Why I'll Probably End Up Sleeping in My Campus Office Soon

The hours grow later and later every evening I spend in front of a couple glowing screens wearing gigantic headphones, quietly sipping a beer and playing a round of Overwatch or running a dungeon in World of Warcraft. Invariably I'll finish a round or a dungeon, and a voice in chat will ask me a question. "Don't you have time for one more?"

Realistically, I don't; there's no small number of things I should probably be doing, not the least of which would be going to bed at a reasonable hour. But there's an old, comfy couch in the corner of my much older office. It’d be so easy just to curl up there instead of driving the few miles home.

"Yeah, alright. One more. But after that, I really should head out."

I haven't crashed out in my office just yet. But it seems inevitable.

The land of milk, honey and bandwidth

My life in Seattle, from 2008 through 2014, wasn’t perfect. But what it lacked in career advancement and personal growth, it made up for in social wealth. I’m blessed to have many friends in the Pacific Northwest, from my tightly bonded inner circle to the hard-partying associates I met through PAX and the LAN party scene.

Games played no small role in forming these friendships. Much of my inner circle met through World of Warcraft, and when the Wrath of the Lich King expansion released we formed a 10-man raid group, slaying dragons in the evenings before going out for a round of beers. My PAX friends, meanwhile, play games as a matter of course, and I’ve spent no small number of evenings drunkenly shouting over rounds of Team Fortress 2, Battlefield 4, and even Freelancer.

Maybe you could call it a shared culture, or perhaps it was just a mutual hobby; ultimately, the definition doesn’t matter. Games were the medium that bound us together, that brought joy to my low times and catalyzed exciting moments. Minor quibbles aside, I can say pretty confidently that I have no true regrets about that time of my life.

No sham fight

Devotees may recall the post that announced the hibernation of Silicon Sasquatch. Our circumstances had all changed quite a bit: Aaron and Doug were preparing for domestic bliss, Nick and Tyler were pursuing their career dreams. I, meanwhile, returned to my hometown, moved back into my childhood home, and enrolled yet again at the college from which I received an associate’s degree some eight years earlier.

For all my purpose, ambition and intent, it was hard not to view the move as a regression. I spent my time between classes in the campus coffeeshop, squeezing in the occasional game whenever I could, occasionally speaking sheepishly into a headset microphone in a corner of the student center. It felt awkward, exposed, a sort of nomadic necessity brought on by my circumstances.

Those I’m closest with are still down in the city, still “Outside” from the Alaskan perspective. This isn’t to say that I’m totally isolated here, but there is a persistent feeling of disconnect. As much as I love my parents and enjoy their company, only rarely can I discuss games with them or share bits of internet humor without receiving a perplexed stare.

Things aren’t much better among my generation. Many of my friends here don’t play video games at all, and while I have some fun with those who do, there was definitely a divergence following the move of some of us to the Lower 48. Voice chat and headsets are more or less regarded as anathema by the Alaskans for reasons that are murky to me. And only rarely do our preferred games overlap; they tend to favor sandbox and strategic games, while I lean toward first-person shooters.

But I can always log in and play with my friends in Seattle — in theory, at least.

Life in the Second World

The offending connection. Pictured in the background: phone lines that can’t carry DSL.

The offending connection. Pictured in the background: phone lines that can’t carry DSL.

One can reasonably assume that internet connections in rural Alaska aren’t much good, but the fact is that the infrastructure isn’t consistent even on the grid. In Fairbanks (which is, I must note, the second-largest city in the state) the major broadband providers — one each for DSL and cable, respectively — refuse to build out to many neighborhoods. My parents signed up on a DSL waiting list 18 years ago; only last year were they told, unequivocally, that they would never stop waiting.

Our home connection is microwave-based, an antenna pointed at our ISP’s offices downtown. It’s not great; actually, if I’m being honest, it’s godawful by Seattle standards. The antenna can pull 2 megabits tops, just barely enough for video streaming, to the tune of $65 per month. The link is subject to climatological whims, too, and a windy or rainy day can see our connection ratchet down to dial-up speeds. The one non-gripe I can offer about the setup is that it’s got unlimited bandwidth — which is more than I can say for the pricy cellular connections used by no small number of locals.

You’re reading this one right; it’s Kbps, not Mbps. And this is on the faster end.

You’re reading this one right; it’s Kbps, not Mbps. And this is on the faster end.

Neither of these wireless solutions is particularly good for playing online games. The connection has too much latency or not enough consistency, and in either case the upstream is weedy enough that voice chat is right out — on the best days, I can speak in two or three word bursts, but any longer and I find myself disconnected from game and voice chat servers alike. It’s like the dial-up era, except with the occasional episode of Daredevil that’s a bit fuzzy around the edges.

But there is an option available to me that I didn’t have when I first returned, and it’s become more and more appealing as time has gone on.

The benefits of academia

For what it’s worth, I think it’s a rather handsome old building. Image by Wikipedia user Durkeeco.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s a rather handsome old building. Image by Wikipedia user Durkeeco.

Constitution Hall is a musty little building a bit over 60 years old. Constructed as the campus student center, the Hall doesn’t attract much attention, nestled as it is between a few pieces of brutalist architecture and its relatively modern replacement. It’s now better known for housing the corporate-run campus bookstore, a fairly dreary reputation considering it once hosted the drafting of the Alaska state constitution. Constitution Hall is also the ancestral home of my school’s student newspaper, of which I am presently the editor.

Coming from a string of office drone jobs where I was posted to an open table, a cubicle, or in some cases nowhere at all, having an office provides some of the most outlandish luxury I’ve ever experienced. Despite my tendency toward the social, a private workspace is just magical — a place where I can retreat, take care of whatever I need to, spend time out of the flow of my numerous competing demands. I have a set of cheap but mostly sturdy desks, a comfy couch, and a private fridge. The office came with an iMac, but I have it rigged up to use my (increasingly threadbare) gaming laptop in its place.

There's also an ethernet port with direct access to the campus network.

This isn’t anywhere near the fastest that I’ve seen it.

This isn’t anywhere near the fastest that I’ve seen it.

The university has dedicated fiber lines lashing it to the outside world. Though these are intended to ensure the steady and continual flow of data from and to the school’s supercomputers, satellite dishes and research projects, they provide a side benefit to nerdy liberal arts majors who have paid the requisite fees to the IT department (like yours truly).

The weedy, expensive pipes of Alaskan commercial ISPs simply cannot compare to the juggernaut that is the campus network. On a clear day it’ll pull a gigabit, but the speeds are consistently well above 500 megabits, all lag-free. Forget struggling to use voice chat; the ethernet port in my office can handle voice chat, music streaming, and games all in parallel — while my other laptop drags heavy data down over a VPN on the same connection.

Prior to now, I hadn’t really thought to quantify how much a reliable internet connection factors into my comfort in a place. But combined with the amenities of the space, my office has become extremely comfortable, perhaps even my favorite place to be. And where I had been reluctant to play games early after my return, I find myself now emboldened. Perhaps a little too emboldened.

The release of the latest WoW expansion has had no small impact on the Sasquatch crew these days — recall Nick and Aaron’s relapses — and I won’t deny that it’s a factor in my present circumstances. But it wasn’t the only factor by any means. Overwatch, StarCraft 2, League of Legends, or even just downloads of game installs or updates; provided even one member of my Seattle crew is online, any game will work as an excuse.

The weight of the option is greater than I expected, and its logical loops become all the easier to justify. Previously, I lugged my heavy gaming laptop with me to campus every day, but now, it’s basically installed there. Prime game time in Seattle has become undesirable for homework. Skipping the short walk to the campus pub saves money and reduces the odds that I’ll end up dating somebody. Packing up to play with local friends seems more troublesome than simply playing with distant friends online.

And why not? That rough-hewn little laptop has become the central conduit of my social life, the means by which I maintain my tie to those for whom I care. With a sturdy connection and a headset, I can live the illusion that nothing ever changed, that I never left in the first place. It’s a lifeline I didn’t have upon my arrival, but one that feels necessary, perhaps even desperate, as I remain later and later just to chatter and laugh with my closest friends.

A couple beers in, weighing the trip to my bed is no small decision. Staying in the office feels more like being home than… well, going home.

The facts of the matter

I miss guiltless idleness. Whenever I sink in, spend a few hours clearing dungeons or pushing payloads, I can think of several other uses of my time that would be more productive. Though it’s often lost on new students, as a returning one I find that life in academia is much busier than that outside; having multiple classes to worry about in addition to work takes up more of my attention and effort than anything else I’ve done to date.

Despite the risk, none of my many responsibilities have been absorbed yet by this growing timesink. But the combined drain is causing me to fray a bit around the edges. There aren’t enough hours in the day to handle my entire school to-do list, and my editorial duties at the newspaper, and keep up with the rest of Hero Squad, and play rounds of competitive Overwatch with my younger brother. To make matters worse, Battlefield 1 just came out. Sleeping on the office couch is a matter of “when,” not one of “if.”

These are my last two semesters; I graduate this spring with my bachelor’s in Journalism. Though my intent was to simply move back to Seattle, the truth is that I need to go wherever I can find the best opportunity, the most promising potential career. But what I’m looking forward to most, in the short term, is the opportunity to spend some time doing nothing. I’ll relish a few days of booze, games, and friends, before setting off on the next great adventure.

And wherever that adventure takes me, odds are good I’ll stay tethered to a decent internet connection. I don’t want to go without ever again.