you get to spend a week learning about all of the amazing advances in modern C++, helping to shape the future of the programming language, and you get to do it in an impossibly beautiful place. I mean... you can't really lose.

I would describe the Meadows resort as the type of place you'd expect to find yourself if you were a billionaire with fragile nerves who needed to go away for a while to rest. It's set on 40 acres of meadows, streams, and mountains, with multiple modern art installations and rooms that are more like apartments. There are no street lights at night, no traffic noises, none of that -- just peace and quiet with a view of the stars clearer than I've had in over a decade. Downtown Aspen is about a mile and a half away. If you don't want to rent a car and are in good health (unlike me, who stupidly overdid it and ended up almost unable to get out of bed just three days in), it's easily walkable. There's also a free shuttle running from the resort to the downtown area so that you can experience the amazing local restaurants at mealtimes or go shopping. Emphasis on local, by the way; you won't find many major chains in Aspen, especially when it comes to food or retail. There are three grocery stores, all independently owned, and their selection may be shockingly small if you're used to massive Safeway or Albertson's locations. Price-wise, though, they were on par with or slightly cheaper than what I'm used to paying in Orange County -- although a few folks from less expensive areas found the costs a bit surprising. It's still cheaper than room service or going out to eat for every meal, however; the average cost of lunch at one of the more reasonable restaurants was around $20 for food, drink, and tip per person.

Really, I figured I'd be spending most of my time on my own. I had met lots of folks briefly at CPPCon but I hardly expected they'd remember me, and there were still plenty of attendees who I hadn't met. What actually happened was I walked into the reception area, had a bunch of people wave at me, and then ended up pulled into conversation with people I'd never seen before in my life but were all quite happy to introduce themselves and welcome me into the fold. Whereas you might think a smaller conference like CPPNow, with an average of 150 or so attendees, would be clique-ish, this was absolutely not the case. The only way you can end up eating lunch at a table alone at this conference is if you choose to do so. Otherwise, people will wave you over and insist you sit with them and make you feel like a member of a wonderfully nerdy -- and actually fairly diverse -- family. One of the regular attendees had a birthday during the conference week, and everyone chipped in for a huge birthday cake to surprise him with at the meet-and-greet barbeque.

All in all, there was never a time at CPPNow where I felt unsafe or unwelcome, even though I'm still a C++ novice and more of a hobbyist than a career programmer. Tired, yes, since we were all up at 7 or earlier and usually not in bed before midnight or later, but it was well worth it.

I didn't get to attend all of the talks, but the handful that I did were very impressive indeed:

"Easy to Use, Hard to Misuse: Declarative Style in C++" by Ben Deane. Look, full disclosure: this is not just any Ben, it's my Ben. I try very hard not to be biased -- but it did win Best Session at the conference, so clearly I'm not the only one who thought it was amazing. I've always felt that one of Ben's strengths as a presenter is his ability to provide clear examples of easily implementable methods for improving your code in addition to showing off innovations in the code itself. He manages to give concrete explanations in a context where the information offered is often vague and open to interpretation; whereas other guides to declarative style may be full of buzzwords and meaningless statements, this talk gives actionable feedback on how we can make our code more readable and efficient if we only change our way of thinking about what we write. I'd wager that even less experienced C++ programmers could benefit from this talk, since I truly feel that the easiest way to learn best coding practices is to do so as close to the beginning of your education as possible in order to avoid being caught off-guard by dramatic shifts in expectations later on down the road.

"Making Your Library More Reliable with Fuzzing" by Marshall Clow. I've loved hidden object games, word searches, and other similar types of puzzles since I was a child. It should be no surprise, then, that testing and security are actually my two favorite aspects of programming. Thanks to Marshall, you, too, can learn more efficient and reliable ways to break things with the end goal of making a better library! This was one of the shorter talks at CPPNow, coming in at around 45 minutes, but it certainly was effective. Marshall gave a great overview of some of the more popular modern fuzzing tools out there and how to use them for maximum benefit. He's an engaging and passionate speaker who clearly knows his topic inside and out, and so is a very reliable authority, eager to answer questions as they pop up. I wish I'd seen this talk about a year and a half ago when I was still implementing automated tests as part of my day job -- it would have saved me an awful lot of confusion.

"Secure Coding Best Practices: Your First Line is the Last Line of Defense" by Matthew Butler. Honestly, this was the talk I was most looking forward to, and Matthew did not disappoint. With his security background in law enforcement and the military, he's definitely someone who knows what he's talking about when it comes to keeping your code shored up tight. I was relieved to see that he didn't sugarcoat the reality of the battle to ensure your infrastructure stays safe -- the reality, of course, being that there is no such thing as "completely safe" and that we must stay two steps ahead of malicious individuals out there looking to compromise our systems and information. Matthew excelled at pointing out common areas of vulnerability and how something that seems innocuous or like it's not a big deal can lead to severe consequences if left unchecked. To drive home the point, he executed a quick and simple buffer overflow attack during the talk; it should be pointed out that the particular method he used would only be effective against machines from the early 2000s or earlier, but even with modern architecture it's still a potential attack surface, and the results are just as devastating. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he writes a book someday, because I haven't been this excited about security matters since the first time I read Kevin Mitnick's The Art of Deception

The lightning talks. Twice during the week, there was a special evening session from 8 to 10pm of very informal lightning talks. Subjects ranged from the mindblowingly technical to the comedic -- Odin Holmes's extremely literal "lightning talk" springs to mind -- but there was also one by JeanHeyd Meneide, a.k.a. ThePhD, that spoke bravely and honestly about what it was like to grow up as a "smart kid" of color and feeling stuck between two worlds for a long time as a result. I'm anxious for video of that talk to come out on YouTube because it was a very valuable and necessary representation for any programmers of color who have ever felt similarly and goes a long way for promoting inclusiveness in tech. As far as code goes, Jeff Trull's live demo and demystification of the GDB Python API for debugging was a real favorite of mine, since I'm a proponent of combining my two favorite languages, C++ and Python, in all sorts of exciting and usable ways.

The main difference between talks at CPPNow and other conferences is that audience participation is almost a requirement. Rather than holding questions and challenges until the end of the speech, attendees are quick to -- very respectfully, I should add -- point out flaws in the presented code or suggest alternate methods for achieving desired results. Speakers at CPPNow need to be on their toes and ensure that they have a deep understanding of the subject they're discussing, but I want to emphasize that none of the "live feedback" was cruel or anything other than constructive. This is a conference for people who want to learn and discuss, rather than memorize the algorithms shown to them on a screen. Even after the sessions were officially over, the atmosphere at the reception center's social gathering was more reminiscent of listening to Socrates on the steps of the Parthenon than simply a party... although, of course, there was plenty of that, too.

Going home after a week of learning and socializing in such a great environment was hard. I'm counting down the days until the talk videos (and one episode of CppChat filmed at the conference itself!) are put up for viewing on YouTube. Will I be attending CPPNow 2019? Absolutely yes! It's become my favorite conference of the year. But until then, I've got CPPCon 2018 around the corner to keep those C++ fires burning.

PS: const west or die trying -- sorry, Jon!

3.15.2018

The One Decision I Never Thought I'd Make

You're unlikely to see me streaming World of Warcraft anytime in the near future.

Wow. There's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

I started playing in February 2005 after seeing my boyfriend at the time running around Stranglethorn Vale on his gnome rogue. "That looks like a fun game," I said. He rolled his eyes and gave me the most condescending smirk ever. "Yeah, right. You probably wouldn't like it." Of course, this made me even more determined to play it, and after 13 years of frolicking through Azeroth and a few years working for Blizzard itself, I think I can safely say screw you, dude.

I've seen the game evolve over the years and it's always been my Main Game, the one that I always end up running back to no matter how many other MMOs I've tried -- and there have been a whole heck of a lot of those -- and the one game where I've immersed myself in the minutiae, learning everything I possibly can about the mechanics and the lore. World of Warcraft is a big part of what lured me into the games industry in the first place. If ever there was a game for which I was proud to have my name in the credits, it was that one.

There's only been one other time I've thrown my hands up in the air and walked away from the game, and that was at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, when they announced that they were totally redoing Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor in Cataclysm. Nostalgia was running so high for me at that point that I was almost mortally offended over the idea of flooding Thousand Needles and changing the bosses in Deadmines. (Side note: I'm actually still mad about that last one.) But when I finally came back down to earth and gave it a chance, I realized there was really more good than bad with the changes to the world in Cataclysm -- both Plaguelands were actually fun now! -- and I solemnly swore that I would keep an open mind to any future changes, no matter how shocking, until I evaluated them myself.

I maintained a fair degree of neutrality when they announced leveling changes in preparation for the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth. After all, something that sounds odd on paper or computer screen still has the potential to succeed on actual implementation. I wasn't against the idea of slowing down the leveling process at all. In fact, I was often frustrated and felt slightly overwhelmed by the whirlwind tour of the questing zones that had me moving from one to the next before I could really finish the local storylines or get my gear all on the same level. It was appealing to think that I might be able to catch my breath and enjoy the scenery for a bit while I played. I also wasn't initially bothered by the concept of increasing mob difficulty to minimize the chance of one-shotting whatever you were fighting at level, as long as that difficulty increase wasn't severe enough to impinge on a player of average gear and skill's enjoyment.

And that's where the disappointment kicked in.

I finished the starting area quests for my death knight right before the patch with the leveling changes dropped, figuring he was as good a candidate to try out the new and hopefully improved experience, since death knights have in the past been notoriously "facerollable." If I couldn't make it on a death knight, I probably couldn't make it on anything.

I couldn't make it on the death knight.

The increase to the amount of experience required to level up wasn't bad at all. In fact, I thought that increase was incredibly reasonable. Scaling content level to the player's level in order to ensure you could actually complete a zone before out-leveling it felt great. I was excited to see that the quest rewards were also scaling accordingly. On the surface, everything seemed fine until I got about halfway through Outland.

Typically, if I die on a character I'm leveling, it's because I did something stupid, like went AFK in an unsafe place or ran off of a cliff. Once I started noticing the mobs' numbers going up, I was going down hard. Any quest that had me fighting a non-elite named mob guaranteed me multiple deaths in a row. Eventually I was unable to progress through the zone without Ben hopping onto his rogue and being my pocket assassin. I'd manage to get my gear to a certain agreeable plateau where it seemed more balanced against the damage output and toughness of mobs in the zone, and then just as quickly as that zen was reached, it all became a Sisyphean task again.

At first I thought I was just playing a death knight wrong. I talked to guild members who suggested the exact rotation and stat priority I was using. Closer inspection revealed to me that the real issue was gear not scaling as quickly as the mobs were. Yes, the item levels were going up, but the stats themselves were still not high enough to counteract the tougher mobs. The gear I needed to defeat them was the gear that the quest to defeat them was supposed to reward. The leveling process hadn't just slowed down; it had stalled.

Conversations with other players in the community have reinforced the idea that it isn't just me suddenly becoming useless at the game I've spent over a decade playing with six of those years spent in hardcore progression guilds. Once you hit Legion content, you're golden, because the power of the artifact weapons you get right off the bat is high enough to compensate for all but the very worst gearing issues. Getting to Legion, however, is so painful and unrewarding at this point that were I a more suspicious individual, I'd think it was all a conspiracy to drive Character Boost sales.

The workaround right now is to spend lots of time running dungeons and basically twink out your character -- load them up with the most optimal gear available for your level -- which theoretically allows you to survive leveling without too much trouble. The problem is that the experience gained in dungeons is lackluster at best, and the dungeons themselves now take longer to complete at level due to the mob difficulty increase, so for folks like me who don't have the opportunity or want to invest a lot of time into alt characters, it's an exercise in total misery.

My main character, the retribution paladin, is sitting at maximum level and is pretty well geared. She's killed Argus outside of LFR. She's gotten tons of transmogs and cool achievements and vanity items. I have one of each of the other armor classes -- leather, mail, and cloth -- at that maximum level as well so I can farm their transmogs if I have the urge to do so. At this point, the only reason for me to level those other alts is to finish out my desire to have all of my profession bases covered and to be able to boast about having every class at max level.

But given the time, aggravation, and effort required to get there? Meh. I'd rather play any of the other hundreds of games sitting in my Steam library, or maybe binge more shows on Netflix, or double down on my reading goals for the year, or any number of things I can do in my free time that make me feel like I'm actually accomplishing anything at all.

I'll definitely be back when Battle for Azeroth is live. I pre-ordered it, after all, and I should be on even keel with the new content it'll bring at least on those four characters. Unless another patch drops before then that improves the content scaling and brings it back down to acceptable levels, though, I can't see myself returning much before then, except maybe when the urge to farm more vanity items arises.

2.14.2018

Remote = Control: Taking Back My Life with Remote Work Opportunities

Despite putting on a brave face about it, and knowing in my heart that leaving behind my career in the games industry to focus on my health was absolutely the right move for me, admitting that I'm too ill for traditional employment has been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

A lot of well-meaning people express envy over my ability to spend the day in my pajamas and binge Netflix. On the surface, this does sound admittedly great -- for about the first two weeks. When you're someone who's used to being the smartest kid in her class, or the standout employee; when you're the person who technically started working before they were even old enough to do so legally, selling crafts and original fashion designs or picking up odd jobs here and there; and most of all, when you live in a society that emphasizes how much you can produce over everything else, the switch from doing something to doing nothing destroys your self-esteem and feeling of worth.

As unhealthy and irrational as the belief that a person's worth is linked solely to their productivity may be, I still felt like a burden to Ben because he was now the sole breadwinner. I kicked my perfectionism into overdrive, trying to compensate for not working by throwing myself into home improvement and cooking projects that would make Martha Stewart feel inadequate. I would have panic attacks every morning that I slept past 9 a.m., chastising myself for being a lazy, useless lump while not even stopping to accept that the reason I was so exhausted was because I was having a flare-up. I got so used to being sick without having any of the answers that now, despite finally having them, I still forget that yes, I am really chronically ill. I got so used to hearing people tell me I was clearly just faking it to get out of work, or that I was trying to get attention, or that I "looked fine" that I started internalizing it and believing it myself, even if it was wrong.

Before I left my career I had inquired about remote work opportunities, even if I would only work from home on the days where I was really too ill to make it into the office. I was told that those opportunities did not exist. And so my hand was somewhat forced into making my ultimate decision to stop working, because at the rate I was going, my already weakened body --and mind, thanks to the associated brain fog and depression -- did not have a bright future ahead of it. I got into streaming to try and keep my mind active, and while that helped a little bit, it's certainly not a steady source of income that would allow me to feel like a member of society again.

So I sat on my couch, feeling terrible physically and mentally, until I couldn't take it anymore. I made an offhand tweet about being available for freelance writing projects, since writing is something I've been doing for most of my life and is possibly my strongest passion, expecting absolutely nothing to come out of it.

Thing is, I'd spent so much time using social media as my sole connection to the outside world while unwell that I've ended up connecting with a lot of people. Within an hour, a longtime follower and friend, Michael, had contacted me with an offer for a role as a writer and consultant for the startup he co-founded. The best part? It was a remote position.

Remote positions I can do. Remote positions don't care if I've been able to grip a hairbrush enough to make myself presentable, or if I'm laying on the couch to work from a mobile device, or if I need to do an hour of work, take a break, and then do another hour. I have a prioritized list of tasks that need to be done. I can set my own schedule, saving the work for days when I'm healthy enough to crank it out, and not feeling guilty for the days that I'm not. Working with a team of like-minded people who understand and accept and don't consider me any less of a coworker just because some days I forget how a doorknob works has restored my humanity and given me a real drive to get out of bed and do my best, even if my best is simply existing for another day.

I am constantly baffled by the vast number of companies out there who don't seem to think it's important to offer even just a few remote positions. Office space is always at a premium, especially for growing companies. Sometimes it's not feasible to find additional property to build on, and for small companies, having to pay a lease can really cut into profits and make it more difficult to succeed in the long-term. Having remote employees can also mean that's so many workstations you don't have to pay to set up if a requirement of the job is having even a mid-range PC that can connect to the internet and send email, which so many of us have these days. Eliminating as much overhead as possible is a godsend when you're trying to get started with a business, but it's also not exactly a bad concept for a major, established company -- who out there is really going to turn their nose up at getting to keep more money within the business? I don't think there is such as thing as "rich enough" to turn down a situation where you lower your costs without negatively affecting your current income.

There is a huge potential workforce in people like me. We're sick, and we can function enough to do something, but maybe not well enough to make it into an office every day. I'm friends with lots of stay-at-home moms who are perfectly capable of doing something from their living room, at the very least while the kids are at school or after they've tucked them into bed, if only those positions existed. Housing shortages are becoming a reality in places like Orange County, where I currently reside; the market for single-family homes here is extremely competitive despite restrictive HOAs, Mello-Roos, and sky-high property prices, simply because there are so many tech companies here. The same can be seen in other areas, probably most famously Silicon Valley, whose mortgages and monthly rents make Orange County's look like pocket change. Imagine a world where people aren't limited by what they can afford to pay for housing or how much they're willing to sacrifice their standard of living, where they can work for the company of their dreams while still being close to family and friends, where the length of the commute doesn't matter because all you have to do to make it to work is walk into your living room and turn on your computer.

Offering remote positions not only benefits businesses, but boosts the net social gain at an unbelievable rate. I cannot tell you how much my state of mind and my energy levels have raised in the short time since I was brought onto the team as a remote employee. I'm damn happy to go to work, to devote the time and energy I have to something again and feel like I am contributing. I have money in my account to go out with friends, to buy new clothes that make me feel better about myself, to donate to charities to continue that cycle of improving the world and giving others opportunities they might not have otherwise had. And yet I'm still able to focus on my home life and my personal care, the two most important things in my life; it's great to be able to write a press release in the morning and be able to still cook a healthy, delicious dinner for Ben and I that evening without being rushed or exhausted.

"But what about security concerns?" I've heard before. If a business takes the time to develop good security policies -- complex password requirements, changing those passwords every so often, reliable firewall or antivirus/antimalware protection, teaching employees best practices for security -- it shouldn't take much more effort to extend those to remote workers, too. Things like only whitelisting certain IPs to connect to company networks or mandating that certain tasks must be performed on a hardline instead of a wireless connection can help, too. There is a misconception that major companies rarely, if ever, experience leaks or security breaches on-site; if this were true, there would be no pressing need for a Red Team on their staff. In fact, as someone who's done plenty of shady things on the internet in her time, I can honestly tell you that the number one weakest link in any organization is not hardware or software, it's the people. Social engineers don't care if you're at home or sitting in a high-rise office building. Something as minor as a publicly accessible company directory can be all that's required to illicitly obtain information or convince someone to bypass security software to install a piece of malware on a company system. It already happens every day to on-site employees at big, sophisticated companies across the world on at least a small scale.

If you're looking for a remote position that isn't just a thinly-disguised multi-level marketing scheme or other type of scam, check out We Work Remotely for job postings that are updated all the time. In the meantime, start tightening up your skills and putting yourself out there -- connect with people on social media, make sure your online resume or LinkedIn profiles are up to date, and join in on conversations. Networking is key no matter what position you're going for, or where your home base will actually be located.

We live in a time where technology has made cloud services and tools for remote collaboration inexpensive and easily accessible. I'm hopeful that as time goes on, remote positions will eventually become something that's no longer considered "cutting edge" and will instead be part of the status quo. In the meantime, I'm thankful for all of the businesses who have opened their eyes to see the undeniable perks of welcoming remote team members into the fold.

1.06.2018

New Year, New Stream

I've been on hiatus from streaming for close to a month now. My next stream is slated to go live on Wednesday, January 10th now that we're past the holiday whirlwind; typically that time slot is dedicated to my World of Warcraft guild's Ret Pally Rehab raid team as we blast our way through whatever dungeon is hot right now (Antorus, at the time of this posting). I love my guild and I love the community and I love the privilege of gaming with everyone live and on-camera.

I hate that damn stream.

It sounded like a great idea at the time, and I think a lot of people even consider streaming in the first place because on the surface it sounds incredibly easy. Step one: open broadcasting software, step two: open game, step three: pewpew with an audience, right? Anyone could do this all day!

But a big part of streaming is keeping up your energy. Part of that is making sure that you have people in your channel to chat to you while you play and give you something to do, an audience to play to and with. Even when you have that, the longer your stream goes on and the more there is for you to need to focus on -- as there is when you're raiding -- those energy levels start spiraling downward faster than you'd expect. It's a constant battle of wanting to be social, but also wanting to be the best raider I can be to help my guild reach their goals.

(Insert joke about why choose to be a ret paladin, then, here.)

My energy levels are also a bit lower than usual because of major depressive disorder. I had a severe breakdown over the holidays and am getting the help I need to start walking down that road to recovery, but that also means I need to take time for myself and do what I can without pushing myself over the edge of the proverbial cliff. Three hours of bouncing my attention between Discord, the game, and Twitch chat, in addition to conversations off-camera that just happen naturally... well, I hope at least a few of you can see how that could get overwhelming and tiring very fast.

Ben's schedule has him getting home for the raid pretty much just as I'm about to go live. We like each other an awful lot and enjoy having time together, which is something that makes raid night extra special for us since we're able to indulge in a hobby we both enjoy. Dinner is a sacred thing to us; it's the first time all day we've had a chance to sit down together. When I'm streaming our raid, I often don't even get to eat dinner until our break at the halfway point since I don't want everyone to see me shoving food in my face on camera and I'm really terrible at eating and gaming at the same time. I could eat earlier in the evening, but that goes against my desire for Ben and I to have that Mutual Pizza-Devouring Time. Once the break happens I have about ten minutes to scarf down my whole meal, so I can't even really enjoy it. Then, since the raid goes till 9:30 at night and Ben's up early for work in the morning, we don't get that much quality time together afterwards. I go to bed exhausted, feeling like the whole evening was wasted and that I didn't even get to see him at all.

So this all leads to the question of why do I stream at all?

Easy answer: the people.

I don't stream to show off my prowess at a game, although I have a lot of respect for the professional gamers and hopefuls who stream for that purpose. My days of hardcore progression raiding ended right before Icecrown Citadel dropped and I realized that it had gone from being fun for me to being a job or a chore; I don't want to ever let it get to that point for me again. I stream because I want to chat with cool people on the internet and do stuff with them, to have a safe spot on the internet for people who love videogames to talk about the action onscreen and even in their own lives, a haven where we can all kick back and be friends even though we may be thousands of miles apart. I want to have fun. I want us all to have fun. I feel guilty when it takes me a minute or two to notice that someone's sent a message in Twitch chat because the audience is my priority.

After all, without the audience, I never would have made Twitch affiliate, and I'd be missing out on a lot of amazing friendships, some of which have even spilled over into the offline world! Without all of you fabulous people out there I'm just playing alone in a small corner of my apartment, talking to myself. That's nowhere near as fun as the alternative and I want to be able to focus on that.

So I'm not ditching the Wednesday stream, and there may be some Wednesdays when I'm feeling exceptionally perky and want to stream the raid -- but that's going to be separate from what I'm officially christening Wildcard Wednesday. The stream will happen earlier in the afternoon, between 3 and 4 pm PST, and it may be me cruising through D3 or getting smooshed in Hearthstone or doing vanity runs of World of Warcraft, but ultimately, it's going to be what I want to do, which I feel will help me be a happier and better host to my audience. Just thinking about it is making me want to stream again instead of filling me with the existential dread that often popped up on Wednesday morning, which I'm taking to be a very good sign, indeed!

You can catch the action on my Twitch channel and keep up-to-date on when I'm going live by following me on Twitter and Facebook. I really hope you'll join me in making 2018 a year of fun, friendship, and games!