3.08.06 - Virtual Memories #5

In Anticipation: The Promise of Memories
Virtual Memories, Part V

By Merriandra Eldaronde

Long ago and far away, before I was involved in the world of MMOs, I would never have imagined the emotions that could be induced by experiences in a virtual kingdom. However, I have always had a vivid imagination, and so the concept of the epic and fantastic were not outside the realm of my experience.

Nor was the enjoyment of pen-and-paper RPGs, since I had been one of those geeky girls in grade school who actually enjoyed Chess Club, belonged to a Computer Club in 1980 (/shudder!) and hung out at the bookstore for fun. I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons before high school.

My now-husband (then-boyfriend) had gotten me involved in his "network gaming night" with such multi-player classics as Blood, Carmageddon, and Quake. When he bought an online game, where you actually had to type and interact with people who weren't in the room, I was more than a little bit nervous. Until I watched over his shoulder. I was fascinated by the vibrant colors, and I think, in the end, it was a combination of the art and the music that made me sit down at the login screen and look over my shoulder at my husband. "What now?" I asked.

Do you remember the first time that you entered a virtual world and found real people inhabiting the bodies of the other avatars? Perhaps that's why the social aspects of the games I've played have always remained important to me: without other people, all the virtual trees in the world wouldn't create an online community. It would be a blank slate, a piece of interactive art, an empty tutorial. With every NPC, you know that the actions and words are preprogrammed, and that if you observe and listen long enough, you will be able to guess what will happen, and what the NPC might say. You can only log in to a static world so often, even a world as full of adventure as Elder Scrolls, without finding the actions and reactions stale.

It is much less inevitable to find stagnancy in an online community inhabited by people from every state and a wide variety of countries. It's very difficult for me to guess what my co-workers and the members of my own family are going to say, or do, from moment to moment, never mind predicting the actions of someone in a virtual world. It's not the beach ball laying in the grass of the front yard that makes the afternoon memorable. It was the moment when your cousin picked up the beach ball and hit it to you that the enjoyment began.

This, then, is how our memories are born. We remember the other characters who helped or hindered us more than the action of slaying our 75th goblin. We remember the funny jokes and songs in guild chat while waiting for the dragon to spawn in Nagafen's lair more than we remember our equipment or our hit points, or even the long hours of boredom while we waited.

This series, Virtual Memories, has drawn upon some of my own experiences to take a look inside what it is that makes an MMORPG memorable. What types of players did you encounter? What zones or locations do you remember, and why? What events contributed to the way you enjoyed the game? All of these questions have been asked, and some of them have even received replies.

A concern that echoes through many of the responses is that Vanguard: Saga of Heroes cannot possibly replicate the "firsts" that many of us use to describe our experiences. "Remember the first time we raided Vox?" "Remember the first time you got on the boat to cross the Ocean of Tears?" "Remember the first time you were beaten to a pulp by the undead in Kithicor at night?" These experiences aren't specific to Everquest either: I remember my first crossing into the frontier in Dark Ages of Camelot, and I remember my first time flying a plane and getting way up high above Rubi-Ka in Anarchy Online. Others remember landmarks and firsts in Asheron's Call, or Ultima Online.

If we can never replicate the thrill of those first steps into the unknown, why do we bother trying new games and visiting new online worlds? I think that's a rhetorical question. There is just as much hope to feel awed, amazed, stunned, and very, very small in Telon as there has been in Norrath, or Dereth, or Midgard.

It is true that we, as gamers, will never be as unsophisticated as we were in the early days of UO or EQ. I look at it as a progressive ladder, like my experiences on the first day of school. My first day of high school was completely different than my first day of kindergarten, and yet they both inspired fear, and anticipation, and a sense that something better was just over the horizon. Still, wherever a community of individuals, more disparate than alike, more diverse than the United Nations, is allowed to grow, you will find a new opportunity to remember your first day, or first weapon, or your first companion all over again.

About the Author

Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.
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