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When you game online, you join an exciting online world where people can interact and communicate with each other looking and sounding like whatever they want. But what happens when those worlds come to an end? Why does it happen and what happens to the people it leaves behind? We shine a spotlight on the graves of the dead online games that society forgot.
The concept of loss affects us in different ways. It manifests itself in different degrees of severity for each of us, with the only constant being that we all feel its cruel sting at some point in our lives. For many, the loss of a friend or family member is perhaps the most painful example of losing something. For others…well, it’s not losing one person that stings the most, it’s the loss of millions. Massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) serve as thriving, living communities that, in many cases, welcome newcomers with open arms.
MMOs aren’t like regular games. They’re special because you’re connected to people all around the world at the same time; communicating, working together and forming connections. This kind of thriving digital ecosystem requires constant maintenance and iteration. Servers need to be paid for to keep the game running, devs need to be paid to keep the game bug-free and full of updates, and most importantly, the community needs to keep logging on to ensure the whole experience remains worthwhile.
However, what happens when these basic requirements are not met? The same thing that happens to a human body when its basic requirements of food, water and shelter are not met. It shuts down. When an MMO is shut down, the dedicated fan base — those who stuck with the game when it stopped receiving updates, developed more and more bugs, and less and less players logged on to keep things interesting — are going to feel something. Something akin to the loss and suffering we feel when we lose something important to us too. These people are the unfortunate souls for whom the MMO bell tolled.
Originally a Microsoft title, Asheron’s Call was a popular MMORPG released all the way back in 1999 for Windows PCs. It served as one of the ‘old guard’ of MMOs, alongside the likes of EverQuest and Ultima Online, which really kicked off the genre and pioneered the concept of an always-online multiplayer platform where people could undertake fantasy quests together. After initial success in its first few years, Asheron’s Call could never keep up with the newer, sexier MMOs on the market that capitalized on the success of the early pioneers of the genre. In the face of a dwindling fanbase and a lack of updates, it was only a matter of time for Asheron’s Call.
For many, the loss of the game was much more than just losing the gameplay, loot and fantasy setting. It was the loss of the relationships and connections they had made along the way. In the video below, it’s possible to hear streamer Loud_Lou talking about what the game meant to him and so many others as he fights back the tears. Don’t worry too much about Loud_Lou though, he’s still active on Twitch, streaming away.
You can observe Asheron’s Call’s emotional final moments here
Club Penguin was an MMO originally developed by New Horizon which focused less on traditional gaming and more on activities that users could take part in together. Its cartoony visuals and simplistic design made it popular among young and old fans alike. At its height, the game boasted more than 400 million registered accounts, with people logging on from all over the world. Parent company Disney finally pulled the plug in March 2017, as players gathered to pay their respects to the game they had played since they were children. It ended with little fanfare, as users were simply presented with a pop-up which read:
“The connection has been lost. Thank you for playing Club Penguin. Waddle on!” The community felt the sting though, despite the cold and clinical way the game closed its doors for good. The video below features some of the powerful, emotional messages transmitted by the community in the game’s final moments. Hopefully, users were able to find solace in the game’s spiritual sequel, Club Penguin Island. (UPDATE: Club Penguin Island is also shutting down… RIP.)
You can observe Club Penguin’s emotional final moments here
Sometimes, legal issues are what prove to be the arrow through the heart of an MMO. Despite a robust fan base, a dedicated development team and a rich franchise history to draw upon, these arrows can be deadly. That’s exactly what happened to Warhammer Online: Age Of Reckoning.
Perhaps the saddest part of the end of Warhammer’s online community was the fact that the game was genuinely good. It received strong reviews, and the loyal fan base appeared to be growing rather than shrinking. The video below reveals a gathering of players awaiting the end, sending messages of thanks and positivity to one another for the experiences they shared and the connections they will never forget. The devs clearly shared some level of sorrow with the community:
“Shutting down now, thanks for all the WAAAAAGHS!”
This message appeared on-screen and lingered right until the game’s server was finally switched off. You might just be able to find many Warhammer players now raiding the dungeons of Azeroth in an attempt to rekindle some of the magic that was lost that day.
You can observe Warhammer Online’s emotional final moments here
Much like the popular movie franchise of the same name, The Matrix featured a digital realm where users could escape their humdrum everyday life and embody the kind of person they really wanted to be. As long as that person wore rimless sunglasses and a floor-length synthetic leather trench coat, that is. It’s clear from the final moments of the game that the developers themselves felt that it was the end of something special. The moment that players were disconnected from the game for the final time featured a dramatic bolt of lightning and what looked to be painful deaths for their in-game avatars. That, and the extremely upsetting ‘digital screaming’ that echoed over the game’s final moments, serve to undercut the loss that was felt at the very end.
You can observe The Matrix Online’s emotional final moments here
When an MMO is forced to take its own life — for whatever reason — there will always be casualties. No MMO in the history of the Internet has shut down because “zero players have logged on today” — even the oldest and jankiest of online games has a dedicated fan base, albeit a super small one.
These people, by definition, have strong feelings for the MMO and the world it has created. You don’t become one of the last five thousand people logging in if the game doesn’t mean something to you. The pain of losing something serves as a reminder of how much the thing we lost actually meant to us. And for thousands of players who have felt the world beneath their feet disappear with the flick of a switch, it meant a great deal.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom — the communities created in these digital realms live on, and somewhere among the subreddits, forums and sequel games the conversation and community surrounding these digital artefacts survives and persists. As long as there are still those of us who smile fondly when they think of their time spent on the icebergs of Club Penguin, these online worlds will never really be gone.