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 18 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.
Last time I lead off with the term EverCrack. It was half-made in jest originally within the community. Yet with all things there becomes the reality of how a lack of moderation spins things from a single weekend binge to full on addiction. I’m not one to lightly throw around words so I’m not exaggerating when I use the term addiction. Setting a baseline of what I mean by it comes from my understanding of what being an alcoholic is. When the thing you have a compulsion towards begins to impact other aspects of your life usually hits that part for me. That’s when it crosses over from something you do a lot to something that’s harmful to your well being and should be considered an addiction. Losing your job because of a habit, withdrawing from social functions, so on and such. If you Google today EverQuest along with “depression”, “suicide”, or “addiction” you’ll have no shortage of personal stories. Even back in it’s heyday prior to being a target for corporate morality by the media, within the community there were plenty of signs of this perfect drug breaking apart people’s lives. I knew and played with people who’s marriages ended over playing too much, meeting new partners on EverQuest, choosing not to work and take odd jobs to pay rent/utilities, even a guy who brought his laptop to the hospital to play while his wife was in labor so he didn’t miss a rare spawn that only popped up once a week at random. There was no lack of dark tales to be told back then when players were shy or in denial about it. Today there are dozens if not hundreds more now that we’ve distanced ourselves from it.
Before going into my own stories though I wanted to bring one up from Thanksgiving of 2001. This one always stuck with me through the years since it felt the closest I could relate to. There were other horror stories of people neglecting their children and spouses but I had neither. EverQuest dominated my life from my mid to late teens while escaping from a broken home. In this case a player by the name of Shawn Woolley committed suicide while playing EQ due to his addiction to it. As the story unraveled the narrative always circled back to his egregious time spent playing the game as the primary culprit. This was around the time Grand Theft Auto 3 was making all the papers and video games were the greatest risk to the precious youth of the the time. Just like MTV. Just like Dungeons & Dragons. Just like Rock ‘n Roll. In the midst of that I couldn’t help but reflect a bit and wonder why was I any different from that guy? I wondered about it for a few nights and questioned my own time spent with the game. Then being the brilliant teenager I was went into denial that nope – it’s just a game and since it was a source of relief from reality it was in fact healthy for me to keep playing. I could stop playing whenever I wanted to, I just didn’t have a reason why I should at the time. Still, I followed that story for awhile as more details came out and all the warning signs that lined up to that moment of weakness for Shawn. Medical issues. Mental health problems. Depression. Multiple seizures prior to that day from playing EverQuest. Compromising other aspects of his life in order to continue playing. Why was he alone on Thanksgiving? There was a lot working against him that wasn’t the game. That was the part that I was connecting with in the case, not the fact that he played a game too frequently.
“We’re not so different, you and I…” – A joke I thought to myself to bring up the mood. That’s how it always get played off though when I want to deflect any form of sympathy directed at me. Even from myself to this day. A safety net of sorts. I recognized a lot of the warning signs from that case when looking at my own situation. Often I felt nothing. I had no stability at home. I dropped out of high school. I was living with my mentally abusive alcoholic father after my parents divorced. They had fought over custody of me for what seemed like child-support payments. I was nothing but a check in the mail. I had no self-esteem. My friends were all together living together a solid 30 minute drive away. I didn’t have a job. It felt like the world had abandoned me to misery.
Well EverQuest gave me some stability. I’ve addressed it before in a couple different places, but it felt good to belong and have a social network to connect with. The same players I met with daily became friends. Those friends were in the same bubble of digital fantasies that I was. We connected over our shitty lives and made something out of it. It let me heal emotionally from feeling completely disposable by everyone I knew up in my life. Parents. Friends. Extended family. Teachers. All those fancy TV specials you ever saw where the lead was falling apart and someone cared enough to step in? It doesn’t happen like that. In reality people just let you fall apart while they struggle to get by in their own life. Most don’t have the strength to manager their own battles, let alone lend a hand to someone else. That was my mentality since I didn’t know anything otherwise. The carrot on a stick of gameplay mechanics in advancing my character gave me goals to work towards. Achieving something felt good, even if it’s “just” within a video game. It helped to build up some self-esteem. The friends I met through EQ in groups let me strengthen my social confidence. I felt valid for a change. I wasn’t an error abandoned by the world. People wanted to have fun with me. They worried about me if I didn’t log on for a few days. I had people asking me if I needed anything. Friends would send me concert tickets to bands we both liked or books on how to cope with an alcoholic in the family. It’s surreal to look back at it all now just how much people cared for a stranger online back in the early 2000’s.
That high of connecting and validation kept growing. It was probably one of the only things sustaining me between seeing my friends from high school every few weeks on the weekend. Even then it was pretty much just the ones that played EverQuest with me as we’d log in together and play until the sun rose. If we went out anywhere we’d just be talking about it as well. At peak play with EverQuest I’d be putting in 16 hours a day playing a few days a week. The only times I’d end up logging off was to sleep or eat. Showers would occur while zoning… meaning when the game had to load from one area to another. Sometimes it could take up to 10 minutes, and I didn’t want to lose any precious play time. There was a stint in there where I’d be competing with my alcoholic father for computer time and we’d essentially just swap who was sleeping and who was computing. He was always around because of unemployment caused from his drinking and would just live in Yahoo chat rooms for hours on end, likely trapped in the same sad cycle I was. Looking back it’s somewhat crushing… and infuriating, to know that I was going through the same loneliness as him and he never stepped in to fix it as the adult. As my father. No olive branch, no lets go for a walk or lets watch a movie. We just kept to our own, occupying the same house like two strangers locked to a halfway home together. He’s passed away now so that’s something I’ll just have to learn to live with.
Pushing back a bit to the sleep schedule. When I’d eventually have my own computer pieced together from old parts of friends machines I had set it in my bedroom so I could play with privacy now. Listen to some music, spend the night gaming. It was a good way to relax and get away from whatever life was at the time. There was nothing outside of the room that enticed me enough to quit on a regular basis. Like I mentioned, all my friends (and girlfriend) from high school lived far away enough to where I could only possibly see them on weekends. None of us had cars and relied on parents driving us around. Just me and my machine existing outside of time for days or weeks at a time until suddenly I’d get lucky enough to have a bit of human contact. Meet with friends for a Dungeons & Dragons session. Go skateboarding at the park. See a movie with my girlfriend. Eventually I’d decide that a desk was a waste of space and rearranged my bedroom so the computer was right next to my bed. Now I can game in comfort I thought. Well that’d lead to me falling asleep at the keyboard on several late nights, relying on my in game friends messaging my real life friends to call and wake me up. There were even a few times where I was certain I logged out the night before, but I’d wake up already logged in. Somehow in my sleep I’d manage to boot up EverQuest and enter my login name and password without even realizing it.
I opposed the sun and slept only when exhausted to the point of passing out. I was a high school drop out, alone with my alcoholic father, feeling rejected by the world. I was a mess. And no one cared… but I had virtual life in EverQuest.
Well I carried on that way for a few years. Events would change in my life to help me get out of that rut and walking away completely. One of the first breaking points came when I realized things weren’t always the rosiest inside of the game the way I though. I had hit a peak with my depression and began withdrawing from friends inside of the game as well. I had a guild I’d been a part of for over a year and felt I didn’t belong there anymore… It was another case of my self-worth being nothing and I was wasting their time, dragging them down and wasting a spot in their roster. I was a joke that would brighten the mood on a bad day, but for the most part I didn’t contribute much towards in game progression anymore. I wasn’t looking at EQ as a game as much as a social platform now and lost my desire to play really. I said my farewells to the guild on their internal forums and late one night when nearly no one was online, removed myself. It felt similar to how I managed to vanish in real life from everyone else’s notice. There Chris was fading away while no one cared. Well repercussions came afterwards as the guild leaders demanded any loot I received with them back, claiming it belonged within the guild to those contributing to it’s well being and was never actually mine to keep. “It was on loan“. They stripped me of all my belongings. I felt betrayed and crippled. These were my friends I thought? They didn’t even need this gear as it was mostly garbage to them, but they just wanted to spite me any way they could after I left. Things got heated, I was emotional, I cried over it, and eventually I’d write out a server forum post for everyone to see regarding anything and everything wrong with the situation. Not to mention any internal dealings within the guild that could damage their reputation. I took swings at all the leaders that had wronged me. I was hurt and I didn’t care at that point since it felt my virtual life was becoming as empty as my real life over a matter of hours. I was broken as everything was coming to an end inside of Norrath. By the end of it all I had invested 143 days on my main character. Adding in my secondary characters I had over 20 days, putting it near 4,000 hours played being destroyed by own lack of self-worth or preservation.
I’d sell off my character shortly after to a friend for real life money and part ways with the game for good. It wasn’t as much about the money as it was a final cutting of the cord so I couldn’t return. Between that instance and in the real life my father not making rent causing us to get evicted, my life had hit absolute bottom within a relatively short time period. It was all a blessing in disguise though as from there I’d find myself in a better environment living with one of my friends through high school. I went on to get my GED, started up college, had a job at an A&W Restaurant, and eventually moving onto a new job which became my career that I’m at to this day. Things needed to fall apart before I could build them back up again. This time I’d be responsible for my own life instead of blaming everyone and everything around me.
Despite it all I don’t regret my time with EverQuest. While it was a beacon during dark times for me, it eventually became the only light I let into my life. It was a source of strength for awhile that laid the foundation for my understanding of who I am today. Something about staring into the abyss while it stared back? You learn a lot about yourself in that time all the same, for better or worse. Because of that it’s hard to wish it never happened. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t go through those times.
Now it’s been a helluva ride bringing you through this retrospective so far. Talking about my personal stories of discovering EverQuest, the mechanics of a game we’ll never experience again, the community that supported it, the community that supported each other, the systems that kept you coming back, and today the dark side to when it spirals out of control. With all good things it must come to an end as there’s only one piece left to address. Next time we’ll be jumping forward to today as I say goodbye to everything EverQuest was and is to me. It’ll be a proper wrap up and finally I can put this game to rest, 18 years after it’s release. See you then.