Beads of sweat rolled down his back but 10-year old Steve Yong hardly noticed. School was out which meant he could go home and shut himself away.
If he finished his homework quickly, he may have enough time to hit the playground after tuition. While it wasn’t a noteworthy plan, it was a plan nevertheless.
But he was feeling particularly languid today and wished he could skip tuition. He thought better of it immediately. Risking discovery by his mother would only earn him a smack. Ultimately, he decided it was best to grin and bear through it.
Perhaps he’d even learn something. Yet, between laziness and apathy, it was too much a herculean effort expected of a mere 10-year old boy who’d rather be playing Red Alert.
“Be patient Steve and practice. Practice makes perfect,” his mom was often fond of telling him. Sage advice no doubt but what kid could see the forest for the trees? As an introvert, he didn’t mind having little to do as long as what little he had to do wasn’t schoolwork.
As fate would have it, or perhaps the Transcendents had heard his quiet plea, his Friday afternoon would take a different turn.
When a close friend asked him to accompany him in a new 2D online game called MapleStorySEA, Steve said yes.
His inherent shyness always drew him toward gaming. And an online game didn’t require him to show his face or engage with people if he didn’t want to. They were there should he feel suddenly social but mostly, he just wanted to trade beating up Soviets in Red Alert for fantastical monsters promised in MapleStorySEA.
Multiplayer games in 2005 were not new but they’ve yet to morph into the massive open-world fares today. In those halcyon days, playing online was a luxury and only if you could afford the subscription fees.
Games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft were leading the charge with hefty monthly fees that most 10-year olds could not swing. Besides, the sophisticated 3D graphics that rendered violence in excruciating detail wouldn’t score any points with parents.
Especially Asian parents.
Fortuitous then that MapleStorySEA is an adorable 2D side-scroller that didn’t require a subscription fee; just an internet connection. Its anime influence lends it a cartoony look, one seemingly designed to bypass parents’ thresholds while appealing to the younger demographic.
Steve’s friend provided him with the installation disc, having borrowed it from someone else. He shoved this into his Pentium 4’s disc tray. Without the disc, playing the game would require downloading the client from the site.
On his 500 Kbps copper internet connection, that could take a long time. If someone called on the phone, he’d get disconnected. When that happened, whether you were at 10% or 99%, you went back to the beginning.
It was also normal for a download to take days before you could even launch the installer. And if the installer ended up being broken, it’s back to downloading again.
The CD alleviated all of those potential problems. Now all Steve had to do was get through his daily impediment of homework and tuition. When the tutor released him after a session that felt it took more time today than it ever did, Steve raced home, fired up the new game and took his first, excited steps into Maple World.
Ready Player One
MapleStorySEA was a transportive experience.
The thrill of creating an avatar and unleashing it onto a living and dynamic world populated with players just like him was the ultimate escapism. Its promise was too potent to resist.
Enraptured by its digital magic, Steve picked the only class that made sense; the magician. It was one of four classes available in 2005 and he took it to battle alongside his friend who wielded the powers of a cleric.
The magician proved a good pick. It had the easiest first job advancement completion since it required players to grind only to level eight. This minimized the effort required to climb the levels while making him consequently more competitive.
Nevertheless, it was a hard journey since MP potions were as rare as a single gold coin dropping. Grinding to level 30 then is equivalent to getting to level 200 now.
It took far more time, effort and patience to achieve anything in-game. But Steve had an ace in his hole; his mother’s advice. Patience is a virtue and for MMOs back in the day, they were a necessary skill on your real life character sheet.
If Steve were a D&D player, he’d have that skill dialed up to maximum.
In those days, Party Quests (PQs) were the primary and most efficient way to grind through the levels. The Kerning Party Quest was Steve’s favorite go-to in-game activity.
Every day after school, he and a couple of his buddies would party up and spend hours doing this one thing. When they needed a change, they’d jump into the Ludi Party Quest or Orbis which was the most challenging PQ at that time.
The Lunar Pixie Boss quest was also fun as it required an entire party to overcome.
His formative years spent leveling and grinding in the game eventually led him down the path in the Horntail and Monster Carnival era to adopting the x3TheAran59 moniker when he switched to playing Aran.
As the first character of his to reach level 160, Aran would go on to be his main all throughout the patch updates right up to when the Neo Tokyo bosses were released.
During this time, Steve would become synonymous with his character Aran. More often than not, Aran is how he is known in the Maple community.
However, in real life he was known as the Maple Guy. MapleStorySEA defined him to the point where it even permeated school.
He took it in his stride though. After all, attending school became more fun when you had friends to discuss last night’s adventures and amassed loot during lunch hour.
School became more than just education; it was a recruitment ground for new guild members.
And guild members were important because MapleStorySEA bosses were tough and required practice and patience. Having spent two weeks learning Will’s patterns and mastering the necessary skills to beat him, Steve knew first-hand the difficulty.
As always, his mother’s advice kept him on the path.
For the kid who copied his homework and skipped tuition, a certain dedication and commitment spawned out of playing MapleStorySEA. You either learned the fights or you did not. This taught Steve the importance of conviction and a lesson in simplicity.
In life, it’s the same thing. There’s no halfway between pursuing your goals and not.
And if you chose to do it, only through patience and practice can you – in gaming parlance – git gud.
In Steve’s case, that was launching himself into something untried and potentially frightening. A few months after dabbling in the Korean MapleStory server in 2011, Steve, now 16-years old, decided he wanted to be a YouTube content creator.
Life is like a stream
To an introvert, streaming on YouTube was a massive challenge to overcome.
Never mind the technical aspects and the content creation; Steve now had to show his face and communicate with the community. For the most part, it was a harrowing realization. But he was determined to embark on this personal odyssey.
Inspired by a personal motivation to improve his social speaking and presentation skills, the introverted Steve was driven to shed his shy exterior to become more confident and outgoing.
Like learning to swim by diving into the deep end of the pool, Steve’s foray into streaming was as abrupt as ripping the Band-Aid off a wound. While the fear of having his words become permanent remained, he persevered.
The lessons learned from playing MapleStorySEA and the love and admiration gained from the game kept him going.
Even when he struggled over the years and once flirted with quitting when the challenge seemed too much, Steve could always hearken back to his mother’s advice. As a result and after a long deliberation process during which he refined his channel, Steve, now with the support of the MapleStory community around the world, found his true north and bounced back with renewed confidence.
His interest in graphic design led him toward programming and Computer Science (he hated drawing). He also took up Visual Design in his own time which helped with the YouTube channel.
As a YouTuber, Steve is a one-man show; from conceptualizing the content, managing the social media platforms, designing thumbnails, editing videos etc., he credits his digital acumen and education as benefactors.
The effort he spent earned him a place as an important and arguably popular member of the Maple community.
Anyone who has met Steve would say he’s a bubbly, friendly and incredibly helpful guy.
In the community, he might even be considered a mini celebrity. But this status is of little importance to him. He’d much rather show his love for the game and the players by creating content for them to enjoy.
Perhaps, that’s the secret to happiness; doing what you love first and sharing it instead of doing what you think others would like to gain support.
This freedom lends itself to a devil may care attitude which when coupled with his friendly persona, paints Steve as a charismatic and approachable person.
In fact, his approachability makes it easy to see how people he’s met all those years ago and as far back as 2005 are still friends with him. The friend who introduced him to MapleStorySEA is his long-time neighbor.
This friend and others remain in almost daily contact with Steve.
His popularity is such that players would request to meet him when visiting Malaysia. When he’s in Singapore, the same thing happens. While about on his own, fans approach him at shopping malls or make him sign Black Mage posters like during the Black Night event last December 2018.
Steve or as he is now better known as x3TheAran59 or simply, Aran, obliges with a smile of course. Having played MapleStory for half his life, the game is undoubtedly a huge part of who he is. And a large part of the game is the community.
It’s interesting to postulate on the path he might have taken had it not been for his friend. He agrees that life would likely be very different today had he not accepted the invitation but he gives thanks for that.
The many achievements and life lessons learned may not have happened otherwise, had he never stepped in MapleStorySEA.
24-years old now, Steve’s passion for the game and creating content for it hasn’t waned. He still loves what he does and can’t imagine having to stop.
To him, the MapleStory community is, legendary. All are bound by their admiration for the game, no matter where they are in the world and which client they’re on. They fly the same flag under the same banner and represent something bigger together.
And to be a part of something like that is be part of something truly special.