The American View: Why Small Acts of Consideration Will Help Us Endure the Pandemic

First things first: AndrewT at Paradox Interactive deserves a raise. Let me explain.

Everyone has developed coping mechanisms for mitigating the incessant stress inflicted by the global pandemic. Some people exercise. Some drink. Some combine those two hobbies and post the results on TikTok. Some people attempt to consume all there is to stream on Netflix. Attempting to escape the inescapable can be a deeply personal a quest.  We all must find our own unique solutions for dealing with this … [vulgarity censored] global catastrophe.

I’ve found that my most effective temporary escape comes from a half hour spent replaying my new favourite video game in the quiet period after I log off work before the rest of my family comes home. I’m still at my desk, but my attention is exclusively on something I enjoy … not on texts or emails or instant messages or anything else. It’s just me and a sci fi battlefield for a while.

Specifically, I’ve been spending my late afternoons convalescing in Harebrained Schemes’ turn-based strategy epic BattleTech. I came to it late (as I tend to do with every video game). Paradox Interactive published Harebrained’s game back in 2018. My former assistant Nick bought it and raved at me how great it was. We’d both played the original tabletop version of the game when we were kids – I bought my first box set of the CityTech expansion in junior high – so my colleague figured that I’d adore the newest videogame adaptation.

Nick was right: once I started playing it I was instantly hooked. Not just because of the amazingly faithful adaptation, engaging single-player story, and gorgeous visuals, but because turn-based strategy games are 100% my thing these days. Unlike a “soulsbourne” game where the player isn’t allowed a moment’s lapse in concentration, a turn-based strategy game waits patiently on the player to decide their next move … it’s like the difference between playing hockey and chess.

In its defence, you are allowed to slug people that irritate you in hockey. I’ve not seen that apply to chess since grade 3.

That’s why the new BattleTech game has been my go-to escape for months now … I can let my mind drift while I play; zoning out while my unconscious mind sorts out problems in between moves. I can get lost appreciating the little details, like the neon signs advertising pizza places in the enormous future cityscapes that my giant military robots are stomping through. I find the experience captivating because it helps me to think.

Or, at least, it did. Then, unexpectedly, it didn’t anymore. Not through any fault of the game itself, but because of an operating system update. Let me explain that, too. Good grief, this is a fractured narrative. Just goes to show how the accumulated pandemic stress has impacted me.

I was a panellist on a live webinar this last Thursday: the “Threat Intelligence Sharing” episode of teissTalk. I wanted to pre-emptively mitigate the risk of technical glitches, so I caught up on all my application and operating patches the night before. This included the upgrade to macOS “Big Sur” 11.6. Fresh boot, minimized applications, alarms silenced, etc. All the usual steps one takes when working from a jury-rigged home “studio.”

The good news is the webinar went fine (you can watch the recording here). I got to work afterwards and had a productive day. When quitting time rolled around, I opened my Steam client, clicked “play” on BattleTech, and watched in horror as the app … well … it didn’t load as far as I could tell. I got a black screen with no disk activity for about a minute and then it gracefully crashed. Over and over.

I performed all the troubleshooting I could think of: Rebooted the machine. Checked the application’s permissions. Checked my firewall settings. Checked the settings in the Security & Privacy control panel. Rebooted again for good measure. Threatened the computer with brutal dismemberment if it didn’t stop faffing about. The usual.

“Hey Siri … How’d you like a swift kick in the graphics card?”

Nothing worked. The phrase “ARRRRRRRRRRRGH!” might’ve been uttered. Loudly enough to the send the squirrels foraging outside my office window to flight. Maaaaaaaaaaybe.

I scrolled through tech support forums and googled similar problems. I didn’t find anything I hadn’t already tried. As a last resort, I opened a tech support ticket with Paradox in the hopes that someone there might’ve encountered some variation on the problem with a previous OS upgrade. I hoped beyond hope that they still supported the game since its last update had been published in 2020. I honestly didn’t expect a reply … and then AndrewT rode to my rescue.

Two hours and 57 minutes after I posted my request, this person – no assumptions here, since “AndrewT” could well be an online nom de guerre – posted a thoughtful reply: “This game ceased development about 18 months ago, so of course has not been tested under 11.16 . If that new MacOS version completely stops the game from running I’m afraid nothing can be done about it! … But let’s look at it in more detail.”

AndrewT’s recommended fixes worked spectacularly. By the end of the evening, I had my game back. It felt like losing and rediscovering the wardrobe to Narnia. I was thrilled. I posted in my “ticket resolved” entry the quip “Tell your boss that I *insist* you get a raise for ‘technical support above and beyond the call of duty’” and I meant every word of it. AndrewT deserves a raise!

I say that because I wasn’t entitled to any support on a legacy game. That is to say, AndrewT wasn’t required to answer my plea … and did anyway. They offered helpful advice with good cheer. That might seem like a barmy thing to compliment; after all, providing technical support is the primary work function of a tech support worker. It’s like complimenting a coal miner for mining coal. Why make a big deal about fulfilling one’s essential function?

“I am so looking forward to playing a half hour of BattleTech when this shift ends.”

That’s the thing, though: my game was out of production. Even in pre-pandemic times, my request would likely have slipped to the back of the queue while priority went to new, actively supported products. That’s to be expected. Games, especially, have an astonishingly short service life. Enterprise applications like Oracle databases might soldier on forever because of the millions of pounds spent on service contracts every year. A consumer product that cost fifty quid for a one-time sale isn’t going to get thousands of six digit support agreements from F500 institutions.

Remember, too, that tech support is a punishing and thankless profession at the best of times. As Elen Veenpere joked in this ‘blog post: “No employee, regardless of their position, is safe from burnout. Customer service isn’t an exception. … If anything, customer service representatives are more likely to experience stress that could lead to burning out. Having to deal with dissatisfied customers and complicated scenarios on a daily basis is a job that is emotionally more gruelling than most.”

Then there’s the pandemic factor: everyone is stressed out of the gourds right now. Eighteen months of lockdowns, remote work, and the spectre of 4.5 million deaths has workers everywhere perpetually on edge. People who can work are doing their best to achieve their minimum performance goals. We’re all exhausted and there’s no end in sight to this grind (at least, not here in the U.S. where “botching the pandemic” has become our new favourite national pastime). Expecting anyone to go above and beyond is unrealistic … and yet that’s exactly what AndrewT did for me. Didn’t have to. Did anyways. Oooh-rah!

All that said, helping one grumpy old trainer in Texas getting his after-work mental pacifier back isn’t likely to change the world. It’s not like AndrewT’s late night trouble ticket response was an act of selfless heroism. It was, however, a moment of unnecessary kindness that I deeply appreciate and will irrationally remember fondly for years to come. I mean … I wrote an entire column about it, right?

“Yeah, what’s up with that? I need my weekly schadenfreude fix from one of your horrible boss stories.”

AndrewT’s example reflects how all of us can help one another endure this bloody pandemic: seemingly trivial acts of charity, kindness, and encouragement have a strong positive effect on others. When everyone is suffering, small acts of support can have disproportionately impactful downstream consequences. Everything we can do to help one another carry on makes this (entirely preventable) disaster a bit easier to face.

So, that’s the lesson here: Whatever you do for a living, seize those fleeting opportunities to be just a smidgen kinder than the moment requires. Your investment in mitigating one stranger’s drama might just ripple out to indirectly benefit dozens or hundreds of other people. It’s not a guarantee. Some people are too stressed to notice and that’s okay. Most people are doing the best they can.

As for me, I got my “giant robot zap-and-smash” videogame back for when work ends this evening. Knowing I’ll be able to lose myself in it as a tool to bleed off the day’s stress has made me uncharacteristically cheerful. As a result, I promise that the next phishing simulation I drop on my people is going to be a bit easier to spot. Everyone who’s gotten sick of my convoluted phishing lures lately can thank AndrewT.

Keil Hubert

Keil Hubert

POC is Keil Hubert, Follow him on Twitter at @keilhubert. You can buy his books on IT leadership, IT interviewing, horrible bosses and understanding workplace culture at the Amazon Kindle Store. Keil Hubert is the head of Security Training and Awareness for OCC, the world’s largest equity derivatives clearing organization, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Prior to joining OCC, Keil has been a U.S. Army medical IT officer, a U.S.A.F. Cyberspace Operations officer, a small businessman, an author, and several different variations of commercial sector IT consultant. Keil deconstructed a cybersecurity breach in his presentation at TEISS 2014, and has served as Business Reporter’s resident U.S. ‘blogger since 2012. His books on applied leadership, business culture, and talent management are available on Keil is based out of Dallas, Texas.

© Business Reporter 2021

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