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15 Minutes of Fame: Wasting no time gaming

15 Minutes of Fame is WoW.com's look at World of Warcraft players of all shapes and sizes -- from the renowned to the relatively anonymous, from the remarkable to the player next door. Tip us off to players you'd like to hear more about.

David French is a busy guy. Take a glance over his bio: A graduate of Harvard Law School and David Lipscomb University, French serves as senior counsel and director of the university litigation project for a large non-profit legal organization. He is also a captain in the United States Army Reserve and recently returned from a year-long deployment to Iraq with the 2d Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, where he earned a Bronze Star. The former president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, he also taught at Cornell Law School and served as a partner in a large law firm. He is the author of four books and numerous op-eds. Regularly interviewed by both print and broadcast media, David has a guest on The O'Reilly Factor, ABC World News Tonight, The Fox Report with Shepard Smith, Special Report with Brit Hume, and Your World with Neil Cavuto, among others. He has been profiled in several magazines and appears regularly on dozens of radio programs, including National Public Radio. He is a married father of two.

There's one more thing that David French's bio doesn't mention: He's cleared the first wing of ICC-10 on two toons, ICC-25 on one and still found time to wipe for hours on Festergut. ("Good times.")

This is the story of how (and why) he does it all.

Main character Rickybobby
Guild Yield to my Skill
Server US Dethecus

15 Minutes of Fame: You're an outspoken advocate of gaming, both as a hobby for mature, married professionals like yourselves and for kids. Your voice clearly rings with personal experience. What do you think lies behind the misconception of gaming as a waste of time?

David French: Video games are phenomenally successful and adored, but often not by parents and spouses -- especially your upper middle class, highly educated parents and spouses, the kind who have their kids listening to Baby Mozart in the womb, send their children to pre-schools that require admissions tests and interviews and who take care that all aspects of their kids lives are "constructive" and educational. These are the kind of folks who look at a kid with a Nintendo DS like he's wearing a T-shirt that says, "I have bad parents." These are the kind of folks who say things like, "Thank goodness my kids aren't into video games." Regarding spouses, there's a perception sometime that if your husband or wife has a gaming hobby that's somehow less legitimate than other hobbies and that gaming time is "wasted time."

Do you think gaming can be a positive force for kids?

Not only are video games "not bad"; they're actually good. Well, certain games are. They're more challenging, more interactive and more fun than virtually any other form of entertainment. The "problem" with them is that they are so enjoyable that they require actual parenting to maintain boundaries.

I think we often get into the mindset of "sports good, video games bad," which is entirely artificial. It's not either/or. And we've all seen incredible abuse of sports -- from the virtually maniacal zeal of the stereotypical "sports dad," to the absolute, culture-destroying milquetoast of "It doesn't matter if you win, or even if you played well; you got out there and held that bat, by golly" -- that makes me want to commit acts of violence. Yet a "No sports for you!" edict would seem strange to all of us, unless there was a demonstrated record of bad behavior.

How old are your children? Do they play WoW?

My kids are 9 and 11 and a bit too young for WoW. They ask me to play all the time, and I've let them run around the starter zones with a low level toon or two, but I promised them that they could start their MMO life this year with the release of Lego Universe.

My kids like video games, but they don't love them. Video gaming (specifically, the Lego series of games on Wii) has spurred my son's interest in Lego-model building, which is a huge amount of fun and now one of his primary hobbies. I also find that the interactive nature of modern gaming (which is far more advanced than the Pac-Man you remember) actually spurs creativity, rather than inhibits it.

What does your wife think about your gaming?

My wife doesn't game, but that doesn't mean she isn't sympathetic to the geek side of life. After all, she did dress up as Arwen for the opening night of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. As for my gaming, we keep a sensible schedule and observe some basic rules, like no gaming when the kids are up except on one raid night per week and no gaming during The Office, 30 Rock and Survivor. So I mostly play later at night, and I always put her and the family first. But she's got her own interests (she's a writer and the full-time editor of SixSeeds.tv, so I often play while she writes.

Makes sense. So each to his own ... And your own, obviously, is gaming.

I note how much games have been and are a part of my life, that they've hardly kept me from professional success, and in fact as a hobby they've been very constructive. And here's where Iraq comes in.

You gamed from Iraq?

When I got to our forward operating base, one of our first priorities was finding out a way to get a reliable connection with home. We had 1,000 men on our small base, with less than 10 telephones and a similar number of internet connections. As an officer, I always felt bad about spending too much time on the phone when so many of the young soldiers had less stable families back home and fewer resources. So a group of us pooled some money, found an old satellite dish for sale by some departing soldiers (the thing looked like a giant, rusted frying pan) and bought it for around a thousand dollars. After herculean efforts, we were able to position it on the roof of one of our barracks buildings, snake a cable down through a window, plug it into an Apple Airport Extreme wireless modem (shipped by a guy's wife) and set up a tiny wi-fi network from a shaky satellite connection.

I'll never forget the day I tested the WoW connection. It was quite late at night (probably 2 or 3 a.m. Iraq time). I had finished instant messaging my wife, and I clicked on the WoW icon on my desktop. I logged on, watched it go through the authentication process and ... there was my priest, Rickybobby, still there, about three months after I'd last logged on. I clicked "Enter World" and found myself standing on the AH bridge in Ironforge. My near-delirious joy was tempered by the fact that my latency was between 1700 (at best) and 14000 (at worst), but a starving man will eat scraps from a dumpster, so this was much better than nothing.

Within weeks, most of the other officers on our little network had made toons, and we'd level together in those precious moments of downtime. Guys would literally come in from missions, take off their gear, and log into Azeroth. Basically, our high-latency WoW was a mental vacation ... We'd talk about it at chow, plan our professions, and even occasionally stumble through an instance together. Most of us were melee classes so that we could auto-attack during lag, but we always had a good time. It helped keep us sane.

Camaraderie, friendship and a momentary escape from reality -- that's what Warcraft means to me.

So how did you get started playing WoW?

I am an old-time Warcrafter, spending hour after frustrating, mediocre hour on battle.net during the old "Reign of Chaos" and "Frozen Throne" RTS days. When WoW came out, I was appalled that Blizzard would ruin the franchise with something like an MMO (I barely knew what that was). I tried it about a month after release, and the first night I couldn't figure out how to change the camera angle, so I ran around the Night Elf starter zone yelling at the screen because I just had a top-down view. I was such a noob that it took me to level 40 to realize that I could get rid of the starter gear, and I wondered why everyone LOLed at my toon. Heck, I didn't even know about talent points until level 30.

But now? I'm what you'd call an "intense casual raider." I read everything I can on EJ and WoW.com, I try to min-max and run end game content every week. I'm the priest officer in our guild (and a secondary rogue officer), and our guild is one of the better casual raiding guilds on our server. I'm no pro, but I've come a long way from the days of not even realizing there was an Auction House, almost dying on every single pull, and not knowing what anyone meant when they said, "Noob, I can't believe you equip gray items."

Tell us a little about how you fit WoW into your schedule. What are your work demands like?

My work demands are ridiculous. I run the Center for Academic Freedom for a large legal nonprofit, I'm an officer in the Army reserves, I write for National Review Online and Sixseeds.tv, I write books (a book about my deployment to Iraq is coming out next year), and I also dabble a bit in politics. This might sound strange, but having so many competing demands makes WoW even more essential. It gives me a much-needed mental break and a great outlet for stress.

My WoW friends couldn't care less what I do in real life, and we just have a good time hanging out on Vent and slaying Arthas's undead minions. And like any self-respecting raider, I log in every day. After all, the daily random's gotta get done! Emblems of Frost don't collect themselves!

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" - neither did we, until we talked with these players. From an Oscar-winning 3-D effects director to a rising pop singer ... from a quadriplegic player to a bunch of guys who get together for dinner and group raiding in person every week ... Catch our 2009 year-end retrospective for a year's worth of WoW personalities.


Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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