Living Star Wars

by Bjorn Cialla , OMICRON electronics, Germany

How I got addicted to Star Wars
If you meet me during summertime, there is a high probability that you will see me wearing a Star Wars shirt. If this is the first time you have met me, you may not be suspicious, but if you see me more often, you will realize that this is no coincidence. I have many them.

Well, if you would have to describe me with one word, than you surely would not be wrong if you would just say "nerd." Just count down the list of things that characterize a nerd and see for yourself:

  • Working in a technical / scientific subject and liking it - check
  • Playing a lot of computer games - check
  • Loving science fiction / fantasy / comic book content - check

Perhaps if you feel that at least two of these points apply to your, then maybe you would be interested in finding out how I became the Star Wars fan that I am right now.

Unlike you might have thought, it was not love at first sight. The first time I ever watched a Star Wars movie I was 8 or 9 years old. It was "Episode 6 Return of the Jedi" and I was sent to bed just around the time when the small and cuddly Ewoks started to fight back against the evil Empire. Besides the annoying fact that I was not able to watch it until the end, this movie did not really stay in my mind too long. In the following years I developed an affinity for science fiction but there was no real focus on Star Wars.  In fact, I even liked Star Trek more than Star Wars at that time. Today I deeply regret this - but hey, we all were young once.      

This all changed when a friend introduced me to something called an e-mail role playing game. It was during my final year in school, I was 18 years old and I had a lot of free time.
At that time the Internet was very different from what it is today. I used a 56k dial-in modem and it was fast enough, instead of using Skype for video calls I used ICQ to exchange text messages with my friends, and instead of having discussions on Facebook we used different Internet forums or chat rooms on IRC-servers. So, in essence it was less about pictures, videos and multimedia content and more about plain text.
Therefore the concept of an e-mail role playing game fit into this time perfectly. The basic idea was story writing.

The beginning: If you start with this as a new player the first thing you have to do, is create a character. Basically you think of a person that you want to be within the story. It could be interesting to create someone absolutely opposite to your real personality, but it could also be pretty convincing to play someone who is somewhat similar to the real life you.
As soon as you know who you want to be, you can start writing. You send in a contribution in which your character interacts with other players' characters, and where he or she follows the overall direction of the story.
Of course, by writing such a contribution you will automatically leave some lose ends that other players can pick up and include in their own story.

Your contribution will be sent to every other player and each of them will write their own contribution. Typically each contribution is around two pages long, and each player should send at least one contribution every two weeks.
Based on this you will get many different writing styles placed together into one big storyline that continues as long as there are enough players. Needless to say,  I became attracted to this very easily.

Digging deeper: It happened to be that this particular role playing game was based on the Star Wars universe. The storyline started a few years after the battle of Endor (which is the end of the last movie of the old trilogy.) For me, who had almost no exposure to the Star Wars universe so far, this meant a lot of reading in the first place.
I wanted to dive deeper into a saga of which I had barely scratched the surface, so I read my first Star Wars based books:
The Thrawn trilogy by Timmothy Zahn. Starting from this, I became sucked into the stories about Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie.  I read more and more about them and wrote more and more about my own character.

Getting into the role: I have to mention that in this game we are not the good guys.
We are not the Rebel Alliance that destroyed two death stars and wanted to bring freedom to the galaxy.  No, we are the Empire. A military driven union of planets that was ruled by the evil Emperor and Darth Vader, one of the most iconic figures of Star Wars. And I can tell you, being evil is a lot of fun.
As a part of the imperial space navy we are serving on a Star Destroyer - a capital ship that (according to Wikipedia) is 1,600 m long and has a crew of more than 37,000 people. It may not sound like it, but imagining to cruise through space in a gigantic space ship can be pretty exciting.
Especially if your character is doing evil things with a feeling of righteousness, while you as the author know exactly that the reasons to justify the characters' behavior are mere excuses which show that he is too lazy to think by himself.

Another fact that qualified us for being the Empire is our excessive rule book. 27 pages of rules just fit more to a restrictive Empire than to a self-proclaimed rebel alliance.
It describes almost everything in this game:
The text must be written in past tense. You must use the third person to describe what your character is doing - first person is not allowed.
The contribution must have a correct header and footer which is defined by a message standard. And so on…

Climbing up the ladder ...: Of course, it also describes how you will make your way through the hierarchy of the imperial navy.  In the beginning everyone starts as a recruit that has to go through the academy. There you will learn how to write stories that comply with our regulations and after sending in a few contributions you know enough to play with the others in the real game.
That is the point where you will be promoted to the rank of a Crewman Apprentice.

From this point on, every contribution you make will be assessed by a leader of the game.
You will get points for length and originality, but you can also lose points for bad spelling, bad stories and so on.  Based on the points you have accumulated over time, your character will get promoted inside the game.
You start as a crew rank and over time you can climb up the ladder until you become an officer, a captain that commands a capital ship, or even an admiral that has control over complete parts of the fleet. But reaching the highest ranks is nothing that you can achieve easily. You need several years to come even close to such a point.

Therefore, my goal was never to become an admiral. My goal was having fun while playing the game. Promotions were more like a reward for continuous participation than an aim to reach for.
Reading through the rule book in the beginning and remembering the most important parts is a challenge, but if you succeed, you will be welcomed by a bunch of great people that are some of the friendliest guys I have ever met, despite the tyrannical characters they are playing.

Some benefits: The players in this game come from all over Germany, Switzerland and Austria and after writing with them for quite some years and meeting them in person several times they have become close friends of mine.
Today this game has been ongoing for more than 15 years and we have written hundreds if not thousands of pages.
Even if I do not actively participate in this game anymore because of a lack of time, we still have a great time when we meet.

This entire experience has influenced me quite a bit. I have improved my spelling, I have learned how to use my imagination to create stories, and I have found friends that are crazy in the same fun way as I am. Furthermore, I have developed a huge interest in everything that is Star Wars related. Here are some examples:

  • I recently participated in an online quiz about Star Wars and I answered 18 out of 20 questions correctly. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.  But you are right, I should have known that Yoda was 900 years old when he died
  • I own a lot of Star Wars related books.  Even a role playing book that explains weapons and technologies of the Star Wars universe
  • I have a Darth Vader USB drive, a Millennium Falcon chopping board, a R2-D2 cookie jar and even a R2-D2 nutcracker
  • I also have a paper from someone from the US military that describes why the concept of weapons like the death star is a bad idea

Over the time my collection of Star Wars items and shirts grew bigger and bigger. In fact, almost every shirt I own has a Star Wars context.
From time to time complete strangers even ask me where I bought my shirt but the strangest thing I ever experienced was a man in his forties who looked at me and said "I bow to this shirt!" and walked on as if nothing had happened. Things like this sometimes cause my family to roll their eyes but I can't help the feeling that they find it pretty convenient to always have an idea for birthday or Christmas presents.

I once heard that a hobby is characterized by three things:

  • It takes up a lot of your time
  • It costs a lot of money and
  • It has absolutely no practical use

Considering this I can definitely say:
Yes, my love for Star Wars is a hobby. But other than that it also keeps the little child inside me cheering with excitement whenever I discover something new.  Even when I grew older, I successfully managed not to become a grown-up and that is the most important thing.

 

Bjorn Cialla sudied electrical engineering at the Technical University of Dresden. In 2009 he finished his master thesis in the field of electrical energy supply. Since then he works for OMICRON as engineer for secondary equipment. He started as a trainer for protection testing with focus on line, transformer, generator and motor protection. Since 2013 he works as an application engineer within the sales team of OMICRON. There he takes care of customer requests from the region Central Europe.

Power. Flexible. Easergy.
BeijingSifang June 2016