Skip to content

You Can’t Go Home Again

February 23, 2011

Of late I have longed for lost places. I missed the rain-swept jungles, the high mountain passes, the luminous river cutting through the frozen landscape. I dreamed of impossible vistas, places I once walked and have not seen in an age. I once visited these places nightly, and paid fourteen ninety-nine a month for the privilege.

Ten days ago I discovered I could visit these places again. I dithered. I had good times, yes, but not all the times I had there were good. But nostalgia overwhelmed good sense, and so I returned, perhaps not triumphantly, to see the old places again for an unexpected last time.

I’m talking about EverQuest. If you haven’t seen it, you may count yourself lucky. When it was new – 1999 – it was groundbreaking; an immersive first-person environment, a population that rapidly rose into the tens and then the hundreds of thousands. It was exhilarating and debilitating at the same time. Exhilarating, in that nothing else that had come through my computer’s monitor captured my imagination in that way before. Pixelated landscapes evoked the real thing; my mind’s eye filled in the details and gave substance and presence to polygons. Debilitating, in that I would do that to the exclusion of all else. I ignored friends and family for it. I took days off work to play it. I once spent three days waiting at the same spot in the jungle for a dragon to spawn so my character could have a pair of fancy lightsabers; eventually it did, at three in the morning on a work night, and somehow I was able to rally enough people at that hour to help me bring it down and finish a months-long quest. I did not sleep at all that night, borne aloft by a kind of excitement the real world had failed to reliably deliver.

I can’t overstate the hold the game had on me. It was a kind of madness. Even when I wasn’t playing it I was checking guild message boards, or surfing strategy sites, poring over maps and guides. I planned not just my next night but for the long haul. I cajoled friends to do more; I bemoaned do-nothing guild leaders and I watched drama unfold, tempests in virtual teapots. I felt real sadness when friends quit. I felt real anger when a rival group used a dirty trick to wipe out mine so they could get virtual loot. I have good reason to believe EverQuest made me a very hard person to be around.

And then doomsday came, in the fall of 2004. World of Warcraft came out, and suddenly EQ went from being the only game in town to the game we used to play. Most of us migrated. Few of us regret it. You’ve doubtless heard the stories of how addictive it is. WoW is a legitimate cultural phenomenon in its own right, having spawned an entire South Park episode parodying it, a sure sign of relevance if there ever was one. But for me there is now moderation, and maturity, and the recognition that game worlds, as compelling as they may be, come far behind the real one. I am a consumer, but I am not consumed. I had thought I had put that madness behind me. As I logged in for the first time in six years, and heard the familiar music playing over the loading screen, I feared I had not.

I needn’t have worried. My character appeared on the screen, and I felt like I’d seen an old friend for the first time in years, but as I walked around I discovered I was almost totally alone. It was like visiting your old home only to find it standing empty, stripped of everything that made it yours. I roamed around for hours and saw few others there. I went to the old places, found the glowing river through the ice and the jungles and the high passes. I even went up to the moon and saw the world rising in the sky above me, and I was unmoved. It had not aged well. It was a patchwork of new and old; the character models, supposedly improved, looked far worse than the old ones. The landscape looked flat and lifeless. It was gone, all gone; whatever magic it held no longer worked. I logged out and felt nothing. And although it feels like a betrayal of the overgrown boy I once was, I have to say I’m happy for that.


  1. Porter permalink
    February 23, 2011 3:12 pm

    There’s something more than a little creepy about such forgotten corners of the internet. Very nice piece!


  1. You Can't Go Home Again « The Brown Tweed Society-Discover the magic | Discover the magic

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: