EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 17 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.
Welcome back. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the series up to this point and are still on board as we dig in even further to what exactly made EverQuest so special to so many people, particularly myself. The first of the series covered my introduction and awe to this new unknown experience, and the second addressed a bit more of the design and technical feats accomplished that laid the groundwork for both MMOs and RPGs from that point onward. We have a lot of expectations on what best describes an MMO – The tropes and mechanisms usually found within those games. Really what defines an MMO though shouldn’t be limited by any of those. At its core the defining characteristic is it’s a massively multiplayer game. You can’t have an MMO with it’s people. Today I want to focus on talking about that, more specifically the mass-scale of interacting with others playing the same game as you in real time. The community was large given the requirements and nature of the game back then, boasting over a half million players broken up into clusters of 1500-3500 chunks identified as servers. Each server was named after an important figure within EverQuest’s lore… Primarily deities and primal forces, with the occasional iconic NPC such as Firiona Vie who graces the cover of nearly every release of the game. Those servers would effectively be your home from creation until you quit. Years later I still easily remember my server and it’s history. I started on Saryrn (Goddess of Torment), which was a splinter off of Veeshan (Dragon God) and Bristlebane (God of Mischief) after they became overpopulated in the first year of it’s life. Eventually as the years went by and players left, worlds were collapsed, and my home of Saryrn was swallowed up by Bertoxxulous (God of Disease) sometime around 2012. This may seem like a bunch of random names but I’ll get back to the importance of this a bit later. For now though just known within each server there was it’s own unique community, with it’s own culture, it’s own player heroes, and it’s own list of wicked scoundrels. These all added up to create an identity for each server, which bled out into forums or message boards to further solidify the impression created by the experience of being enraptured in EverQuest.
Let’s roll back a bit to player heroes. I don’t mean a character type like in Warcraft. I mean legitimate people playing and the great deeds they did within the game for others. Think back to grade school and how wonderful it felt to get recognized when you had a right answer or placed at the top of the class for a test? Pretty neat, eh? We all enjoy that recognition from our peers. Within a server of like 2,000 some odd people that same moment could be had. There was always server-wide recognition for whatever feats you could manage. I still remember a few individuals for their actions over a decade later. The character class I played was Shadow Knight (think like an evil Paladin), and my race was a big doofy Ogre. One of the higher level Ogre SK’s on the server was named Riaw, and he had a reputation for being extremely generous with his time in mentoring other Shadow Knights. Sharing tips on playing the class, suggesting places to hunt, what kind of gear load out to chase after, etc. That granted him good graces of various guilds where everyone knew someone that he had helped, so he’d get brought along for raids as a guest, or given gear that no one else could use instead of it just being auctioned off. A second player with a similar reputation was a woman named Meann who had no guild herself, but was constantly playing and helping others out. Eventually she’d lead her own band of misfits and guildless players on raids to help further their experience with the game. She just enjoyed playing a support role for other players to the point of where she was loved by all. Despite not being the best at her class, the highest level character, or being equipped in the best gear… Everyone was willing to help her out or work with her because they respected her kindness. Beyond those two cases there was always the bragging rights of being the first crew to kill a certain dragon, to be the first to finish an epic questline and acquire the most powerful weapons. People acknowledged those achievements the same as they would at a local club, arcade, bowling alley, or whatever recreational activity you care to participate at in meatspace.
Unfortunately for every Batman, you have the Joker. Good people and great deeds are standouts because a lot of the time people are more concerned for their own well-being than those around them. Beyond that are those that will do whatever it takes to further their own position, even at the cost of fairness and decency to others. Here we have the wicked, the crooked, the scoundrels, and dastardly bastards. Of course I’d not wish them any harm in the real world, but within the realms of EverQuest you’d keep a safe distance between you and them or pray a stray monster would take them out in the worst places possible. Within any shared space there’s a responsibility to be respectful to those around you, and the lack of that causes you to be held accountable for your deeds. EQ became no different. Blacklists were initially kept by larger guilds of players that had acted without a moral compass. A good example of this is any player that was involved in the death of an enemy had the ability to loot its corpse for rewards… like a pinata filled with gold, swords, and steel-plated knickers. An action that’d be labeled “ninja-looting” let you quickly snatch up any rewards from the encounter before anyone else had a chance to even see what it had. Once a corpse was being inspected by that player no one else could access it. It wasn’t uncommon for a selfish player on a raid with 50+ others to quickly jump on the loot they wanted instead of either rolling (generating a random number) for the right to the loot or spending “dragon kill points”, an imaginary currency kept within the guild to the item they wanted. That was a quick way to be booted from that guild and effectively cutting off the end game for you. Instead of dealing with players guildhopping, guilds would start publishing their blacklists to unofficial forums to create a serverwide blacklists of shitty players and their deeds. Eventually Verant/SoE (the publishers of EverQuest) would offer a name-changing service for customers who did not like the character name they created… This created a nice gateway to sidestep your dodgy past or burned relationships in those circumstances. Except the change was also public knowledge to maintain integrity with it’s playerbase knowing full well of problem players like ninja looters and the like. These checks and balances maintained a civility that gets lost in other games, preferring a “pick up and go” play style. As they say though, “easy come, easy go”, and I’d take player-driven policing any day of the week. It furthered that sense of community that I find is lacking in modern MMOs.
Outside of those extremes of heroes and villains, EverQuest was just a great social mixing ground. Just through normal play and the need to group with others you’d find people and personalities that blended well with your own. Just like coworkers when you slip an obscure joke and notice them cracking a smile, or when their ringtone goes off and you hear a snippet of Final Fantasy 8’s Man with a Machine Gun song you know there’s a common ground to bond over. I mean, that’s what life is about, isn’t it? Connecting with other people. Those fun encounters with a good group lead to invites to their guilds, and then finding yourself in the company of more people that made you feel good about yourself while you had fun playing. It was nifty to form friendships over a virtual space, meeting celebrity players, recognizing and forming reputations, etc. It was a truly novel experience back then. You gotta remember, EverQuest launched in 1999. So when I was playing in 2001 there was no social media. You didn’t have Discord or persistent chatrooms. Voice chat wasn’t a thing readily accessible for gaming. Most people played EQ on their dial-up modems as cable internet hadn’t truly taken off yet. A lot of the communication – both social and strategic – took place on forums outside of the game. For those of you familiar with the anime “.hack” might recognize this by whenever the characters talk about “reading about it on the message boards”, or “BBS”. There was an entire support structure beneath the game itself for finding guilds, goofing off, voicing grievances, assembling raids, coordinating rights to a zone with opposing guilds, trading stories, sharing legends or posting gear pictures. It was a world around a world that often if you weren’t playing the game, you’d be surfing those forums goofing off with your friends from inside the game.
Remember at the head of this article when I mentioned all those server names? Now each of those had their own community that would eventually come to a head together. Veeshan was the server that splintered off to create Saryrn, where I first started playing. What unique blend that put into my experience was being the server dedicated to a Dragon God led to a *LOT* of Asian players opting to make that their home when they joined EQ. When the server bloated, tons came along for the ride to escape the most dedicated and powerful guilds which were predominately Asian. One of the guilds reformed on Saryrn in the wake was named TED Club, an acronym for Total Eastern Domination. This created a cool balance of players playing around the clock, so effectively whenever I played there was an active playerbase available to group with. I didn’t learn how lucky I was with that until later but most other servers would drop in usage after midnight PST to the point of being nigh unplayable unless you had planned events ahead of time with friends. Personally I loved this because of my unique circumstances at the time it gave a gateway to always being able to escape to a place with people to talk to, even if it was as early as 5am. Another interesting tidbit was among the 40+ servers active when I played, only mine and one other had established a trading outpost in a “neutral” city zone behind two “good-race” city zones called North Freeport. It had a bank within it that allowed the transfer of funds to any race, even the evil ones like Ogres, Trolls, and Dark Elves. This made an ideal location for players to sell to each other or transfer items between characters while shooting the shit in the social chat channels. On any other server bartering would occur in a different location a couple of zones away in a place affectionately known as “East Commons Tunnel” to the rest of the EQ community at large. Weird quirks like that existed across all of EQ, with each community forging it’s own path of what worked for them. The reason why it existed on Saryrn was because it was a culture that migrated from it’s previous server of Veeshan once again. There’s something kind of cool regarding a naturally occurring growth stemming from a player-driven community. That created an experience that only a small fraction of others will remember. A memory unique.
One last bit regarding the meta-space that was unprecedented before EverQuest: The birth of what would become wikis that’d dominate the landscape of the internet as we know it. Name an current game series and there are probably at least 3 Wiki’s created for it. For EQ these became essentially for sharing information on a game that was largely a mystery to all that played it. Quests are vague and unstructured. NPCs are temperamental, randomly show up in different places, or despawn entirely without a known reason. Items, gear, and weapons were seen on quiet players that wouldn’t explain where they got it. Eventually sites like Allakhazam would surface to compile all that information, known as a “database site” before wiki was a term used in casual conversation. Did I mention that there were originally no maps in EverQuest either? The only ones that existed were player drawn maps that would be shared within guilds or on forums. Eventually a site would be created by fans to compile any known maps of zones in order to collectively conquer the beast that was EQ. Times were great.
Players driving the narrative of the ethics of an online space, creating good guys and bad guys of the best and worst of us. Receiving praise or condemnation on a large scale by peers in the hundreds. Building forums, database sites, organizing a collective mind across a half million fans who weren’t paid for any of this… In fact most gladly accepted paying for hosting fees of forums or private sites to have a place for their friends to meet up outside of the game. All of this in times where dial-up modems were the dominant form of connecting to the internet. The draw of EverQuest was real, and the community was the engine pushing it forward. As with the larger scale opus of what was available at the time, there was also the macro level interactions going on. Interpersonal exchanges, friendships, intimate relationships, and second families all held within what most just wrote off as a game. For our next post I’ll dive deeper into the personal connections and how they played a formidable role in my life, as well as tens of thousands of others that logged in daily.
As always, thanks for reading. I’ll see you next time.