7 Gold and 9 Sapphire Shards

by Theo Dentchev

Usually when or if one boasts in an academic setting (school) it has to do with how much they’ve done and/or how well they’ve done it. If you’re going to seek praise from your professors, it’s usually by saying something insightful, or turning in some impressive, hard wrought work, or displaying your breadth of knowledge on a subject by incorporating things learned from outside of class.

Today after class I made a point of going up to my professor and informing him that I had earned 7 gold and 9 Sapphire Shards. In Lord of the Rings Online. And I was damn proud of it.

Things weren’t always like this. There was a time when I didn’t even know what Sapphire Shards were, or why they mattered. Let me take you on a journey back in time…

It’s August 27th, and I’m attending my first Worlds of Wordcraft class. I find out that we’ll be playing Lord of the Rings Online. I’m pretty excited, since I’m a Tolkien fan. Despite that it still takes me a week or two before I get around to buying and installing the game.

Fast forward. I’ve installed the game, and I’ve started playing. I’ll spend an hour or two, maybe once or twice a week. Once I get past the intro area I start playing a little more, but still at staggered intervals. I might play for a a good chunk of a Saturday, go up a few levels, and then not play again for a week or even two.

And this goes on for a good month and a half. Then comes fall break, and everything changes. 4 days, 3 gold, 5 levels, and countless boars slain. Late nights spilling over into early mornings, sleeping through the afternoon. I played LOTRO pretty much every day. I didn’t mean to. At first I just intended to do as I always had, play a lot in one day, then not a play again for a while, and spend the rest of my break studying for a midterm I had on Tuesday, and writing most of an essay I had due on Wednesday. Then, I don’t know what happened, but somehow I found myself drawn to the game, unable to stop playing for hours on end. I fit the mmo gamer stereotype: no (or very limited) social contact, only taking breaks for food, sleep, and going to the bathroom. Well, maybe I didn’t go that far; I watched tv, hung out some with people in my dorm, etc. But I never did get around to my studying or essay writing. So I found myself not sleeping, late Monday night/early Monday morning, feverishly studying for the exam I was about to have in a few hours, crashing after class, and waking up in time to write a relatively poor essay in time to hand in on Wednesday.

Then later that same night I was back on LOTRO, questing, selling, neck cramping. And today I was boasting to my professor about how much gold I made and how I had hoarded some valuable crafting items (Sapphire Shards).

So, what can we learn from all this? Clearly the only logical conclusion is this: LOTRO is a highly addictive substance that ruins lives, tanks GPAs, and should be made illegal in the United States.

Or just that it can be highly engaging, simulating many aspects of real life in a fantastic world, and it provides its players a very real sense of fulfillment for completing certain tasks or reaching certain milestones. And that I need to work on my self control, or I’m going to fail my classes.

While I’m certain that I’ll be able to better regulate my LOTRO intake in the future, this experience has given me a new appreciation for the depth of the game and how engrossing it can be. I also have a new understanding of how some people can get sucked into it and, without proper self control, let it impact their lives in a negative way. I do believe however, in the correct quantity, playing LOTRO or other games can be a really enjoyable and enriching experience, and can open up a whole new world to explore with real people to meet and and interact with.

– TD