Roughly 10 years after my first taste of the RPG game Crystalis, I found myself in the public library. At the time broadband internet wasn’t very common, and was considerably more expensive than dial-up, and it was still going to be many more years till I could talk my parents into why dial-up was inadequate. I would browse the internet and play flash based games on the few computers the library and enjoy their marvelous broadband connection. There was also an older group of teenagers that would frequent the library. As they were older than me I would never engage in any interactions with them, however one day one sat down on the computer next to me and began playing a game. I kept looking over to his screen whenever I was sure he wouldn’t notice me. What I saw was something like this:
I was intrigued. As I observed I notice he was able to make his character move around on the screen by clicking with his mouse. Now, this alone wasn’t particularly amazing. I of course had played PC games with interactive user-interfaces, controlling units or characters (Starcraft would be a good example), but it was the other parts. He had a sword, a shield, and a wizards cap. He was engaging other humanoid characters in fights. And the part that interested me the most (once I realized) was he was playing with the person sitting across from us.
I noticed they were both appearing on the same screen, but they had their own screens to play from. Given at the time that split-screen was the most common form of multiplayer (at least in what I had experienced up to that point) I became quite intrigued. I notice the chat box in the lower left hand corner of the screen where they were communicating with one another, what they said appearing over their characters heads (we were in a library after all). It no longer mattered that they were older or that they were dressed funny, I had to inquire. “Are you playing co-op?” I asked. They laughed. That was it, the moment I was introduced to Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs).
They explained it all to me. The website to go to. How to log in. How to create a character. And directed me where to go starting out. They also taught me how to contact them in the game if I needed help (I cannot remember if it was called whispering, private message, or tell at the time, but I *think* it was private message – That is, sending a message directly to a single person in the game who isn’t currently in your area). I was hooked.
In towns there were dozens, if not hundreds of people around me. Dozens of conversations occurring simultaneously in chat, or dozens of people carrying on a conversation. Players advertising goods they wished to sell or buy. There were also individuals looking for friends, and even boyfriends and girlfriends. Hundreds of people interacting all at once with a variety of tasks. This wasn’t anything like a chat room. We were able to “see” one another via our own avatars. We could put certain armors and clothes on, wear hats, and most importantly, run off on an adventure together if the mood struck us.
It wasn’t just the player interactions though. The amount of things we could pursue were also amazing. Of course there were many quests to complete given by computer controlled characters (NPC’s). We could go out and attack evil creatures, or kill innocent farm animals and acquire meat, which we could then cook by creating a fire, or venture into a nearby house and use a stove. The more we fought, the more we cooked, the more magic we used, the more experience we would gain in those areas. All the while we could acquire currency which we would use to purchase more advanced weapons and armor (that is, if we weren’t so lucky to have the armors drop for us from creatures we killed). We didn’t have to rely on currency to purchase items as 1.) They could be dropped by creatures (mobs) as I stated, and 2.) You could go mining to acquire ore, then go a furnace to smelt the ores into bars, and then craft the bars into gear (adding several more activities a player could pursue).
As far as I remember, the levels of gear were ranked Bronze, Iron (dark grey), Steel (light grey), Mythril (dark blue), Adamantium (green), and Rune (light blue). Between these pieces of gears, and the levels of our characters, you could get a sense of how strong a player was and how much they played. Acquiring Rune gear early on in Runescape was a great achievement. The stronger your gear, the more damage you could produce and receive.
(Update: This screenshot reminds me there is also a black set of armor too)
The world itself was of a medieval fantasy setting. Castles, towns, wilderness, deserts, caves. The world was inhabited by humans, trolls, giants, beasts, spiders, and your typical mix of creatures. There were shops to buy your items, Inn’s to congregate, buildings to train in, and random houses in place to create the atmosphere of a town. Usually you could find players within them pretending they were there house. All players (at the time of my playing) could only be human. And combat was largely automatic, as you would only select your “type” of combat (aggressive, controlled, accurate, or defensive), and watch your character win or lose the fight.
Players could also interact by attacking one another. When I began playing it seemed a new adjustment had just been made to the game. Previously, you could attack players outside of any town. Now, player combat was limited to the “Wilderness”. An area on part of the world where once you crossed into it, players could freely engage you in combat. Alot of times you would see a large group of players standing on the border. They would quickly cross the line, attempt to kill someone weaker than them or fleeing another player, and hop back across the line if they became endangered themselves. I remember one fortuitous moment when the game servers crashed for a moment, forcing all players to log back in. Even though the servers had crashed, combats that were in progress were resolved, and there were piles of items all around marking where players had just died. I quickly ran across the line and picked up all the pieces I could, and ran back out as other players moved in to pick up items themselves, or attack weak players that had been so bold. I cannot remember if dropping the items you carried was a feature of death, or limited to only the wilderness.
One particular moment I’m not so proud of: The game became more and more popular, and more and more of us at the library would begin to play the game. Technically you could only sign up for the computers in 30 minute blocks, however if no one else was signed up after you, you could remain on the pc. With the growing popularity of the game among the kids at the library however, it became a battle to obtain PC time. It escalated to such a degree that the library had to program the computers to automatically log off a user after their block of time was used up. This is however besides the point, I just wanted to convey that the game was popular in the library. One day another kid was playing beside me. We were familiar with each other, though I cannot recall his name. He was a year or two younger than me. While playing, I suggested we try playing each others characters for a bit. I did this because I had ill intentions. He accepted, and the only reason I can fathom that he accepted was to try his own hand at misdeeds. So the contest began, we had to figure a way to outwit the other player and take advantage of using their character. Now, in games now a days, it would have seemed natural to want to try using another persons character as they are diverse, often have different classes and abilities, however in Runescape these features did not yet exist. Our characters were the essentially, with slightly different gear. His character in particular had a sword I envied, a Rune Longsword. The moment came, his little brother was calling him over for something. He got up and left the computers. I was now playing his character unmonitored. I quickly sent a message to my female accomplice to meet me in town. She arrived and I quickly traded the sword on his character to her and told her to move away so he didn’t notice her. I then got back on my computer and character and continued to play. He came back and noticed I was back on my computer, and ran to his seat and checked his inventory. He yelled “Give it back!” as he turned to me angry. I replied “give what back?” “The sword you took!” I denied having his sword and freely showed him my inventory. The sword in question was nowhere to be found in my inventory. I logged off and set off to head home, however he pursued me outside the library. I had bested him and obtained his valuable sword, however I had done so outside the parameters of the game. He kept insisting I give it back, I said no and got on my bike to leave. He quickly grasped the handlebar and noticed the hand grip slid right off. He now had something of mine. This left us in a stalemate for a bit. I kept saying he was stealing my property as he was holding it in his hand, he had physically taken something from me, whereas I had only stolen from him virtually in a game. He said he saw no difference and wouldn’t return it until he received his sword back. I was unsure how to proceed. I needed my hand grip, because it wasn’t mine, it was my fathers bike. He would notice it was missing and I would be in trouble. However, I wanted the sword, and besides I may not even be able to get it back at this moment. I didn’t have it, my accomplice did. Ultimately the decision was removed from my hands as his mother pulled up in her vehicle. She began to yell at him as she had already been waiting 20 minutes for him to come out so they could leave (that’s why his brother had called him over to begin with). I was scared. Now an adult was going to become involved and I would be punished for stealing. He turned to his mother and began to complain how I stole his sword in the game. It was out in the open now, I was a thief. I looked anxiously to see what his mothers response would be. Would she make me give it back? Would she report me to the librarians? Would she tell my parents? She didn’t even look at me. “I don’t care about your stupid game! Get in the car now we’re going!” Stunned and defeated, he dropped the hand grip and got into the car. I had succeeded! A virtual theft didn’t matter at all. At least, not to a mother who needed to get home and prepare dinner. I hurried home, logged on and obtained the sword from my accomplice. I thanked her and told her I would give her and her sister a call later. They lived around the block.
I shared this story because it involved my first forays into the concept of virtual ownership, and is my most significant experience of the real and virtual worlds colliding within my Runescape experience. Perhaps I will expand on this later.
As for Runescape, it was a wonderful time. I played with a few real life friends occasionally, but none of them were able to play as much as I was or get as far as I could. After a year or so of playing, I became bored with Runescape as the game grew more complicated and I moved on to actions shooters such as Half-Life and its modifications and Tom Clancy’s rainbow Six series, and eventually Halo.
Runescape still exists today. It has undergone several upgrades and is now referred to as Runescape 3. Just as it was then, it is a browser-based client (which is why it was so widely accessible) and sports thousands of users on its servers. It has reportedly had 200 millions accounts registered since it’s creation. I never played beyond what became known as Runescape Classic once Runescape 2 was released. The game was upgraded with more 3d graphics (no longer 2d sprites for characters/monsters) in an attempt to compete with other MMORPG’s being released.
Runescape certainly wasn’t the first MMORPG as their existed some such as Everquest or Ultima, however it was the first I came across and helped shape my expectations and perspective from that point on.