Thursday 17 February 2011

1^1 + 2^2 + 3^3

There’s something about level thirty two in Lord of the Rings Online, and I’m starting to wonder if Douglas Adams wasn’t off by ten in his estimation of the Ultimate Answer. I now have four characters at level thirty two, and although one of them is a member of a static group who will surely continue on past the illustrious company of the others, my character screen at the time of writing looks like one of those uncanny messages in a movie, delivered by some unknowable force which is attempting to communicate with the puny minds of humanity in the only way it knows how.

32. 32. 32. 32.

You do have to wonder about these superior alien intelligences sometimes: whether the colleagues of this particular intelligence are looking over its shoulder and smirking as it tries to reveal the secrets of the universe through the medium of levels displayed on the character login screen of a middle-aged man in the south of England. The problem with the English is that we’re pragmatic and generally unperturbed by events, but also a bit slow:

“It’s most strange, darling. All my characters in this game seem to stop at exactly the same level, and I just can’t explain it.”

“Never mind, dear, I’m sure you’ll work it out in the end. Speaking of which, have you figured out what to do with that mysterious piece of alien technology that you found in the garden last night? It’s just that it’s still hissing and smoking frightfully, and it’s making a bit of a mess of the living room. And I think it may have disintegrated the cat.”

“Well no, not yet, I’m afraid I’ve been quite tied-up with the conundrum of my MMO characters to be honest. Anyway, the device has me a bit stumped, it seems to have a panel that requires a couple of numbers to be entered, and the symbols carved on the side seem to indicate some sort of massive evolution-of-species event, but I’ll be blarmed if I know what those numbers could… Oh damn and blast! I’ve just got another character stuck at level thirty two!”

“Perhaps I’ll take it down and show it to the ladies at the WI, dear. Mrs Cranny-Futtocks is a bit of whiz at the Guardian crossword, perhaps she can work it out.”

“Right you are. I’m going to roll-up a Lore-master; I haven’t gotten one of those to level thirty two yet. Sixty five! I meant sixty five. What in the seven hells of Bexhill-on-Sea is it with the number thirty two?!”

I mean, not all of my characters are at level thirty two, there are a few level one placeholders (which probably shouldn’t count) and the rest are level sixty five. It seems that level thirty two is a mid-life crisis for me when it comes to my character relationships in LotRO, the point where we either decide to buckle down and get on with one another, or we split in bitter acrimony and lengthy divorce proceedings.

Perhaps levelling a character for me is a bit like some sort of fictional soap opera marriage then:

  • Initial Courting (Levels 1 to 9) – Enthusiasm is high. Everything is fresh, new, exciting and unknown. We spend most of our time hiding our relationship from disapproving peers, but those who do find out will tut and mutter “It’ll never last” whilst exchanging knowing looks from behind their cups of tea and slices of Battenburg.
  • Marriage (Level 10) – The hidden potential in my new partner is suddenly revealed and I decide to commit to them. We have a huge tacky wedding, and at the reception afterwards all my previous characters sit at tables, looking miserable, and plotting our downfall.
  • Period of Sustained Happiness (Levels 11 to 20) – It’s the honeymoon period, life gets tougher but we both plough on through it together, unstoppable. Ratings soar and we are featured on the front of the TV Times.
  • Niggles Start to Set In (20 to 23) – My new character seems not to be developing that much as an individual any more, almost as if they’ve given up trying now that we’re both committed and comfortable. I, in turn, find myself not putting as much effort in to the relationship as I ought.
  • Rough Patch (24 to 30) – Things start to get tough. Everything is a slog. Every little thing is a problem, and every problem is their fault. Most of our scenes involve lots of shouting and throwing vases and cats across the living room at one another.
  • Breaking point (30 to 32) – This is where the character divorce happens, usually after the dramatic discovery that I’ve been having an affair with a low level alt from two doors down the character selection screen.
  • Happily Ever After (33 to 65) – If I make it this far, then it’s usually for keeps, and we grow old to the level cap together, whereupon one or the other of us is written out of the show after tragically dieing in an explosion resulting from a high-speed bowls collision.

Other reasons for me getting stuck at level thirty two could include the fact that it’s a power of two, and my brain – having been wired to deal with them – is only running a very basic 32-bit operating system (which would explain a lot). Thirty two is a Leyland number, and as we all know Leyland were a British motor manufacturer famous for their cars breaking down, so it’s a suitable point for my characters to break down too; but it’s also a happy number, so I’m not sure how that works – perhaps I’m glad for the chance to level a different character. Thirty two is also the freezing point in degrees Fahrenheit of water at sea level, which would explain why, when I get a character to level thirty three, their level rarely gets frozen again. A full set of teeth in a human adult, including wisdom teeth, is thirty two in number, so maybe this represents the point in character development where I start pulling teeth. And in the Kabbalah there are thirty two Kabbalistic Paths of Wisdom, so perhaps it’s simply the case that I’ve finally reached MMO enlightenment.

It could be any of those, really. I mean, it’s either that or just a curious coincidence that got turned into a slightly demented blog post. Which doesn’t seem terribly likely at all.

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