Archive for May, 2011

“You are hardcore, you make me hard. You name the drama and I’ll play the part.” – Pulp, This is Hardcore


So it was that the bug got me. I fell into my computer screen like a man tumbling into his own soul. When I sat down with a steaming bowl of coffee, slipped on the wireless headset and logged in, I was gone for all money. There was no television show, social occasion, book, magazine, song, meal or girl that was capable of luring me away from the widescreen world of Xen’drik. Apart from standing up every half hour to rearrange the pillows and stretch, there was little incentive to leave my ergonomic chair.

This business of stretching became an important part of staying in top gaming shape. If I wanted to be on the ball, if I wanted to be at my sharpest, I needed to be comfortable and alert, with good mouse and keyboard position and a comfortable, supportive posture. Sitting in a chair for a very long time can have some debilitating effects on one’s body, and I began to develop a syndrome which I called “Chair-leg.” It was the continuous pressure on the back of my thighs which caused them to stiffen and take against me and I was forced to institute a regime of exercises, rather like those advised on long flights. Often I would lean against the window sill and work the hamstrings and thighs, all the while conversing with other players or watching the social panel for an appropriate group to appear.

Yet, even with these exercises, the cumulative effect of staying up all night and pushing myself to new heights of effort, whilst remaining professional throughout, caused my body a great deal of distress. When I went running, in the real world, my legs would take twice as long to loosen, my chest heaved with fatigue and my joints seemed without suspension. I would struggle through the first fifteen minutes before my muscles finally reached a more fluid state, after which I felt as though I had cleaned the slate to some degree. My body still worked, it was just a good deal slower to start.

The good news was that, in game, I was becoming better by the minute. Hallifax Bender might not have been the best character build, but I knew his capabilities so well from so much solo play, that it was often Hallifax left picking up the soul-stones and bringing the party back to life from a near wipe.

Hallifax was Mr Versatile; he was the classic jack of all trades and master of none and his inventory was full of fixes for difficult situations; potions, wands, scrolls, elixirs. Hallifax could outsprint just about anything; he could hide, sneak, heal, and buff, or fight, charm, hold, disorient, blind, mesmerise and confuse his enemies. He was relatively durable and die-hard to boot, which meant, if knocked unconscious, rather than bleeding to death he would automatically stabilise and eventually come around with 1 remaining hit-point. How often Hallifax picked himself up off the floor of a battle and crept away to live another day, I cannot say, but he certainly came to be appreciated on many occasions, much to my pleasure.

When I sat down each night at my computer, it was usually with a great sense of expectation. In the first phase of my addiction to group play, I was happy to run any quests at all on account of their being largely new to me. After about a month, however, I began to lead my own groups, encouraged to some degree by having regular team-mates like Holz Amboss, Hallifax’s bard buddy. Being in charge of the group was a real buzz, especially as I’d like to think I was a good boss. I tried to be as democratic as possible and to show consideration to new players; just as I was happy to take advice from other players who knew the quests better than me, often, in effect, putting them in charge. The fact was that people out there needed my help and I needed theirs. Total strangers, though they did not know it, were depending on me, just as I was depending on them. Without each other, we couldn’t complete most of the game, so it was, in effect, necessary not only to put a party together, but to find good people and work with them as much as possible.

Before continuing the narrative of my fall into runaway addiction, I should like to digress a while to examine the pleasures and the mechanics of group play in Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO). The game is not especially different to other MMOs in its basic structural elements, so the system will no doubt seem very familiar.

It is difficult, across many time zones and, with differing social and work obligations, to organise a solid, regular group to play with in an MMO. This means that most players wind up in PuGs (Pick-up Groups) which have come together through an LFM (Looking for men). This means, in effect, that one player puts up an advertisement on the game’s social panel designating the task at hand, be it a quest, series of quests, wilderness exploration, or a raid. The player specifies the level range for the characters, the types of classes they are looking for – tanks, healer, casters, ranged etc – the difficulty level and, ideally, some further information either to entice or discourage particular players.

These additional statements can often be rather abrupt, ranging from the negative “No noobs,” to the positive, “all welcome!” I perennially used the line “Team Players” and often included my own SNZ – “Strictly No Zergs.” Zergs, of course, being those who rush ahead, either spoiling everyone’s fun by killing everything first, or getting killed themselves and costing the rest of the group in experience points and the need for a rescue mission. Requests for players might also be very specific, such as: “Need Wizard with Ooze Puppet”, “Monk with high wisdom” or “Must have boots.” Some players prefer native speakers of a particular language, usually English or Chinese in my experience, whilst others prefer only to have players with microphones. Either way, a well-written advertisement can make a big difference in avoiding ambiguity and bringing in players quickly.

Any player who sees the advertisement can simply click on it to join the party, at which point a request will be sent to the group leader. It is then up to the party leader to decide whether or not they wish to have the person on board. The ideal party is one with a balance of classes, though the best balance may vary considerably with the nature of the quest. Most groups, however, require a healer and a couple of melee builds to take the heat, and many quests can be done without the added bonus of a rogue, caster or buffer.

Once a few players have joined, particularly if a healer has joined already, the ranks can fill very quickly. More experienced players will simply make directly for the location of the task, but some will require directions or even escort. A good group leader should always ask the new recruits a) if they can hear, read and understand his or her communications and b) whether or not they know where they need to go.

Often groups will undertake missions without a full party or will start before everyone is present. Depending on the difficulty of the mission, it might be possible even to solo it – if you know you can take the heat, head on in with a hireling. Yet most higher level quests on, for example, Elite difficulty level, will require a solid group with a dedicated healer, trap monkey, caster and some hardcore DPS.

Putting a good group together should be a simple enough task, but it often proves very difficult to get good help. All too often, despite several thousand people being logged in on the server, there are simply no healers available within the level range of the group. This shortage of healers was almost always the largest obstacle, though it could also be difficult to find a good wizard or sorcerer. Even rogues, who are usually plentiful, could be difficult to come by. This despite the fact that multi-class characters with a rogue “splash” – ie. one or more levels of rogue with trap skills maxed through cross-class skill allocation at levelling – could more often than not, if built correctly, handle all the traps anyway. Many quest runs can be significantly delayed whilst the group waits to fill, or waits for that important missing element. This is much less of a problem at low levels, where hirelings will suffice, but at high levels, the failure to attract a healer can lead to abandonment of the plan altogether.

One problem for me being in Australia was time-zoning. The quietest time on the servers, when marketplace instances could drop from 5 to 2 (a system for regulating overcrowding with large simultaneous server populations) were between 1800 and midnight. If I played between the hours of midnight and the middle of the afternoon, however, when America was awake, I had far less trouble. It was a commonplace to have people join the group who had just woken up. “Mornin’ y’all.”

Some players would begin playing very early. “It’s five thirty. Another cold morning here in Philly. Just got the wife off to work. Got a pot of steaming coffee and ready to roll.” Often the more friendly and talkative players would speak about where they were; the weather, the view, the temperature, the politics. It was always fascinating to hear amusing local anecdotes or to imagine the spaces these people inhabited. Players would also often have to vacate their seats in emergencies, such as when their dog did something crazy or a knock came at the door. This could be either amusing and team-building or highly annoying, depending on the nature and length of the interruption. Most of the time, fortunately, grouping was a positive experience; especially when players were professional, positive and relatively relaxed about things.

The above image shows Yardley “the Scissors” Bruce in a random group of not especially well-dressed adventurers, being buffed by the healer and bard. Buffs are, of course, positive spell effects, skill bonuses and the like, which can either effect individuals or the entire group. A well-buffed group, particularly where specific magic defences are required, can make for a far more polished run. Being faster and stronger, having increased immunity and durability, being harder to hit and hitting a hell of a lot harder usually makes life considerably easier. Yet, beyond this, it also brings the group together and creates camaraderie. Just as everyone loves a good healer, so everyone loves to be well-buffed just prior to commencing the run. It instils the players with confidence, provokes thanks all round, and has an effect not entirely unlike sharing a meal together.

Group play is what makes MMOs, but grouping is a real mixed bag and raid groups, where up to twelve people need to coordinate their actions, are ripe for catastrophe. Raids can be rather intimidating as they have an air of exclusivity about them. More experienced players are especially keen not to see a raid go pear-shaped, and the LFMs are often brutally honest about what is expected. Inevitably, there is a first time for everything, but carrying noobs is not the average raid-runner’s favourite hobby. With so many players in the same team and such potential for miscommunication and confusion, the main principle is to stay together; if you don’t know where to go, follow someone who looks like they do.

The best groups are those that communicate and the best means of communication is a headset and microphone. Many players don’t use them and many players have very limited or no English, so it isn’t always possible to communicate via speech, or even text. Some players will abuse the mike to converse continually and often rather tiresomely about whatever is on their mind or the minutiae of the game, which can be terribly immersion-breaking. Having said that, there was nothing quite like the amusing banter that could take place. I’ve had some uproariously funny conversations with people who were drunk, stoned or high on coke; people who were cool, intellectual, nerdy, hip; people from Spain, Israel, the UK, Brazil, China, Singapore, France, Canada, Korea… I ran several times with a comically stereotypical scotch-swilling Scotsman, who had the decency to play a dwarf barbarian and spoke with a gruff and bantering brogue, with US soldiers at their base at Guam, with bored English housewives, with pot-smoking US college students, with Greek travel agents, a female Turkish IT student. The game could be quite fantastically social.

On the whole, however, people having and using microphones is a positive thing, especially where the other players are intelligent and know what they are doing.

A good leader will take control of the group and ensure that everyone works together; giving directions, delegating tasks, ensuring all players are accounted for and, occasionally disciplining those who are causing problems. A good leader will see new players as an opportunity to teach, and not as a burden on the group, especially where they are playing a trickier class, such as a rogue, healer or caster. Ideally, however, most people will know their role and how to make the most of their abilities. There is nothing quite like seeing how effectively a completely random group of people can perform together.

Take a look at the above picture. Each of these individuals is a human player, sitting in front of a computer, somewhere in the world. If I remember correctly, this group contained players from Korea, the US, China, Brazil and myself, from Australia. I’m the chap with the long fringe, white moustache and beard on the far right of the group – Hallifax Bender, after his custom hairdo. We are in the Vale of Twilight, a high-level wilderness area with a bunch of high-level quests scattered around its geography. To enter the area, players must be at least level 12, though entering at that level, without back-up or some serious equipment would be suicide.

This group consists of players between level 15 and 18, which, because of the relatively slow levelling in DDO, means all have put in a considerable amount of playing time to get here. Each of these players will be very attached to their “toon”. They have played this character for potentially hundreds of hours, not only developing their build, so far as path of advancement is concerned, but also choosing equipment they felt was in some way characteristic of their personality. Some players can be very vain about the armour they wear and the weapons they wield, along with other, more permanent details such as hair style and colour, facial features, skin tone and, at a most fundamental level, chosen sex or race.

One of the joys of grouping is simply seeing who turns up. Often players will make their presence known from the start; talking or typing a lot. Often players will become apparent through their actions; be it hammering away in the front line, healing or casting to great effect. Occasionally a player can remain relatively unnoticed in a group before suddenly coming to the fore in a moment of need, or after the departure of another character of similar class who was so good as to leave them in the shadow. It can also take some players time to warm up and get into their role. It can take players time to get comfortable with the group, to know that they can voice their questions or opinions in comfort. Often when a party leader quits and logs out, the remnants of the group will stay together; making decisions in a practical, democratic fashion, electing a leader, and getting new personnel. I often had the pleasure of stepping into the role of leader; coming from the backline to the front, taking the star and calling the shots. As in real life, people appreciate good leadership, especially where one leads by example.

Most non-English speaking players will have sufficient English to type and can give or follow instructions without too much trouble, but there are always those who are unable to communicate in the language at all. One can only hope that they know what to do, or at least have the good sense to follow others. I have run often in completely Chinese groups, with the players speaking Mandarin to each other. It was always very interesting and presented an extra level of challenge, wherein the pressure was on to perform well and stay with the group. Often I found myself playing more sharply than ever in such situations, channelling the panic into a whirlwind performance.

Having teamed up with a bunch of strangers, having gathered together for a common purpose, having greeted each other, having shared a little conversation, there is the moment when the avatars come together for the first time. This is always interesting – to see the style, dress and build of each group member. Often players spend a little while admiring each other. “Hey man, nice armour”; “What’s that helmet, it’s cool?”; “Is that Sparkstriker you’re wielding? Nice.” When waiting, the more expressive players will use emotes to show their frame of mind throught their avatar: Dance, sit, sleep, laugh, cry, taunt, flex, threaten, wave and the like. As surnames are only displayed above the avatar itself and thus visible when characters are within sight or in the viewing window when selected, on coming together, players will also admire each other’s names where applicable.

When a good group comes together, across different nations, continents and time-zones and every player is free to stay a while, it’s possible to run with the same team for positively hours on end. I made many strong in-game friendships with players with whom I’d been to hell and back. Six, seven, eight, nine hour sessions through long quest chains, raids, wilderness runs etc. It can be very sad when someone leaves after being in the party for several hours. So immersed can one become in the group dynamic that the absence of a character is as recognisable as the absence of a person. Of course, the only response is immediately to recruit someone else and hope that whoever answers the advertisement, wherever they might be, will also be a good player and a decent person.

The greatest pleasure of grouping, however, is actually performing well as a group and as an individual. Good players will appear, in the game, quite literally as heroes. In tough fights, good tanks will take and handle the aggro, good healers will be quick with their remedial spells, DPS characters will slay their enemies in lightning swift, often astonishing fashion, and casters and crowd-controllers will slay, disable, disorient, stun, freeze, charm, fascinate, burn and disintegrate their enemies.

Saving the lives of other characters through quick and skilful action is one of the great joys of the game. The camaraderie that comes from a timely rescue is a wonderful thing: save someone’s skin and they will warm to you; heal someone well and they will love you; crush your enemies and see them driven before you and you will earn immense respect. I’ve often been in both situations, standing over incapacitated companions, swinging like crazy and slaying everything that came at me, or lying on the ground, my avatar unconscious, watching the blinding skill of a party member as they took the heat and dispatched our opponents.

Dungeons and Dragons Online has a dynamic combat system, where each weapon has a reach and one strikes by clicking mouse-buttons, aiming at one’s opponents. This is far superior to combat in many other MMOs where a target is selected and the attack is automatically directed at them, often repeatedly, within the timeframe of cooldowns, so that a player is not required to steer their weapons into their enemies.

Thus, DDO is hard work – combat is exhausting as one is forced constantly to manoeuvre in battle, select opponents, and actually swing one’s weapon into them. The speed with which a player does this is paramount, as is the effectiveness of the attacks that they direct. With so many hours of practice, having rather deft fingers from 20 years of speed touch typing, and being something of a maestro on a mouse, I was often able to move and attack quite considerably faster than other players. Yet, of course, there were countless other players with both awesome skill and superior equipment and running with them was a pleasurable challenge. Good players will recognise other good players and often strong bonds can develop through this mutual respect. From the point of view of the game, it is the avatar, the embodiment of the player, one sees and respects.

It is always nice to receive compliments. The best compliment I ever received in game was simply “wow”. It was Jasparr Krait of Luskan, Fighter / Ranger / Rogue, my favourite hit-man, a dual-wielding heavy pick kensai, whose speciality was making straight for the casters, stunning them with a blow and taking them down with devastating critical hits as they stood immobilised with their heads ringing.

Whenever I played Jasparr, I felt immensely capable and regularly proved my worth by massively outstripping the rest of the group on the kill count.  After having played the game for as long as I had, I grew very bored with the rather unimpressive soundtrack provided by the game, and so I created my own. I put together a lengthy playlist on iTunes called Fantasy Backdrop, which I piped through my headphones in place of the in-game music. Mostly the soundtrack consisted of classical music, film soundtracks, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers, or other fantasy games such as Baldur’s Gate, Morrowind, and Oblivion, but I also threw in a few songs which seemed appropriate to certain characters, such as Hells Bells by ACDC and The Hitman, by Queen. It was this song that was to become the signature tune of Jasparr Krait:


Grouping was by no means always a satisfying experience, and proved, on many occasions, to be more frustrating than it was worth. As with all internet forums and MMOs there are always trolls out there who seek to cause annoyance to other people or pick fights at the drop of a hat – just read the comments under any Youtube video. Fortunately there are not that many trolls in DDO, but they come in many shapes and sizes. Some simply step inside quests, do nothing and sit in the entrance to leech experience points. Others actively sabotage groups because they have developed some impossible to determine grudge against one of the other players for no apparent reason. Some take exception to every simple error or slight by another player and make life difficult for everyone by being unnecessarily rude about it. Others completely fail to follow instructions, can’t wait to open chests and kill half the party by setting off traps, despite clear warnings. Sure, people make mistakes, but all too often players are just plain stupid and either overestimate their ability or simply ignore advice and directions.

The very worst character I ever had the misfortune of grouping with had the awful and alarm-ringing name of Aussiegem Downunder. I shuddered to think what sort of fool would produce such a character, yet, in need of a cleric to furnish the group with heals, I accepted her request to join my group. We were running the second series of Necropolis quests and this character joined as we were entering a flooded tomb. The quest involves a lot of swimming, and some form of Underwater Action item, a Waterbreathing spell or skilful swimming between air pockets is required. I made sure that everyone in the group knew what was required through both text and spoken word.

Despite this loud and clear message, as we swam through the first stretch of water, Aussiegem suddenly began to lose hit points, and then, as from nowhere, “Ping!” she was dead.

“What happened?” I asked, surprised and disappointed as her death had just cost us 10% of the experience reward. I got no response and typed the message. “What happened?” Other players simply placed “?”s in the party chat.

Aussiegem took a while to respond, but when she did, it wasn’t especially helpful. “I think I drowned.”

By this time I had already swum back and collected her soul-stone. We had no means of raising her from the dead, as she was, after all, the cleric, so I carried the stone along with me, en-route to the shrine, which was some way off. In the meantime, I asked if she had some form of Waterbreathing item or spell. I also encouraged her, as a cleric, to take the spell if she needed it when she rested at the next shrine.

Sadly, however, she didn’t seem willing to take any of this advice, and after having used the resurrection shrine and come back to life, she promptly drowned again in the next stretch of water. I couldn’t quite believe it, and was annoyed already, because in truth I could have solo’ed the quest with Jasparr and only brought other people for the rest of the series.

I took her back to the shrine once more.

“What happened?” I asked. This time she replied more promptly.

“I’m only playing with one arm. I got stuck.”

Oh dear, I thought, an amputee! Poor girl, must have an impossible time navigating with just the keyboard. How does she do it? I’d best go easy on her then.

The next time we swam, I stuck with her and led her to the next chamber. This time she made it, and, after the fight, there was a chest to loot. Aussiegem, to whom I now felt some slightly restored sense of sympathy, got her loot and, hey presto – she found a Ring of Underwater Action! This was quite a rare drop and, as the rest of the group can see what drops for other players from a chest, I suggested, both in speaking and in text, that she put it on immediately as it would enable her to stay underwater as long as she liked. There was no response in the party chat and I feared the worst. I retyped the message and re-iterated it over the mike, but still got no response.

Off we went again, into the next stretch of water, when suddenly, “Ping!” she drowned again.

This time I was really pissed off. No one, however much of a noob, who was a native English speaker and perfectly capable of receiving my written and spoken commands, should be capable of such a total and utter balls up.

“What the hell happened?”

“I think I drowned again,” she typed.

No shit Sherlock. “But why didn’t you put the ring on?”

“What ring?”

“The underwater action ring. You looted it from the chest two minutes ago. I told you about it. We all told you about it. Check the text.”

There was another long pause, then, after two minutes she wrote:

“I’m playing with one hand, I’ve got me baby on me lap.”

I believe I deserve some credit for the restraint I showed at this point. I was not only hugely annoyed, but also disappointed because female gamers were few and far between and most of them were excellent. Aussiegem was giving them a bad name.

“OK,” I typed in response. “Stay dead, I don’t need you. If you can’t be bothered playing the game properly, especially when playing a class that requires you to be on the ball, don’t burden groups with your half-arsed, non-existent efforts. I’m booting you as soon as this quest is done, and if you can’t work out why, it’s your own problem.”

Sure enough, I left her for dead and didn’t bother taking her back to the shrine. She still got the end reward at completion, but I wasn’t about to escort her to the chests. I booted her after completion and swore never to group with her again. When, some weeks later, I was running Jasparr out in Gianthold in another chap’s group, she joined and my heart sank. I hoped to goodness that in the weeks that had passed something might have changed, but when she died twice reaching the quest entrance, I knew we were in for a similar ride. I panicked, made an excuse, apologised to the group leader without saying a word and quit the party.

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“The meek shall inherit absolutely nothing at all, if you stopped being so feeble you could have so much more.” – Pulp, The Day after the Revolution


Clearly there was something wrong with me. I was hooked on a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMO), had been playing it for almost nine months, and not once, since I first signed up, had I teamed up with other players. You may wonder why anyone would solo a game that is optimised for group play, but then you’d be failing to take into account my somewhat shy nature when it comes to approaching strangers.

It wasn’t entirely true that I had never played in a group. I had briefly recruited my friend Steven to play with me for a week when I first signed up, but after his departure, I avoided grouping with any other players. It was unfortunate because, apart from the fact that it was extremely difficult to advance without grouping, as most mid to high-level quests were sufficiently challenging to require more than one player, I was also missing out on a hell of a lot of fun.

My reluctance to group was especially odd because, on the rare occasions I’d done it in other games, I’d thoroughly enjoyed it. Admittedly, however, this was not generally with strangers. At the end of 2005, before I left Sydney for Cambridge for the second time, I’d spent a good few nights staying over at my old buddy Mike’s new house. He hooked up two computers and we played some long, heavy sessions of Neverwinter Nights. It was an awesome gaming experience, for we were playing a very excellent series of modules written by a community member and posted free to www.nwvault.com called The Aeiland Saga. The game combined the very best elements of a good story, excellent challenge, exciting locations and plentiful surprises. Mike and I were enthralled to say the least, though I likely more so than he, and when it was over, I was gutted.

I also managed to get my brother on board and we too played some Neverwinter Nights modules before my departure. Firstly over a LAN connection at our folks’ place and then via the internet. Once I was back in England, we linked-up through the multiplayer server and teed-up times to play together; me lying on a double bed in my house in Sturton Street, early in the morning, and he at his desk in the spare room of his house in Brisbane, late at night. I was, of course, playing none other than Hallifax Bender, my favourite altar-ego.

I had also experienced playing in groups in World of Warcraft and this had been a largely positive experience. I’d been impressed by the willingness of completely random strangers to offer help and support, and to go out of their way to assist with something from which they had nothing to gain. Still, my group-play experiences were limited and, when I signed up to Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO), I, in my stupidity, spent nearly nine months playing the game solo.

As a consequence of this, I’d reached an impasse. I had several characters on the Sarlona server, but none of them had advanced very far. I had managed, through many hours of blood, sweat and tears, to get Hallifax Bender to level 8 and several other characters, such as Tollande Rollmops, Bethanie Brinsett, Summer Thingis, Hondeydrop Sundew, Badajon Yarnspinner and Arnalde Holdfast to around level 5. It was, however, difficult to go much further as there were few quests in my level range that I could complete solo. What I had managed to do, however, was master the workings of the local economy, and, through the harvest and sale of collectables, my toons, despite their inadequacies, were loaded with gold pieces.

There came, at this time, a very significant update to the game which made a lot of important structural changes and introduced new features. Most prominent amongst these was a decrease in the penalty for characters of higher level completing lower-level quests, some important graphical tweaks, and the introduction of hirelings. Again, just at a point where my interest in the game was flagging, when I was spending most of my time simply buying and selling things on the auction house to make virtual money, these changes brought me right back into the game with renewed enthusiasm. The introduction of hirelings was a godsend. Hirelings could be purchased for a relatively small sum from vendors around the city of Stormreach and they gave a player the opportunity to, for example, have a cleric in the group who would heal automatically, thus freeing up the player to focus on combat. They could also be commanded via a hotbar that allowed the player to cast the hireling’s spells or use their abilities directly.

For someone in my position, who had played the game for so long as a solo-artist, having to perform all my own tasks and make continuous tactical withdrawals from combat to heal myself, this was a huge blessing. Now, with a cleric hireling in tow, healing my sorry ass every time I got hit, I found I could make much faster progress. The problem was that this still only really allowed me to take on quests at a low difficulty level and usually below my character level; partly because of the considerably greater difficulty of many mid-level quests, their length and complexity, but also because I was running toons I’d made a long time back who were not especially well thought-out.

What hirelings also did for me was to open my eyes to the far greater potential for completing quests with back-up. Within the space of a week, using hirelings had become not so much a norm as a necessity, and, though frustrated by their occasionally dodgy pathfinding and response times and restricted to one hireling per character, I began to ponder how much better a real human would be at providing such services; indeed, how much better it would be with a full-time rogue, another tank or melee build, a caster, an archer and a buffer, for example. Slowly, like the long thaw at the end of an ice-age, it was beginning to dawn on me that I should re-examine my seemingly baseless embargo on grouping. It was time to harden the fuck up, and I went out and bought a new top-shelf wireless headset. I was resolved that, the next time someone invited me to join their group, I would accept the offer.

It wasn’t long before I received a cry for help. A level 16 wizard called Kalsto, who was running quests on Elite difficulty for favour – ie. the cumulative reputation from quest completion which brings in-game rewards and privileges – needed someone to pull a lever for him in part 2 of the Delera’s Tomb quest chain. There were many quests that could not be completed solo because they required different characters being in different places simultaneously and, despite the fact that hirelings could now be utilised to perform such tasks, it seems this chap was fixed in his belief that the only way around this problem was to use a human player. Thus far my experience of the Delera’s Tomb quests was entering part 1 with Hallifax Bender and getting shredded by a spectre before I made it past the first major obstacle. What had impressed me, despite the rather relentlessly bland interior of this poor dead girl’s tomb, was that the Dungeon Master’s narration was done by none other than E. Gary Gygax, the father of Dungeons & Dragons. There was even a memorial shrine to him built just around the corner in Delera’s very large graveyard, added to the game after his death (Raise Dead spell pending, we hope). Not knowing the quest at all, I felt reluctant to join with this chap as I didn’t want to screw things up for him. When I explained this, however, he assured me it was all good and that he would tell me what to do. Thankfully, he was noob-friendly!

So it was that Badajon Yarnspinner, my 6th-level Bard / Rogue / Barbarian, found himself standing inside Delera’s tomb with a master of the arcane arts. At level 16, Kalsto would receive no experience for the quests whatsoever, despite them being on elite difficulty. I too would receive nothing other than favour, on account of Kalsto’s level and the fact that I was being power-levelled, as the game called it, because I was grouped with a player four levels or more higher than myself. Kalsto buffed me in a way I’d never been buffed before: Blur, Stoneskin, Haste, Displacement, Jump, Protection from Evil and all manner of elemental resistances, and my job was simply to stay alive and keep up whilst he torched all the undead with maximised, extended Firewall spells.

I followed in his wake, marvelling at how rapidly all the spectres, wights, ghouls, ghasts, skeletons and wraiths died in his walls of fire. Kalsto would simply dance around the undead, practically untouchable behind all his buffs, luring them all into the flames. It was an awesome display of power, and we quite literally ran through each area, often simply ignoring half the trash that was not of a mind to follow us. What really got me excited, however, was that, by virtue of these quests being run on elite, all the chests were dropping far better loot than I was used to and I quickly saw that if I should stick it out, I might get a nice piece of equipment or two.

When it came to my turn to pull the lever, however, I quickly ran into trouble. Kalsto stood by the iron gate he needed to access, whilst I stood across the way in an alcove next to a large metal lever. I pulled the lever and, suddenly, a bunch of skeletons spawned and attacked me. I tried desperately to pull the lever a second and then third time, as I had been instructed, for Kalsto had to progress through a series of gates, and just managed to do so before the undead swamped me. I put up my shield and defended as best as I could, determined not to die and suffer the shame and embarrassment. I hammered and pummelled with everything I had, but I was getting smashed to bits and was forced to flee. I must have run through half the length of the vast tomb we had already traversed, healing myself and fighting to stay alive. Eventually, I managed to get into a tight corner where I could fight against one attacker at a time and was able to beat down the skeleton horde that had set upon me. When Kalsto joined me a few moments later and blasted the last remaining skeleton to pieces, I was still alive and much relieved. He was very apologetic. “Sorry man,” he wrote, “forgot about those spawns.” We were all good, and I felt oddly pleased with myself. All that solo training had done me the world of good in keeping my sorry ass alive.

I followed Kalsto through the remaining quests of the chain in search of loot, and surprised myself by being useful here and there in disarming traps and opening locks. I don’t think Kalsto was very fussed about the loot himself, but I certainly was and enjoyed picking the locks on the two extra chests after the boss fight in Thrall of the Necromancer. When it was all over and we parted ways, I was buzzing like never before. Not only had the experience been brilliantly good fun, but it also showed me just how much more of the game I could explore and enjoy with proper support. I sold and auctioned my loot, went to the tavern to rest and repair, logged out and hit the sack, exhausted but thrilled. I couldn’t get the game out of my mind and dreamed of what I might do next time I logged in.

Despite my enthusiasm, it wasn’t until two nights later, on a Tuesday, that I had the chance to play again. I was checking the post on Bethanie Brinsett, when I received a tell from a barbarian called Kazorn asking for help in running the quest Gwylan’s Stand. Again, this was a quest I did not know at all and replied stating that I was unfamiliar with it. They were desperate for a healer and said not to worry, so I agreed to join the group and met them in the city’s Elven ward, House Phiarlan. Now that I was with people my own level, and now that I was expected to heal the entire party, I found myself in a very different situation. I had no experience playing a healer in a group and soon found that I was not only running desperately short of mana, but that I had insufficient wands in my inventory. Gwylan’s is a sprawling quest, set amongst ancient ruins overrun by bugbears, minotaurs, hobgoblins trolls and evil elves, and I struggled to stay with the group. It didn’t help at all that the tanks were zerging all the time, ie. charging ahead and not waiting for everyone else, so I soon got completely lost and separated from the rest of the team. Fortunately, however, the group’s rogue, Quinthel, a nice American woman, took me under her wing and helped me find everyone else in the rather confusing collection of entrances and exits. She also gave me a bunch of healing wands to assist in my job, as I had come into the quest both low on equipment and not really understanding what was required.

Once I caught up with the other players, I devoted my efforts to healing them, but they weren’t especially happy with me. I was annoyed at this reception because they had urged me to join their group anyway, despite my reservations and despite my having told them I was unfamiliar with the quest, but I was also disappointed with myself as I wanted to do as good a job as possible. In retrospect, having later had a great deal of experience as a healer, I understood that it was entirely their fault for zerging. As many clerics write in their Bios, “I can’t heal stupid.” If you want heals, don’t run away from the healer.

What did please me very much, however, were the rewards of the quest. Not only were there six or seven good chests in it, but it paid roughly 8000 experience points, which was vastly superior to the sorts of returns I was used to. If I could make so much XP in half an hour, compared with several hours of more stressful solo slog, then surely grouping was the way forward.

After Gwylan’s I switched to Badajon and rejoined the same group. I now had the pleasure of listening to one of the other group members  slate my efforts as a cleric, unaware that I was the same player! I took it on the chin, knowing he was being unfair, but also knowing that, were I placed in the same situation again, I wouldn’t be unprepared. My worst fear of grouping had always been looking like a noob, and sure enough, I had done, but I had survived. Not only that, I had learned from the experience in a way I wouldn’t forget. No amount of solo play could have taught me as much about being a cleric.

Now, having switched to back Badajon, I looked forward to playing a character who was not quite so pivotal in the group. The chap who had slated me soon left, along with Kazorn and a couple of others, and Quinthel took over the party, recruiting further players as replacements. The plan was to run the Waterworks quest chain on elite next; something I’d solo’ed repeatedly, though not on elite, and which had taken me a hell of a long time to master. Now, again in a full group of six, with a rogue, ranger, wizard and surplus bard, though forced to use a hireling cleric owing to the difficulty of finding a real one, I finally felt as though I had arrived.

The time tag on the above screenshot says 04.57AM, Wednesday morning, May 20, 2009, and it is indicative of how utterly immersed I became on this occasion. It also shows Badajon topping the kill count by a considerable margin; not surprising considering I was the principal melee character in a group with no real tanks, but still impressive in my books for being my first group venture as a fighting build. Countless hours of solo play had taught me how best to use what I had at my disposal and now, with decent back up, I found that, when it came to fighting, I was quite formidably fast at doing what needed to be done; faster than many others. I wasn’t such a bad player after all. Woot!

What I loved most of all was the camaraderie. Never before had group play in any game been so visceral or so much fun. In a game that was played completely live, with no re-loading of saved games possible, let alone any saving of the game, everything was played out in real time. It was thus important to act fast, to act together, and to communicate. My Gwylan’s Stand experience had taught me what happened when players didn’t communicate, but this second group looked out for each other, stuck together, and no one died. There was friendly chat, jokes, exchanges of advice and information and, in the space of a very short time, I felt sentimental towards the other players. If someone fell behind or got into trouble, we went back and helped them. We praised each other’s efforts, laughed at our mistakes and were generous with things we looted and did not need. When the session finally finished at around 0530 AM, I was exhausted, but completely high on the game. Computer gaming had just achieved a level I had never really dreamed of, and it had been staring me right in the face for so damned long.

That evening was the beginning of a long, long period of sleeplessness. Once I started grouping properly, I could not countenance going back to the old ways. Being in a party made everything easier, quicker, and a hell of a lot more fun. It was a brilliant thing to talk to people over the voice-chat, or to communicate by typing. My stagnant learning curve took off like a shot and I found myself developing an intimate knowledge of quests, dungeons and wilderness areas that I never could have dreamed of achieving solo. I soon found myself chatting with people from all around the world, though the Sarlona server was largely populated by American players. I made friends with several players and ran with them repeatedly; started to recognise other player’s avatars around town, in groups, on the social panel, and thus began to feel like part of the community; a true resident of Stormreach. I was surprised by the demographic make-up of the players. Most people were in their twenties and thirties, and there were many players who had, like me, been playing Dungeons & Dragons since first edition. As totally and utterly nerdy as it might seem, it was a dream come true for a D&D tragic like me to find so many other people like-minded people, who shared the nostalgia for the game.

I soon learned that it was pointless trying to role-play in a game like this. Apart from the fact that many players had limited English, it was rather too much to expect everyone to get on board and in character, especially when parties often broke up after a single quest. To role-play would require a dedicated group of players who met regularly, and anyway, it was interesting enough meeting such a wide variety of personalities.

It wasn’t long before I saw my chance to take Hallifax forward and switched to running on him as often as possible. He was, perhaps, my strongest build and most groups liked to have a bard along to enhance their combat prowess with songs, and to buff and haste them. When Hallifax began to level rapidly, I was thrilled. He had been at the coal-face for so long; the true pioneer of most of the challenges I had faced in my solo days. After the first runs on Bethanie, it had been Hallifax who experienced most quests first and he had died countless times, finding himself hopelessly outgunned. Now, at last, surrounded by good people, Hallifax began to shine like a true champion. Other players warmed to him and would express their delight when Hallifax joined the group. No doubt this was because I was enjoying the game so much that I was always laughing and joking. Hallifax was always ready with a quip, just like all bards should be, and, just as a bard is supposed to do, I felt I regularly lifted the group’s morale. It was on Hallifax that I met one of my longest running online comrades, another Bard by the name of Holz Amboss. Holz was an Australian like myself, and a relatively new player. He was intelligent and well-spoken and always good company and we teamed up for many consecutive nights, playing well into the wee hours, laughing and joking our merry way through quests. Holz and I taught each other a lot; we filled in the gaps in each other’s knowledge, exchanged money and equipment where necessary, and always made sure that people in our group were happy and well looked after.

For the rest of that month of May and halfway into June, I played DDO at every given opportunity. I no longer cared about sleeping at all and stayed up until dawn almost every night, when there were many more players online. I advanced Hallifax to level 12, indulging in ever more challenging and interesting quests. The game was far more colourful than I’d ever imagined, with some truly classic quests and beautifully rendered areas to explore.

There were so many quests that even after six weeks of continuous group play, there was still a huge number I was yet to run. Very rapidly, the game began to consume my entire life. I doing no writing whatsoever, slumping my way through the days in a dream-like state of chronic exhaustion, keeping myself awake with killer doses of coffee and sugar, codeine, ibuprofen and paracetamol, and then trying to make up for it all every Saturday night when I stayed at my girlfriend’s house and slept for about twelve hours. I kept up running and took no time off work, but I was just making it through my lessons, teaching English as a second language. I was a walking wreck, and we were about to go to South East Asia together for a five-week holiday. I began to have terrible withdrawal fears, in advance of the coming break. Would I really be able to live without DDO? There was  only one way to find out…

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“Money, it’s a gas, grab that cash with both hands and make a stash. New car, caviar, four star daydream, think I’ll buy me a football team.” – Pink Floyd, Money


Years ago, as a young man experimenting with narcotics, there was always a line I never crossed – heroin. My principal concern was that I’d like it and, let’s face it, liking heroin is not a good career move. I knew already that I had a tendency towards addiction. I’m a creature of habit and once I get a taste for something, be it music, computer games, reading, writing or running, I tend to crave it to the point of suffering withdrawal.

Despite my reservations about Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMOs), so far as narrative, atmosphere and game-play were concerned, I knew that were I to begin playing one, I might well be sucked in. I had watched my friend Chris struggle to extract himself from World of Warcraft (WoW) and had read sufficient anecdotal reports of the addictive qualities of Everquest (EQ), so I knew just how addictive these games could be. I had already suffered long years of devotion to games like Baldur’s Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights and Civilization III and IV, for which the craving to play was often very intense. To quit Civilization III I had had to smash the disc to pieces, though I then found I could download the entire game through Limewire in about 15 minutes and the battle went on.

Civilization IV hit me even harder  – at times I could wrestle with it for a sleepless week, in which I ghost-walked from one game to the next. When I visited my brother in Brisbane, it was traditional to start a game of Civ on the Thursday night I arrived and we almost invariably played until well after dawn, thus smashing ourselves to bits for the rest of the weekend. After a snooze and a café breakfast, we would drive home in the car, talking about how we must not play the game again that day, but if we were to do so, which civilization would we play: the Babylonians or Egyptians? By the time we were home, we had already lost the fight and fired it up immediately. Fortunately, Civilization is now long behind me.

I thus had every right to fear MMOs. This fear had particular resonance with me because, as a writer, I needed my spare time to write. It was easy enough to turn up to work and teach English without having to think too hard, however exhausted I might be, but to write required me being focussed and alert and having a clear head. I needed what I was writing to be the dominant narrative in my thoughts and not to be distracted by, for example, thinking over of the offensive strategy I planned to use against the Aztecs.

Bored with the games I’d been playing, and wanting a more lively experience, I found myself mulling over the idea of giving Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) another go. I thought hard about the possible implications, the time-wasting, the craving, but decided I could keep a lid on things. After all, one of my strongest qualities, in stark contrast to my ill-discipline, was the ability to discipline myself when necessary. All I needed was a set of rules, such as ensuring that I slept sufficiently, continued writing, and did no gaming during daylight hours. If I could make myself work, then play would be my well-earned reward, and I had managed, except during occasional periods of obsessive play, to maintain this balance for the last ten years. Could an MMO really be that addictive? Would I really not be able to walk away? I decided to take the risk.

So it was that, towards the end of 2008, I signed up for the ten-day free trial of DDO and sat down to play. I had, of course, played the game for a week two years ago at the time of its release, so this was really a return. When I first played it, however, it had been on a not especially powerful laptop and, in order to avoid lag, I’d had to experience it with the graphics turned down. Having recently built a seriously powerful computer to cope with my heavily pimped Oblivion, I was now able to ramp the graphics up to max. When I finally fired it up, having downloaded all the patches, it looked significantly more attractive.

The first character I created was Bethanie Brinsett, an elf rogue I intended to make a multi-class cleric. I was basing all my ideas of character creation on the types of builds I’d used in Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2, which was a good starting point in theory, but would ultimately have very different outcomes in DDO. It would be a long while before I’d learn the pros and cons of certain builds in this context, but to begin with I was impressed by certain innovations the game had made to the rules.

First and foremost was spell-casting. Rather than the old system of allowing a caster to memorise a certain number of spells, which could be cast a set number of times each per rest period, the game introduced a mana pool which allowed the caster to memorise the same number of spells as in the 3.5 edition rules, but to cast each spell as many times as desired, according to how much mana was available. The higher level the spell, the more mana it required; spells cast using metamagics such as Maximise, Empower or Extend, also cost more mana. It made casters a lot more versatile and able to cast far more often.

Another plus was that spells affecting movement, such as Expeditious Retreat, Feather Fall and Jump, became much more pivotal in this very free-flowing game. One would rarely ever make use of such spells in the pen and paper game, as the limited number of spells one could use between rest periods meant it was usually more effective to preference offensive casting and healing rather that buffs.

The game also did a good job of calculating combat movement and positioning. Especially impressive was the way the way DDO handled things like flanking, making it an advantage to move during melee. The game even mimicked all the dice-rolls, going so far as to display a D20 on the screen, which could be coloured to the player’s liking, every time a roll was made. I’d always thought that the Dungeons & Dragons rules might be too complex or unbalanced to translate to an MMO format where it was necessary to avoid having great gaps between the effectiveness of the classes, but I was to come to learn that the rules actually translated surprisingly well.

Just prior to my rejoining the game, a new starting area, the island of Korthos, had been introduced, and for the first few days I found myself running around in this snowy island and its village. The village was besieged by Suhuagin and being terrorised by an otherwise benign white dragon under the influence of an evil mind-flayer. It had all the markings of an extended tutorial, but it played rather smoothly and I quickly became engaged.

What really hooked me was the free-flowing nature of the game. Despite the fact that, unlike WoW, DDO required area transitions from one map to another, and that all quests were instanced so that only a single individual or party could undertake them, and that the world was considerably smaller, with only one major city and, admittedly quite a number of surrounding areas, it seemed like a nice compromise between the open world of the MMO and the single-player gaming experience. The avatars ran, rolled, tumbled and swung with a very pleasing fluidity. The animations were well done and the detail on characters’ faces, despite relatively limited options for customisation, were above par for MMOs, where texture detail is usually sacrificed to ensure speed in crowded areas where bulk rendering is required.

To begin with I was pretty crap. Like all noobs, I was clumsy and slow, despite being well-practised with the standard WASD movement of first-person shooters. I didn’t know how best to make use of hotbars, knew little of the game’s quirks and workarounds, had no sense of perspective and proportion and didn’t really understand the significance of items I looted. I was also completely broke and didn’t know what I should be looking for. Nor did I know what quests I ought to do, or how difficult the challenge might be. I made a lot of fundamental errors; for example, not knowing that when I died, if there was a resurrection shrine within 10 seconds running distance of where I was slain, I could run to it and click on it to come back to life.

The starter area, however, was mercifully easy and initially I made the mistake of thinking the rest of the game might be equally easy as well. Ultimately it was, but only once I knew what I was doing, had the right build and some back-up. I shudder to think of how difficult I found many low-level quests in Stormreach Harbour, even on normal difficulty level. Of course, the problem was largely that I was trying to solo them, having, in my typically shy manner, decided not to group with other players. I could have learned so much more quickly had I had the sense to team up with other people.

I did, however, manage to recruit my friend Steven for a short while. He created a rather wan-looking chap called Relwan and together we ran around Korthos. The game was certainly considerably easier with another player on hand, and I taught him what little I knew about how things worked, including giving him very had advice as to how to build his character. Still, not having progressed from the 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons rules, he was completely at sea with 3rd edition, so my advice was better than nothing. We played together over a few consecutive nights and I very much enjoyed having someone to chat with. We fought, tumbled, shrined and danced side by side, and for a brief while there I thought I thought he might stick it out. Sadly, however, Steven decided he’d had enough when the trial expired, and I was left bereft, with no company and no back up. It goes without saying that, on the back of this, I should have gotten over my issues and grouped with some other players, yet something held me back.

I don’t understand why I felt so shy. I am somewhat sociophobic and have a deep paranoia about what people think of me, so my biggest fear was being outed as a total noob, despite my countless years of Dungeons & Dragons experience in various formats. I chose instead to bide my time learning the ropes, developing an understanding of the economy, the context, the scope and what have you. Another problem was that I was afraid of not knowing the quests. I had no idea how sympathetic people would be and had seen many advertisements on the social panel with, in retrospect, rather unfriendly statements such as “Know the quest”; “no noobs” and the like. It didn’t give me confidence.

I always thought of joining groups, but just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it, even when players sent me a “tell” asking for help. And anyway, despite its frustrations, and this in the era before hirelings became available, I was very much enjoying the solo game. I thought grouping might be immersion-breaking; that, as had been the case in WoW, people would simply run through quests without explaining anything or bothering to role-play. I also feared that too few players took their gaming seriously. There were some truly awful-looking characters running about Stormreach, with ridiculous names like IKillU, DeathRage, YoMama, SmashYourFace, MeHealU and so on, that I thought these people were largely jokers. There were, of course, many very excellent looking characters, with thoughtful names and fine attire, who preferred, as I did, looking attractive or handsome rather than terrifyingly ugly. The question was, how, if I were to join random groups, would I be able to apply the shit-filter?

Ultimately, however, I was enjoying the game. Playing solo gave it the feel of a single-player game, but with the advantage of being in a living game-world with a real economy. Either way, it was working just fine for me and, by the time the ten-day trial was due to expire, I was already sufficiently hooked to sign up for a subscription. It was, to say the least, a fateful moment.

Having made a lot of mistakes with my first build, and having learned a thing or two during the trial, I decided it was time to create another character. It wasn’t long before Hallifax Bender was on the scene. Hallifax was a character I’d played in various different games – a swashbuckler in pen and paper D&D, a bard in Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2 – and this time around I made him look like a dark-skinned Norse god. I had spotted another “toon” hanging around the harbour with an enormous white beard and decided that I wanted one as well. I have always liked to play the dilettante minstrel and Hallifax Bender was my default name for such a chap.

I, as Hallifax, continued to blunder around like a fool, slowly improving my understanding of the game, enjoying the challenge, but also being constantly frustrated by my failings and inadequacies. Still determined to play the game solo, I had to use tactics and caution in every situation, and doing this for positively weeks on end actually proved to be excellent training in the game. I was forced to take things slowly, to read everything, to sneak and hide and surprise my enemies, and, wherever possible, to run to a safer position and hold my ground as best as possible. I slowly developed an intimate knowledge of all the low-level dungeons. Stormreach harbour seemed packed with quests and, to begin with, I spent all my time there. One reason for this was that I was told by a city guard that I could not access the marketplace, and thus, the other city wards, until I’d completed a certain quest chain called The Waterworks, which was proving very difficult for me. What I didn’t know was that I could have just bribed the guard! Noob.

The game continued to be a frustrating experience, but it also had me hooked. Once I’d begun, I devoted all my gaming time to DDO. I began to develop cravings to play, but during the first few months, I kept things under control and only played at night. I avoided overlong sessions and didn’t let the game get in the way of sleep. As a player, I was improving slowly but surely. Refining my tactics and knowing what to expect made a huge difference. Hallifax was hardly a killer build, as a Ranger / Sorcerer / Bard multiclass, he was too thinly spread to be very effective, but his versatility was advantageous for solo play. I mostly ran on Hallifax, but I couldn’t help myself from switching back to Bethanie here and there, nor could I resist the lure of creating new characters. I went back to a few old favourites. Arnalde Holdfast was reborn as a Paladin and Summer Thingis returned as a Ranger, though I was forced to call her Summerr on account of her first name already being taken. As the first name is the most important on a server, and all messaging and mail is addressed to the first name only, it cannot be duplicated.

I didn’t stop with Summerr, either, for I also created a rather hapless chap called Tollande Rollmops. I wanted to see if it were possible to make a purely arcane character work, one who began as a Bard, then took a level of sorcerer before advancing as a wizard. Again, I was locked into my Neverwinter Nights mindset, wherein I believed I could make such a build work and still engage as a melee combatant. Tollande proved, to all intents and purposes, to be almost entirely useless, though he later found a role as my principal auctioneer once I began to flirt with the auction house properly. Had I allocated his stats and feats correctly, he might just have worked as a versatile wizard and spell-point guru, but I was a long way from making full sense of how best to put such a build together. What I also lacked was good equipment.

The main problem I faced in the game, apart from my unwillingness to group, and some ill-planned builds, was that I had no money and was forced to use inferior equipment. It was only when I really began to get a handle on the local economy, after several months of play, that my circumstances began to improve. I figured that my fortunes might improve incrementally as I crept up in levels and slowly acquired more gold, but I could never have predicted the great leap forward that was about to come.

Only those who have played MMOs can truly understand the lure of the auction house. I suspect, however, that Wall Street traders and stockbrokers must go through a similar experience of anxiety, excitement, withdrawal, desire and lust. I lusted after gold as so many have in the past, though the money I set out to make was all, of course, virtual.

When first I began playing I had no idea as to how to make money. The one lesson I hard learned from WoW, however, was that, with the exception of vendor trash, there was potentially a market for everything. If I sold items to a shopkeeper in town, I’d get about 10% of their listed value; yet I could name any price on the auction house. For my first few months, I experimented with the auction house, putting pretty well every piece of crappy loot I found up for auction, including total rubbish like a Ring of Swimming +3 or masterwork weapons. Still, I wasn’t to know what was valuable and what wasn’t, and I priced them so thoughtfully, below purchase price, but above what I got from the vendors, that I managed to sell them. Naturally items would sell according to the laws of demand and supply, yet it takes time and experience to know what is in demand and what’s not. It also takes as long time to learn which items are genuinely rare. Interpreting the value of loot also requires an understanding of the game’s different classes. A new player who has only played a fighter is not going to understand immediately the significance of, say, a Superior Potency III Sceptre, which increases the damage of a wizard or sorcerer’s 1st to 3rd-level spells by 50%.

For the first few months that I played the game I was dirt poor. I’d pick up the crappy loot from low-level chests and sell it to the vendors and brokers for peanuts. I’d auction anything I thought might sell and made some extra pocket money. It took me almost a month just to accumulate 30k gold, which is a drop in the ocean in game terms, considering a decent weapon might sell for between 75k and 250k and possibly much higher. There were items on the auction house being sold for 12 million gold, though I didn’t actually believe anyone could have this kind of money in the game, which was, admittedly, rather naïve of me.

The turning point came with the arrival of my first Festivault. Festivault was the in-game festival which occurred around Christmas time, running for roughly six weeks. During this period, chests would also drop Gold, Silver and Copper tokens which could be exchanged with one of the festival jesters for cakes and cookies that cast spell-like effects in the same way scrolls did. The cakes and cookies, however, cast the spells as though by a high-level caster, say 10th or 15th level, thus giving them greater power, penetration and duration. They also had the advantage of being usable by any character at any level. Initially I used them myself  to assist Hallifax and co. in difficult situations, but one day, whilst checking the auction house, I noticed that certain of these cakes sold for quite remarkable prices. Or, rather, they were listed for a lot of gold, though I did not really believe anyone would spend so much for a single-use item. All the same, it was worth a shot, so I put the cake that cast Blade Barrier as a 15th level spell up for sale at 100k and waited. I didn’t have to wait long, for it was sold within an hour, and suddenly, for the first time in my four stumbling months of play, I had some halfway decent spending money.

I was already playing the game way too much, but it was Festivault that really got me hooked to DDO in a big way. My frustration with the game had been growing, largely on account of my very slow advancement and lack of money. Of course, had I bothered teaming with other players I may have learned the ropes a lot more quickly, but my shyness persisted. Festivault allowed me to buy my first weapons with magic effects on them; it allowed me to buy some decent armour and stack up on wands and potions. I knew that Festivault wouldn’t last forever, so I was reluctant to blow all the money at once and saved a few hundred thousand gold pieces for later times. When Festivault ended, however, I found myself back at square one. Yes, I had made a good deal more money than I’d dreamed of having and had significantly upgraded my equipment, but when the money finally ran out as it no doubt would, I couldn’t see how I was going to make any more of it, apart from the old slow grind.

What I did know was that experienced players had money to burn, and all I need do was find what they needed and grind it. I undertook a new study of the auction house, trawling through every listed item and noting their average prices. This was no small feat as there were countless categories and thousands of different items listed, but I was diligent, and, after all, my Festivault savings were running out rapidly. I needed to find other ways to make money – fast.

I went through my inventories to see if I had anything that might fetch a decent price, but all I had was vendor trash and nothing that seemed to be selling at any sort of decent price whatsoever. Then, one day, about two months after the end of Festivault, I looked again at the “collectables” category.

Collectables were things that spawned from different nodes throughout the game. These nodes took the form of mushrooms, clumps of moss, piles of rubbish and the like, or treasure bags dropped by monsters. From them one could harvest such things as a string of prayer beads, a sparkling dust, a lush cryptmoss, a shamanic totem, a deadly feverblanch etc. There were hundreds of different collectables which could be exchanged with collectors for items such as magic arrows, potions, wands, scrolls, or they could be used in crafting. I noticed now that many of these things were listed for quite staggering prices. A sparkling dust for example, of which I had several in my backpack, was listed at 90k. I hadn’t initially believed anyone would pay such money for them, because I knew nothing about their role in crafting. Yet, on this second look it struck me that with so many collectables listed, surely all these people who auctioned them weren’t deluded. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

I looked in my collectables bag and noticed I had a number of items that were listed at very high prices. I put a few on offer at a price just below the current minimum and waited. Sure enough, as had been the case with the cakes and cookies, within a very short space of time there was a bite on the line and my sparkling dust sold for 85000 gold pieces. Woot!

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Deadly feverblanch were listed at 75k each and I had 12 of them in my backpack! Within a couple of days, I’d put everything that seemed to fetch a good price, or a price at all, up for sale. When I sold a Lightning Split Soarwood for 650k, a Luminescent dust for 500k, and a Fragrant Drowshood for 250k, I knew I’d hit the big time. These more valuable collectables were that not easy to find, but nor were they all that rare. Playing as regularly as I did, I found I’d usually get one truly valuable collectable every couple of sessions.

Suddenly, within the space of a month, I had millions of gold pieces. I was now able to purchase elite equipment and blow money on potions and wands with abandon. I went on a spending spree, buying more powerful weapons and finer suits of armour. I began to collect Elven Chainmail, being especially picky about the appearance of particular suits. I might have been a noob on many levels, but my characters were starting to look a lot nicer than previously. They were also a lot more effective.

This business of making money became highly addictive. I started grinding the dungeons I knew had nodes that dropped valuable collectables. It didn’t always work out, but I could usually collect enough in a session to make several hundred thousand gold pieces. The gold fever didn’t stop with collectables either. In the marketplace were brokers to whom one could sell loot for a slightly better price than regular vendors. These people specialised in things such as jewellery or clothing, armour or weapons, and what players sold to them could be re-purchased by other players. Now with more money, and able at last to shop at these brokers, it didn’t take long to realise that people sold a lot of very valuable items to them for a pittance. Again I began to experiment. I used my still relatively limited experience of the game to judge what would be of use to particular classes, studied the prices on the auction house, and began to purchase things. It soon became another vast gravy train and again, I was making hundreds of thousands of gold every single time I logged in.

When I later began to group with other players, I learned that my auction house skills and understanding of the market were quite exceptional. Many experienced players with high-level characters had money not because they worked the auction house well, but simply through gradual accumulation and the discovery and sale of higher-level, more valuable loot. I felt immensely pleased with myself and was popular, as so often rich people are, because I was generous with my money. I bought potions and wands for clerics, scrolls for casters, dished out funds when people were low on cash and even used gold to bribe the odd player whose services were needed to join my party and abandon the second-rate group of hacks with whom they were currently grouped.

On my first run through the Cursed Crypt quest in the Necropolis with Hallifax, I miraculously pulled an extremely rare item of loot called the Scourge Choker. It was a necklace that caused the character, when struck, to enter into an increasingly powerful rage that raised strength and constitution considerably. I really ought to have kept something so rare, but when I saw that it was listed on the auction house for twelve million gold pieces, I couldn’t resist putting it up for auction. Sure enough, it sold at that price, and after the annoying and pointless auction-house tax, I received just over 8 million gold pieces in one fell swoop.

The auction house was horribly addictive. Every time I logged in I would go straight to the brokers, switch through all the instances, buy up all the good equipment and take it to the auction house. It was a thrill checking the post when I logged in to see how much money I had made. It was a challenge estimating the chance of a sale, setting prices, taking a punt on some borderline things that might just be good for a sale. It took me almost forty-five minutes just to manage my finances each time I logged in, before I actually started playing the game. Some days, I didn’t even bother doing any quests and all I cared about was the auction house and the brokers. The other problem with the auction house was that, being on an international server largely populated by American, Chinese and European players, there were far more players on between midnight and the middle of the afternoon than at night, so in order to find more bargains, it was best to log on in the morning when more players meant more instances in the marketplace – to avoid player overload in public areas – and thus, in effect, more brokers with more loot.

Eventually, after two years of play, I was so good at making money and had so much floating around on various characters, that I wanted a new challenge. I switched from the Sarlona server to Ghallanda, started a new 1st-level character called Swimm Lantern and set about levelling him and making money. I raced through Korthos in a couple of hours, made my way to Stormreach and went straight through some low-level quests, collecting everything I could find.

After selling all the junk to vendors, I managed, after a couple of hours, to accumulate around 3000 gold pieces. I took this money straight to the brokers and bought a couple of useful level 1 items people had sold: Boots of Expeditious Retreat and a Cloak of Shield. These items allowed the owner to use said spells three times per rest, and were useful to low-level players. I knew only too well that experienced players starting new characters would look straight away to buy this sort of equipment, and, paying roughly 1000 gold per item, I put them on the auction house at 15k a pop. Sure enough, they sold quickly, whilst I was out getting more loot and collectables. At the end of my first session, I was already on 25k and now able to buy a greater number of low level items to mark up on the auction house. Within three days, I had hit level 5 and made my first million. Most players to whom I told this did not believe a word of it, one even called me a liar – so, in true school playground fashion, I showed him the money, said “suck on that,” and left his shitty group.

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. For, it was just a few months after I first began to make money, about seven months after starting to play the game, that I finally accepted the invitation to join a group. I’d thought the game was addictive before, but things were about to go to an entirely new level. The longest waking dream of my life was about to begin.

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The following is a rather pointless essay I wrote in 2004 for an exercise on cultural artefacts during my Masters in Creative Writing. It may prove diverting if the paint is drying too slowly.

Loved and Loathed

The Straw Boater Hat



The Boater hat is an item of clothing that has been both loved and hated. Throughout the hundred and fifty odd years that this style of hat has been in existence, it has been viewed at various times as a charming item of leisure wear for men and women, as an effete symbol of privilege as a compulsory article of school attire, and as jaunty accoutrement for barbershop quartets, vaudevillian performers and appreciators of haute couture. Now generally relegated to the status of a nostalgia item only sported on occasions such as the Henley Royal Regatta, the boater’s has been a curious journey which has seen the social significance of this artefact change dramatically.[1]

In a recent work entitled The Man in the Bowler Hat, Fred Robinson noted that the Bowler hat is “rich with its various and (seemingly) contradictory meanings; its iconographic vocabulary is complex.”[2] I would argue that this statement is equally true of the boater hat, although its dissemination and multivalency are not as great as that of the bowler. With that in mind, what I would like to establish in this essay is a brief and wholly inadequate ethnography of the boater hat and the various significations of this particular cultural artefact. My examination will focus on the history of the boater hat with particular reference to its role as a component of school uniform, followed by an examination of the boater as a part of the uniform of Cambridge punt chauffeurs, as an example of its survival as an item of contemporary attire.

The following is a recent internet advertisement for the Boater hat as a prestige item of stylish gents and men of status and influence.[3]

Straw Boaters are back. This is the famous Straw Boater hat worn by politicians and stylish men alike after the beginning of the last century. Sometimes called Straw Sailor Hat, or Skimmer, this high quality hard Straw Boater hat is blocked into the classic boater shape in Italy. Watch for this hat on your favourite Barbershop Quartet. Don’t be fooled by our low price; this is the genuine article and the best available. This Italian Boater comes with a satin lining on the inside top and a leather sweatband.

The History of the Boater

The hat has long acted as a particularly potent symbol and signifier of social status. As is the case with any item of clothing, it is also subject to the dictates of fashion and as early as 1822 Lloyd in the Strand was offering forty-eight different styles of hat to their customers.[4] Apparently originating in the Bedfordshire town of Luton, the boater was distinguished by its particular manufacture; namely, plaited straw coiled into a mass which was then moulded into the ‘boater’ form.[5] The boater hat typically sports a not insubstantial flat brim topped with a flattened pill-box crown, surrounded by a ribbon band. Surprisingly tough for a light, cool hat, the boater is believed to derive from the flat-topped caps of French sailors and was first adopted as children’s wear in the middle of the nineteenth century.[6] The boater gradually established itself during the second half of the nineteenth century as an item of leisure wear for both men and women and was mostly worn during informal occasions. Indeed the introduction of the boater, along with the homburg and fedora hats, marked a general adoption of informal hat styles. The manner in which the boater was worn was of particular importance for both men and women, with fashion generally dictating a rakish angle and debate being centred around exactly how far forward and how far to the side the hat should be worn.[7]

The popularity of the boater reached its height during the period 1880-1930, though it was already in decline by the end of the First World War, after which it was eclipsed by the panama and the trilby.[8] During this time the boater managed to find its way into the wardrobes of many different social classes both in Britain and abroad. When British schools began adopting it as part of their uniforms in the 1880s, the boater took on a new association which perhaps gave it its most distinct character and significance. Initially schools adopted the boater for wear during the summer term, decorating it with a ribbon in the school colours, yet for some it became a year-round feature of school attire and in many cases the boater was preferred to the much more formal top hat and was considered more than just a cut above the ubiquitous school cap.[9]

The Boater as School Uniform

As was noted above, the boater was widely adopted as a compulsory part of school uniform as early as the late nineteenth century and was on the whole greeted positively as a consequence of its not being so formal. The popularity of this hat soon led to an inevitable reduction in its exclusivity and many schools dropped the boater from their uniforms when it was adopted for orphanages.”[10] Many schools, nonetheless, retained the boater as a compulsory part of their uniform and with its diminished popularity as an adult style after the 1930s, the boater was most commonly to be found on the heads of English public school children, both male and female.

Curiously enough, it was not until after the Second World War that the boater established itself as one of the most potent symbols of public school privilege and came to be regarded as an article denoting superiority. This phenomenon is marked by the abandonment at Eton College of the silk top hat in favour of the straw boater shortly after the war.

A particularly interesting aspect of the school boater was its sheer impracticality. Rather than the high-crowned boaters common as an item of costume for adult men, the school boater for both boys and girls tended to be particularly flat, with a very low crown, which, coupled with the fact that they were rarely made to measure, meant that they sat with some difficulty upon the head. As a consequence, it was often necessary to secure the hat with cords or elastic to ensure it remained on the head.[11]

Boys from Harrow School.[12]

Colin Symes and Daphne Meadmore have argued that “…the school uniform is something of an anomaly, conferring on its wearers a state of deference and dependence that denotes them to be the subjects of administration rather than its architects.”[13] They further note that “…the wearing of uniform generally denotes inferior rank and status, with the right to wear ‘normal’ dress one of the privileges being conferred on the figures in authority.”[14] One is inclined to wonder if the intrinsic impracticality of the straw boater came to be favoured by English public schools as a contradictory symbol denoting extra-mural privilege, and intra-mural subjectivity.

Boaters as worn by students of Kent College in Canterbury, c. 1952.[15]

The impractical design of the boater, had, however, one important advantage. The low, flat, stiff form of the boater also made it ideal for being tossed in the manner of a Frisbee. According to Alexander Davidson, it was commonplace for boys to amuse themselves by skimming their boaters under passing buses with the object of having it pass through to the other side.[16] Naturally, there must have been many incidents where this aim was not achieved, and in many instances, an unsuccessful throw might well have resulted in shouts of delight from the boater’s owner, for amongst school boys forced to wear them, the boater was commonly despised. Rather than acting as an artefact commanding respect, throughout the post-war period in particular, the boater became an object of derision in a world which had become less forgiving of effete signifiers of privilege and it was often despised equally by those forced to wear it and those who saw it worn. So hated was the boater by some students that they ritually burned it when their schooling had finished.[17]

The aggression and derision brought upon dayboys who were forced by school rules to wear their boaters at all times outside of school grounds only increased this resentment. Kent College in Canterbury insisted on the wearing of boaters well into the 1970s. The 1985 Centenary Book carried this reminiscence from a dayboy who enrolled at the school in 1967:

Stiff as a board, uncompromising, blatantly assertive (and impossible to hide -it would not even fit in a briefcase) it was a symbol of the worst aspects of the public school ethos… One evening I was walking home with my boater perched awkwardly atop my head like an inverted nest when a boy from the local secondary modern school grabbed it and sent it spinning across a field. To the wearer the hat was an embarrassment – to the beholder, an object of ridicule.[18]

The following panel from a comic strip of 1970 is a fine illustration of the negative social consequences of being marked by such an obvious signifier of privilege.[19]

As a consequence of its unpopularity and increasing levels of harassment, most schools abandoned the straw boater as a compulsory part of uniform during the 1970s, although some schools, such as Harrow still enforce wearing of the boater.[20]

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum

Roland Barthes argued in “The Diseases of Costume,” that “in all the great periods of theatre, costume had a semantic value; it was not only there to be seen, it was also there to be read, it communicated ideas, information, or sentiments.”[21] This is certainly true of the boater hat as it was of the bowler. The ubiquitousness of the bowler hat, and its many and varied uses by the upper, middle and working classes primarily throughout the period 1850-1950, enshrined it as a symbol of modernity. Indeed its ubiquity made it one of the preferred props of entertainers of both the stage and screen, usually for comic purposes, because it can be used so successfully to represent such a multiplicity of different caricatures.[22] Barthes points to the relationship between the item of costume and “what Brecht calls its social gestus, the external, material expression of the social conflicts to which it bears witness.”[23] When used as costume by performers, the boater and the bowler are capable of lending the wearer automatic recognition as one of the agents of a multiplicity of social situations and conflicts.

In the 1920s and 30s, the boater became synonymous with the French chansonier and actor Maurice Chevalier. Maurice Chevalier leaves us with perhaps the most enduring image of a boater, or canotier as it is known in the French, tipped forward almost to the point of blindness above his jutting lower lip.[24] The hat generally had always been a significant prop amongst entertainers. Indeed the earliest vaudeville acts took the form of chapeaugraphy, an act using only a crownless, adjustable hat rim which was manipulated to assist in impersonations of the innumerable hat varieties and the type of person signified by the wearing of a particular type of hat.

Changing his expression to suit each new shape, the chapeaugraphist was able to portray dozens of different characters – male and female, haughty and abject – in quick succession.[25]

The success of chapeaugraphy lay in the fact that until the second World War hat-wearing and hat culture was a part of every day life.[26] The significance of the hat as an essential item of everyday wear cannot be underestimated.

Having been so long established as a staple prop of stage, vaudeville, and barbershop, it is hardly surprising that upon first trying on a boater hat, I immediately started to impersonate a tap-dancer then burst into song, and had I at the time been armed with a full-length umbrella, I should certainly have swung this by the handle and perpetrated further acts of mock-vaudevillian silliness. This seems to be something of a universal phenomenon, at least amongst my own circle of friends, who I do not wish to suggest are representative of the wider public, for whenever I have a guest, should they happen to pick up the boater out of curiosity to place it upon their heads, they almost invariably tilt it forward across the forehead, break into a brief little step or two, and occasionally go so far as to drop to one knee and throw their arms wide in expectation of applause.

Having long been abandoned by most schools as a part of school uniform and with the retreat of vaudeville stage act to nostalgic obscurity, the boater primarily survives in its original informal role as an item of leisure wear. Whilst something of a sartorial anachronism there is, nonetheless, a degree of mobility in the way it is perceived as the negative associations of compulsory boaters recede, leaving it free to exist purely as an article of fashion.

The Cambridge Punt-Chauffeur’s Boater

On the river Cam in Cambridge the boater is still worn by the punt chauffeurs who provide tourists with river tours throughout the year.[27] Both of the major punting companies, Tyrrells and Scudamores, include the boater as a compulsory item of uniform. The uniform is subject to seasonal variations and occasional innovation, but generally consists of a pair of light tan trousers or long shorts, a white collared shirt and a waistcoat, and of course, the boater. Whilst the punt chauffeurs are strongly encouraged to wear the boater at all times, the uniform regulations are not heavily enforced and it is not uncommon to see punt chauffeurs without boaters. Nonetheless, the majority of punt chauffeurs do wear the boater, creating an affable image of leisured decency, lending formality without the stifling austerity of school attire.

Whilst chauffeurs essentially perform a service role and are expected to show respect for and deference to customers, their position is also a prestigious one for they are generally understood to be University of Cambridge students and the University’s reputation is usually sufficient to ensure an immediate expectation of good character. More often than not, however, Cambridge punt chauffeurs are in fact “townies” or travellers on a working holiday. The reinforcement of a sense of tradition which the boater provides, combined with the context in which the chauffeurs are employed, helps to maintain a deception which many punters actively encourage by falsely claiming to be a member of a particular college. The costume also helps to discourage the tourists from feeling that they are in some way being tricked should the accent of their punt chauffeur not match the well-honed aristocratic tones they were expecting.

Apart from reinforcing what is perceived to be an English tradition, the boater lends an element of the entertainer to the chauffeur, who acts throughout the trip as a tour guide, providing detailed information on the history of the university and the colleges along the river. Thus, within the context of the river Cam, the punt chauffeur enjoys a combination of the prestige of the university and the vaudevillian performer, both of which are exploited according to both the mood of the chauffeur and their captive audience. Many chauffeurs take the opportunity to spice their tour with banter and regale the passengers with saucy anecdotes about student life.

Indeed, before his dismissal, one punt chauffeur with whom I was acquainted, Bradley, was notorious for inventing the entire tour whenever chauffeuring groups with very little or no English. Armed with and no doubt emboldened by his vaudevillian prop, Bradley on one occasion declared that Kings’ College Chapel was in fact an illusion constructed through mirrors which had been erected by the Germans during their occupation of England in 1943. Bradley was also notorious for re-naming the bridges after his close friends.

On the whole, amongst the Cambridge chauffeurs the boater is treated more with amusement or pride than derision, and during a long summer day spent touting and punting, it affords valuable protection against the sun. It also affords basic amusement on slow days as it can be tossed about, swung upon the forefinger, or flipped, donned and doffed in emulation of those entertainers who have given hats such as the boater their distinctive meaning and style.

Yours Truly.





Appadurai, Arjun, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge, 1986.

Barthes, Roland, “The Diseases of Costume,” in Critical Essays (1964), trans. Richard Howard, Northwestern University Press, 1972.

Alexander Davidson, Blazers, Badges and Boaters: a Pictorial History of School Uniform, London, 1990.

Ginsburg, Madeleine, The Hat : Trends and Traditions, London, 1990.

Glassie, Henry, “Artefacts: Folk, Popular, Imaginary and Real,” in Marshall Fishwick and Ray B. Browne (eds.) Icons of Popular Culture, Ohio, 1970.

Harrison, Michael, The History of the Hat, London, 1960.

Hopkins, Suzie, The Century of Hats : Headturning style of the Twentieth Century, Sydney, 1999.

McDowell, Colin, Hats : Status, Style, and Glamour , New York : Thames and Hudson, 1997.

Probert, Christina, (ed.) Hats in Vogue Since 1910, London, 1981.

Robinson, Fred Miller, The Man in the Bowler Hat : his History and Iconography, Chapel Hill, 1993.

Shields, Jody, Hats : a Stylish history and Collector’s Guide, portraits by John Dugdale, additional photographs by Paul Lachenauer, New York, 1991.

Symes, Colin & Meadmore, Daphne, “Force of Habit: the School Uniform as a Body of Knowledge,” in Erica McWilliam & G. Taylor (eds.), Pedagogy, Technology and the Body, New York, 1996.

[1] Suzie Hopkins, The Century of Hats: Headturning style of the Twentieth Century, Sydney, 1999, p. 48.

[2] Fred Miller Robinson, The Man in the Bowler Hat : his History and Iconography, Chapel Hill, 1993, p. 3.

[4] Colin McDowell, Hats: Style, Status, and Glamour, New York, 1997, p. 98.

[5] Michael Harrison, The History of the Hat, London, 1960, pp. 162-3

[6] Harrison, The History of the Hat, pp. 162-3.

[7] McDowell, Hats, p. 83.

[8] McDowell, Hats, p. 221.

[9] Alexander Davidson, Blazers, Badges and Boaters: a Pictorial History of School Uniform, London, 1990, p. 32.

[10] Harrison, The History of the Hat, pp. 162-3; Christina Probert, (ed.) Hats in Vogue Since 1910, London, 1981, pp. 55-56.

[11] Davidson, Blazers, Badges and Boaters, p. 32.

[12] Davidson, Blazers, Badges and Boaters, p. 31.

[13] Colin Symes, & Daphne Meadmore, “Force of Habit: the School Uniform as a Body of Knowledge,” in Erica McWilliam & G. Taylor (eds.), Pedagogy, Technology and the Body, New York, 1996, pp. 171-191; p. 176.

[14] Symes, & Meadmore, “Force of Habit,” p. 178.

[15] Davidson, Blazers, Badges and Boaters, p. 30.

[16] Davidson, Blazers, Badges and Boaters, p. 29.

[17] Davidson, Blazers, Badges and Boaters, p. 28.

[18] Davidson, Blazers, Badges and Boaters, p. 35.

[20] Hopkins, The Century of Hats, p. 48.

[21] Roland Barthes, “The Diseases of Costume,” in Critical Essays (1964), trans. Richard Howard, Northwestern University Press, 1972, p. 41.

[22] Robinson, Man in the Bowler Hat, pp. 1-12.

[23] Barthes, “The Diseases of Costume,” p. 41.

[24] McDowell, Hats, p. 83.

[25] McDowell, Hats, p. 73.

[26] McDowell, Hats, p. 73.

[27] Hopkins, The Century of Hats, p. 48.

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