Afterlife of MMOs – Unsettled Worlds

Encounter with a ghostly PC in ActiveWorlds

This is the first of what I expect will be a series of short posts about MMOs which have exceeded their ‘productive’ lifespans. These games may have gone dark entirely, or survive only as emulators, or else they hobble on, more-or-less unplayed, into their twilight years.

There is something deeply unsettling about an uninhabited Virtual World.

It is what makes Youtube streamer Vinesauce’s visit to ActiveWorlds, a once-flourishing virtual community, so haunting. In his video, Vinesauce sees remnants of an vibrant, creative world, now abandoned. Then, the ghostly and mysterious Hitomi Fujiko appears. In an extended roleplay session, Vinesauce’s interaction with Hitomi moves the video from melancholy into the realm of horror.

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Limited Narrative, Worthy Stories

Sims hanging out around a campfire

Image from https://www.ea.com/games/the-sims/the-sims-4/pc/media

Now that I have a gaming blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about the blogs I’ve read through the years, and how important they were to my enjoyment of various games. Blogs helped me find my footing in my first MMOs, but even before that, they provided a sense of community around a shared love of games and virtual worlds.

Before social media, it seemed the Web was full of sites detailing players’ progression through games. Since the Internet was still in it’s relative infancy (I’m thinking late 90’s – early 00’s here), the games being documented in these blogs were typically offline-only. But the community that grew up around games was just as social — perhaps more so — than the ostensibly social MMOs of today.

Fans of the Sims regularly blogged as their characters, writing about their mostly mundane doings in Pleasantview or Strangetown. Writers would show off recent fashion choices or a major renovation, or just blog about their sim’s day. Some creators wrote lengthy fictions based on their sim families, or recorded carefully-staged machinima. You can find some of these blogs, still regularly updated, decades after the game’s release.

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In Praise of One Hour One Life

life cycle of a One Hour One Life character

From birth until death, in 60 minutes

It’s not an MMO, but no other game I’ve played lately has better captured the spirit of collaboration and community of early MMOs than Jason Rohrer‘s new(ish) game One Hour One Life.

One Hour One Life is one of the few games that have routinely touched me emotionally. Even after months of play, I still find it compelling. Though there are moving moments in other games, no other game has repeatedly brought me to tears. In One Hour One Life, players will say ‘I love you’ to someone they’ve interacted with anonymously over the course of less than an hour, and mean it.

So, What is this Game About?

At heart, OHOL is a multiplayer survival sandbox. But unlike other survival sandboxes such as Ark or Conan Exiles, the game promotes cooperation, rather than competition. Though the world is persistent, each character can exist for a fixed amount of time — the ‘One Hour’ of the title. Each minute of your gameplay is equivalent to a year of your character’s life and your character will die of old age after 60 minutes. The most you can hope in your hour of gameplay is to advance your civilization moving from scrappy hardship towards sustainability.

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Signing Up Strong, and the Quiet Exit

A distant exit, up a flight of stairs

Photo by Carlos Martinez on Unsplash

When I signed up as a participant in Blaugust, it was on a whim. I have never blogged before, and signed up just two days before the event began, with neither hosting nor any post ideas. So, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.

But I took the leap anyway, and was absolutely sure that I could publish an article every day in August. I’m trying to spend more time taking action and less time ruminating, my default mode. This seemed the perfect cure.

Leaping is one thing, but the follow up is more challenging in several ways, mostly psychological. Immediately, I sensed I’d gotten myself into more than I could handle, and after missing days 4 through 7 due to other obligations, I considered calling it quits. I’d already ‘failed’ in a sense, since I was going for a perfect streak.

But, I turned out a couple of additional posts throughout the next week before falling silent again around mid-month. Read More


Steam’s Malware Slide

Malicious use of player’s computers in cryptocurrency mining may occur in Steam’s poorly patrolled marketplace.

At the end of July, Valve removed a game called Abstractism from Steam. Seemingly, the game was hijacking players’ computers to mine Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency, as well as faking expensive TF2 (and other) marketplace items. For more about this particular case, check out the Kotaku article or this explanatory video from SidAlpha.

The Abstractism situation is interesting, but I’m more concerned with how the situation indicates the unhappy future (present, even) of Steam.

Considering this game, and more generally the explosion of content on Steam, brings Gresham’s Law to mind. In summary, this Law states that ‘bad money drives out good’ — in other words, any amount of counterfeit currency in circulation devalues the entire economy.  In the long term, the value of any coin or token in an economy with counterfeits in circulation approaches zero.


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The Escape Game

Eve Online pod

It’s been busy, and I’ve been thinking of escape. Of packing a few small things, and just driving off…

I won’t do it, though. I’m too well behaved!

In America, there is a literary tradition of men disappearing — shirking their responsibilities, usually to family. Hitting the road. These men — walk-out fathers — are usually canonized for seeking the freedom they desire — deserve, even.

There is no similar tradition that lionizes women making similar choices. The media respond with shock when a mother leaves her children (even if they’re safe with their father) and goes off to pursue her career or life 2.0. It’s newsworthy!

I don’t want to make the mistake of celebrating anyone who walks away from their children. But I also recognize that these decisions are made by stressed out, burned out parents who see no other alternative, no escape.

Escape. The word makes me think of my favorite game genre — MMOs. These, along with other games, can be a healthy way to let off steam, momentarily lead an alternate life, with few consequences.


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Inventory Management

I’m coming off a long weekend of real-world inventory management. In the Northeast US, as in many other parts of the world, we’ve been experiencing a heat-wave, making hauling and sorting through things particularly trying. So I’ve been away from blogging and from gaming for three days, and it’s been NO FUN at all.

This reminded me of something in-game that’s equally not fun: inventory management.

Even that name sounds un-fun, no?

Furniture in a U-Haul trailer
Real World Inventory Management


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Comfort Food in Video Game Form

In Search of a Lighthearted MMO

I’ve read that, in times of war, people gravitate towards Classical or Baroque (Bach, Mozart) over Romantic (Beethoven) music, while societies at peace showed the opposite preference. The idea behind this is that the more predictable, major key pieces of the Baroque or Classical period were comforting in times of crisis. I can’t find any sources to back up this possibly apocryphal tale. But the story rings true, and also has some relevance to my gaming experience, so I’m going with it.

In my preferences for MMOs, I find that the more challenging or chaotic my personal life or the political scene becomes, the more I look for simplicity and an upbeat atmosphere in my games. True, in the United States, we’re not ‘at war’ in the sense that Europe was at war in 1916, say. Or even in the sense that we were at war ten years ago. But, nonetheless, the last couple of years have left me seeking a bit of comfort-food in video game form.

Wildstar should fit the bill for overall tone, but has some other issues that keep me from exploring more.

This means either a goofy, lighthearted title, or else a good dose of grind. Grind — don’t knock it — can be very relaxing.


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Teldrassil is Burning

Sylvanas's tears freeze on her face as she falls to Arthas.

Sylvanas, transformed — from the Warbringers: Sylvanas animated short.

Yesterday I read a book called The Ox-Cart Man to my daughter. It is a simple story (there is also a version in verse) about a man driving his ox-cart laden with produce to market, and then returning home, coins in pocket. As I read, I suddenly teared up.

It’s a poignant book, especially the point where the man sells his ox, kisses him goodbye, and leaves for home, alone. But that is not what moved me. I realized that I had read the book many years before, and was struck by the memory of how I’d once felt upon reading this passage.

Books are like this — you can return to them a half-lifetime later and have an experience that touches on both who you were at the time you first encountered the work and who you are now. Music, movies, (off-air) television series, most games too — you can return, a changed person, to an unchanged world. On occasion I will roll up a an instance of one of my favorite childhood games on the Internet Archive and spend a few moments reminiscing. This is nostalgia — it is a certainty provided by most media.

With online worlds, this certainty crumbles.

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The MMO Collector

brightly colored jewel cases

It’s tempting to amass a huge collection of games, but what is the point when there’s no time to play?

Yesterday, I surveyed my computer to take stock of the MMOs I am playing, or at least have played quasi-recently. I was surprised, and a bit dismayed, to discover that I have 26 installed. There may be more, too, hidden away on removable hard drives or obscure subdirectories. Besides MMOs, my genre of choice, I have several hundred games installed, sitting there, mostly unplayed.

I am reminded of Umberto Eco’s library.

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