I recently experienced the thrill and embarrassment of reading an old notebook from my teenage days. Then, the other day when I was trying to clean up the bookmarks in my browser, I ended up visiting a very old website of mine. It’s called Home of the Icewalkers, and it is a 100%, totally and utterly Everquest-obsessed site. Yes, once upon a time I was an Evercrack addict. Once upon a time the world of Norrath was where I spent a lot of my waking hours. I camped mobs in dungeons, went on corpse recovery missions, fought and raided with a guild, obsessed over the minutiae of leveling my character, and spent hours/days/weeks on interminable quests that seemed to require more work and dedication than your average 9 to 5 job.
Looking back on it now, it was a slightly mad time. MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games) were a relatively new thing, at least the ones sporting fancy graphics and customizable avatars (AKA characters). I’d played Origin’s Ultima games, but they were solo-player games. Then, I cut my teeth on Ultima Online (released in 1997), but when Everquest was released in 1999 it was truly something else. It’s hard to describe how insanely amazing it seemed to those of us who loved role-playing games: a crazy-big, immersive, dangerous, frustrating, new and mind-boggling world of leveling, quests, eye-popping computer graphics (though they wouldn’t impress today), fantasy storylines, and online socializing. I was hooked. And I stayed hooked for many years.
And as you can tell if you visit that website, the world of Everquest invaded my thoughts and spurred my creativity on a grand scale. I wrote poems about Norrath and its creatures and places, I wrote stories about my characters, and I created biographies for them, too. I made a website, for chrissakes – using ClipArt and freeservers, but still!
A sample of my Everquest poetry (though I am rather cringing as I post this) is “The Beast of Ages Past”, inspired by the mighty Nagafen, the first dragon in the game of Everquest:
The Beast of Ages Past
Deep in caves of rock and fire,
Up stairs that lead forever higher,
In Norrath’s foulest pit of doom,
In a dreaded, reeking room
Dwells the beast of ages past.
His breath is death, his roar is fear
His very gaze can burn and sear.
His walls are scratched by mighty claws,
And stained by blood from dripping jaws:
So lives the beast of ages past.
Some come to take his hoarded treasure,
On which he rests in beastly pleasure.
With cheers and jeers and painful wails
They pierce his hide and rip his scales,
To kill the beast of ages past.
But if he roars their names out loud,
Whether they be meek or proud,
They will be summoned to his nest
And gutted die like all the rest:
Slain by the beast of ages past.
Though they may kill him, he will rise
To be seen again by mortal eyes,
And he will strike down those who dare
Enter Lord Nagafen’s Lair.
Such is the beast of ages past.
For more Everquest-ness, you can check out my Tales, or my EQ lyrics page (featuring alternative lyrics for The Beatles’ ‘Help’, Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’, and John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’). A sample:
(Help!) I need somebody!
(Help!) Not just anybody.
(Help!) You know I need someone. (Heeeelp!)
When I still had a life, I think it was last May,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone and real life is such a chore,
Now all I do, is play EQ, won’t sleep or work no more.
Oh, yes. It was a wild and crazy time alright. You can take a look at some of the nefarious characters in the Icewalker family here. Since Everquest, I’ve been through a few more MMORPGs: World of Warcraft, Dark Age of Camelot, Lord of the Rings Online, Everquest 2… I still play Guild Wars 2 occasionally, but no game has ever conquered my brain and body and time the way Everquest did back then. And it wasn’t because it was a perfect game: far from it. It was buggy, it was frustrating, and many of its quests, raids and crafting content were so time-consuming and frustrating that the game would probably never survive in today’s more competitive MMORPG market. But back then, it was new and exciting and I dove in head first. Being a gamer is more accepted and mainstream these days, but there is still something of a stigma attached to it: spending time on a computer game just seems odd and weird and anti-social to some people, mainly those who have never been bitten by that particular bug themselves, I guess. But then that’s the way it is with most specialized hobbies and interests: they all look rather strange when you’re on the outside looking in.
To me,both solo-player role-playing games (like the Ultima series, and Neverwinter Nights, for example), and their online counterparts have always felt like an extension of reading: when you read a good story, you live inside it, inside your own head. A good game does the same thing, but allows you to actually act out parts of the story on screen. You create a character and place them within the story of the game, and then you see what happens. At its best, it is a very social rather than anti-social activity, and it can be a lot of fun and rewarding in a multitude of ways. A good MMORPG tells good stories, and allows you to feel like you are creating a part of those stories yourself. And looking at that old Icewalker website reminds me of how powerfully immersive a game can be when you have the time to go really, really deep into that rabbit hole. Thrill? For sure. Embarrassment? Of course. Regrets? None.