XGame, MUDS and Online Worlds

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In 1985 I had a Commodore 64, with a 300 baud modem. A new service was out called "CompuServe", it allowed your computer to talk to other computers on a private network. The network was the precursor to something like AOL is today, except it was all text driven, with no pictures or graphics.

I was thirteen, living in my isolated world of Gwynedd Valley. There weren't neighborhood kids that I could hang out with. I was going to Germantown Academy, and really didn't become friendly with anyone there. From time to time I would go back to Richboro and visit my old friends, for a weekend sleepover. We would play Dungeons and Dragons all weekend, in between watching movies, eating microwave popcorn and drinking Mountain Dew.

Online I met a lot of other people, using my original online name of "Thrasher", from the old Skateboarding magazine. There was a Dungeons & Dragons forum, and a chatroom. I entered one of the forums where 3 people were chatting.

D.M.> As you come upon the sarcophagus, you see a bright blue light that shines down upon it from a crystal suspended in the air. There are spidery etchings on the coffin that have a faint green glow...
Thrasher> Hey, whats up?!
**DM tells you> Game in progress, please do not disturb.
D.M.> The room is dusty, obviously it hasn't been used it years and you two are the first to enter this room in ages.
Dolzan> I check for traps.
D.M.> Roll 100
Dolzan> **Die roll 94/100**
D.M.> Dolzan, you notice one of the tiles of the floor in front of the sarcophagus is of a slightly different color than the rest of the tiles around it.
Esgar> Good work, Dolzan. I stay away from that tile, and inspect the blue crystal.

And so on. I watched these guys play D&D online for 2 hours on a Sunday night. Instead of sitting together, they were located in far cities. The D.M., or Dungeon Master, was from Birmingham, Alabama. Dolzan was from White Plains, NY. Esgar was from West Virginia.

They didn't know each other offline. They never met in person. They just met reading the CompuServe forums, when the D.M. posted a board post about looking for players for his online game. Dolzan and Esgar joined up, and right after watching that session - I joined up, as Bathir, the human monk.

We had a lot of adventures, riddles, humor and fun over the years along with some frustrated anger. We would meet every Sunday night at 9pm to 11pm, with no communication between us for anything besides this game. We would talk a little bit after the games. I learned that Dolzan was deaf, for example. The D.M., known as "X", was studying at the University of Alabama, first in chemisty and then went on to become a lawyer. Esgar had various jobs, and was much older than me, by about 15-20 years from what I could tell.

I played XGame during my entire high school years. I would always make time to play the game - every Sunday I would plan my day so that I was home by 9pm. If any player didn't show up, the game would be cancelled if it was important for that player to attend. I felt a certain responsibility to the other people who showed up to play if I pulled a no-show. Many times I had a hard time explaining to people why I had to be home by 9pm. My friends from the old neighborhood, like Brad, Matt, Eric, Ashish understood. Some of the newer people I became friendly with in high school didn't understand why I would still play Dungeons & Dragons.

Once I reached Villanova, I really couldn't justify trying to play XGame on Sunday nights. I didn't want to become a social pariah, so I had to tell X that I was quitting the game after 5 years. They were all sorry to see me leave, and certainly college was easily distracting me.

One day in 1991, in the computer labs, I saw my NROTC friend, Mike, doing something on a PC. It looked a lot like CompuServe, but wasn't.

"Dude, what are you doing?", I asked him.
"Oh, hey Furey, i'm on the Internet playing SanctuaryMUD.", Mike replied.
"What is the "internet"? What's SanctuaryMUD?", I asked.
"The department of defense created a network of computers that can talk to each other in case we get nuked by the Russians and our phone lines melt. Its the internet - you can email people or telnet to different sites to check out porn or play games. SanctuaryMUD is an online Multi-User Dungeon, or M.U.D. - its like the game Zork, except you can play it with multiple people at the same time."

Mike gestured to the next PC and logged me in to Sanctuary. I was hooked once again. Hours and hours of free-time in between classes I would spend playing on MUDs. Eventually, as the years progressed, I learned a lot about the internet and how it worked. It was one of the ways that I landed my job when I graduated from Villanova in 1994. I had to talk my way through the interview, and explain how an English major should work at their company. I was well versed enough in the internet, which in 1994 was just starting to become mainstream.

The trappings of nerdom were slowly peeling away. There was a time when fantasy football was considered a nerdy game. Now millions play it a year. Playing computer games were for dweebs, and today nearly every guy over 14 has an Xbox, Playstation or Gamecube. As the internet grew in popularity chatrooms went from a strange thing to do to a normal thing to do. To me, I was doing what a lot of people nowadays take for granted 20 years ago. Plus, 20 years ago I would get a lot of grief from the same people, who today do the same things on the internet that I did.

With the advent of the internet and the changes to the PC gaming industry, so, too, did my gaming change. Eventually I lost interest in MUDS and started to play FPS (First Person Shooters) like Duke Nukem and DOOM. My first internet connection was a 56K, but I didn't like the lag (latency) in the game. I wanted to be faster than everyone else and have an edge. So I bought a 128k digital ISDN line, which cost me $50 a month. I didn't care. I was destroying people for years in online games, with my super speedy internet connection.

In 1997, Ultima Online opened and my gaming life turn another turn. It was a multiplayer online world in a fantasy setting, much like that of the Dungeons & Dragons genre. It became very successful, which lead to other games being developed like EverQuest and World of Warcraft.

I met people over the years playing these games, and formed "online friendships". I joined "guilds" - which is bascially a gaming club, a group of people who have the game goals in their game. For the first person shooters I was in a guild for the game, Tribes, and we would have competitions for fun versus other guilds - for bragging rights. In Ultima Online I found a guild that I joined and have been with them for the last 10 years. We moved to other online worlds and are now currenly playing World of Warcraft.

To each their own. For me, one of the pursuits of my happiness has been either playing online games or roleplaying games. Nowadays you never know who are the gaming types, I was in a bar in town talking with Brad about Warcraft. The bartender looks at us and says, "What server are you on?" The bartender didn't look like the "gaming type", but he was and we started talking about the game.

But this is me. It's what I do. I'm just glad the rest of the world has caught up to me.

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This page contains a single entry by Furey published on January 24, 2006 12:16 AM.

Hole Again was the previous entry in this blog.

...And So Drama Begins! is the next entry in this blog.

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