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15 Minutes of Fame: The two shall be as one


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

There are couples who play together, and there are couples who play together. Jen and Mike, members of <The Panic Attacks> on Scilla-US, fall into the latter category - so much so that perhaps their playstyle doesn't accurately qualify as "playing together" at all. More accurately, Jen and Mike play as one, sharing the controls to seamlessly guide their mutual character, FertZane, through Ulduar and all the rest of WoW's endgame content.

A rare disability called arthrogryposis keeps Jen wheelchair-bound and binds the couple's gaming together. The congenital disorder causes joint contractures, muscle weakness and fibrosis and leaves Jen with quite limited use of her arms and legs. Nonetheless, she says she's always loved video games because it was something she could enjoy as long as she could manage the controller. "For using my computer, I use a pen in my mouth to type and trackball mouse that I can hold in my lap," she says. "This makes computer gaming a lot more challenging for me, since I cannot look at the monitor while using the keyboard - but a mouse just can't always do everything that needs to be done."

Unlike previously profiled player Lileya, who also battles with physical disabilities and enjoys the support and occasional in-game company of her WoW-playing husband, Team FertZane plays as a single unit. In fact, Mike wasn't even much of a gamer before the couple met. "But he was always eager to watch me play, as well as doing the navigation," Jen notes. "He would always be right there helping me find my way around, since I often get easily lost."

The team bit into WoW last summer and is still playing their original character. "We go raiding ... every week and have a really great time!" Jen says. "It took us some time to get our efforts coordinated enough to raid successfully, but we worked very hard to get where we are now. Even now, raiding takes a great deal of communication between us. We are both very thankful that (our guild) recognized the hard work that we put into becoming more skilled with our character and gave us the opportunity to become full-time raiders."

We visited with both halves of FertZane to get the story from either side of the keyboard.

15 Minutes of Fame: It sounds as if you've successfully brought Mike into the gaming fold!
Jen: I've been a gamer since I got my first system, the NES, back in 1989. I would always ask if he wanted to play, too, but always got the answer "I'm much better at watching you play." I started playing a lot of RPGs ... and would often have him look things up for me online when I'd get stuck somewhere. He seemed to enjoy helping me "navigate," as he calls it, about as much as I enjoyed playing, so we started buying or printing players guides so that he could be involved in the games too.

Mike: I am far from being a gamer. I lack a lot of the coordination it takes to even walk around effectively. Any time I try, I end up going off a cliff, stuck in a corner or with the camera stuck on the sky/ground/wall.

Jen: It was when we started playing Neverwinter Nights online that he became more involved. We chose a roleplaying server to play on, which meant a lot of typing was involved, which I had a tough time doing. So he took over the job of typing while I did the rest. It worked very well, and we loved being able to play the game together.

Tell us a little more about how arthrogryposis affects your daily life.
Jen: I try not to let my disability stop me from doing the things I enjoy. I have very limited use of my arms and legs and am in a wheelchair full time. While I do need help with a lot of my daily tasks, I also try very hard to do as much on my own as I can. About 95% of what I do on my own, I do with my mouth. That includes things like typing, writing, flipping through a magazine, cutting out coupons and a lot of other things.

What specific WoW controls and tasks do each of you handle?
Jen: I am in charge of running the mouse. I move our character where she needs to go - so if we die in fire, it's my fault. :-) I manage our inventory and equipping items, as well as buying and selling. I also take care of doing our trade skills. The only spellcasting I do is cast buffs out of combat.

In battle, it's my job to target enemies, make sure that we're in range to cast and keep us out of fire, Blizzards, etc. I also watch our health and mana and will use potions or other items as needed during battle (or tell Mike to Shield if things aren't looking good).

Mike: I run the keyboard. Our spells are bound to the numpad, which means there is very little moving around the keyboard. Secondary spells, such as heals and encounter-specific abilities(/tar Bomb Bot, Instructor macros, etc.) go on the numbers across the top. We recently got a Logitech G11 keyboard with 18 mappable keys on it that I hope to add to my list of tools, but right now all I use it for is a /roll macro.

This also puts me in charge of typing to people, which no-one would be able to understand if Jen were not there to proofread for me. Although it is me typing, what I type is a product of both of us.

Do you use any adaptive technology?
Jen: Our setup for the computer isn't really out of the ordinary. Since I cannot use a standard mouse, we have a Logitech Trackball that I am able to hold in my lap. I use my right hand to hold the mouse and click, and my left hand for rolling the trackball. Our keyboard is a Logitech G11 that I use by holding a pen in my mouth to type when I'm working on something on my own.

Do you generally tell groupmates and people you interact with in game that you are, in fact, two players?
Jen: We don't necessarily tell everyone, but our guildies and close friends know that FertZane is actually two people. We don't even get into explaining it if we get into a party of people we don't know.

Mike: We do not hide it at all but also do not just tell everyone we group with. This is primarily due to how long it can take to explain the situation. With our guild, we explained the situation right in our application. We saw no reason to beat around the bush and have not had any problems due to our situation with them.

Ok, this sounds all very friendly - but what happens when you disagree on what actions your character should take?
Jen: Things don't always go well when we argue or disagree on things. In a raid type of situation, there is no time for disagreement. We must know what we each need to be doing, when and how, at all times, or we will die.

Mike: We argue, like anyone would, but we remain civil and remember that we are working together to reach a goal. Communication is the most important part of our situation.

Learning to raid together - that must've been tough. What sort of challenges did you face as a new raiding team?
Jen: Becoming successful raiders has been our biggest and most rewarding challenge so far. It took us quite some time and many, many deaths to get where we are now. I'd say that one of the things that we've learned and the key to our playstyle is communication. We are constantly talking while playing to keep each other aware of what's going on.

Mike: Situational awareness is an important trait for a raider and what turns into survivability. We often don't understand how a single person can keep track of everything. Because of this, communication has been the most useful tool: always letting each other know what we are doing at any given moment so that we can each respond correctly.

We had to learn to keep cool heads. "Know your role and do it" has always been an important rule to go by for this. As a Shadow Priest, this means stay alive and lay down massive pew-pew.

What else do you all do for fun?
Jen: Aside from being addicted to WoW, I am a big-time animal person. I am owned by three ferrets (Zane, Kitana and Sylvanas) as well as three rats (Ozzy, Domino and Calvin). I also enjoy TV, movies and poking around on Facebook.

Mike: We even take our ferrets to ferret shows, where we can meet and talk with other people that share our love of weasels. We also watch a lot of movies and have some favorite TV shows that we never miss.

Sounds like a pretty good matchup.
Jen: It has worked out so well for both of us that we play all games together this way. We compliment each other so well, and make up for each others shortcomings. Neither of us can play nearly as well without the other. And best of all, it is something we can enjoy doing together. No WoW widows around here. :-)

"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 custom action figure artist and even a bunch of guys who get together for dinner and group raiding in person every week, catch it on 15 Minutes of Fame.

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