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.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. Shortened down to either MMORPG or just MMO for most these days. Among hundreds or thousands of players on your individual server, it’s hard not to think about just how easily it’d be to be lost awash in the sea of other players. Modern MMOs lack an integral part of what made EverQuest so great though. A reliance on other players. There was a shifting of design that came along with World of Warcraft that reduced dependency on other players until you wanted to larger scale raids, which even those by comparison to EQ were dwarfed with a limit of 24 players instead of the 60+ EverQuest was known for requiring to successfully slay a god. Sure it made it convenient for immediate play not having to try and organize a hunting party manually, often by either hanging around the area you wanted to adventure in to meet up with other lonesomes or gathering the friends you’ve made previously through climbing through the levels in similar situations. Through those natural bonds formed playing together like-minded people would eventually start guilds or extend the invite into whatever ones they were already in to their new hunting partners. It’s akin to going through school and from a class of 30 other students and finding the few you clicked with. From there they’d bring you into their other social circles… And raids are like parties, including the immense fear and desire to run far far away if it was one of your first times there.
That’s where the real charm came from with this game. You inability to succeed on alone in EQ’s world of Norrath lead to a lot of genuine friendships being formed. Both on the smaller level of having to group to the larger scale raids requiring guilds to get the best gear in the game. It always started as goofy light-hearted jokes and banter like sending a single character into the guild chat of ” . ” to see who else would join in the dotting. It was a universal shout out of “dudes, I’m ansy, who else is out there?!”. Sometimes it would lead to communal laughter as we shared jokes, other nights to grouping up together, once in awhile to a higher level player helping you out with something that was crushing you, and even potentially to a real life friendship or more. EverQuest has a well documented history of trust bleeding out beyond their fictional world ranging from general e-mail and instant messaging correspondence to marriage proposals and support groups. EQ served as a platform for social structures that I hadn’t even known existed, let alone experienced prior to that time.
So how in the world did Tolkien-esque adventuring in a digital world manage such a feat? While there are literally countless variations that lead to these relationships I’m sure they all began in a similar fashion. When playing in that space and someone gives that extra moment to help you out with little to no reason beyond they wanted to. That special ting you get when someone recognizes you with no ulterior motive. They were just considerate of you in the way someone helping you pick up a spilled pile of books would. For me this happened when running from a higher level bear a few weeks into playing. Another player at the max level, a rogue of all people, saved me as I was cowering with a shred of health ready to accept death. Some playful conversation during that time and a parting offer of future assistance if I ever needed it. The encounter ended with a parting /wave and /dance emote for good measure. Well later on down the line we’d become good friends as we kept chatting. I still talk with her over 15 years later over Steam and exchange Christmas gifts or rum cakes. My story wasn’t unique either as others have posted similar stories of running into a baddy they couldn’t handle or didn’t know where to hunt for experience, then recall a helpful soul that extended their hand to them last time they were in a pickle. Perhaps then shoot them a /tell, a private message to them. Mentoring was huge within EverQuest and it was richer for it. From there on out it’s no different from making a friend anywhere else in the world. Slowly over time you lower your guard, put trust in them with your feelings, and eventually you’re sharing cat pictures with each other.
That’s the great part that’s been lost to time with online games. As much as EverQuest was about exploring the wilds, adventuring into decrepit catacombs, finding sweet loot, or being in awe at powerful magic spells – It was really held together and made special by dozens of chat channels. Without those communications of /gu, /tell, /ooc, /shout – There couldn’t BE an EverQuest. While as much of a game it was, it also served as a glorified Yahoo chat room. The different branches broke down to local area, across the entire zone, just to your party, to your guild, or individual messages. Navigating between the channels let you socialize with a deftness seen in Jane Austen stories as you managed your personal relationships with the guild, building new alliances in party chat, and making your presence known in the zone to keep your territory claimed. It was a social experience more than anything else. Occasionally players would forget which channel they were in and letting a bit of personality bleed into areas they didn’t mean to. You’d catch hints of friendships being built in guild chat when someone would share something personal to the group of 30+ others currently online, quickly trying to brush it under the rug with a simple “oops, miss” . It was a quick response that stood for “mistell” or “mispoke” implying that it was meant to go to someone else. While usually it’d be some off-brand humor that just wasn’t meant for a large audience, other times it’d be an embarrassingly candid message that was meant for private messaging. At points you could recognize that romance was developing between two players you knew and grouped with regularly. It sounds silly to read about now, but it was kind of wonderful back then to be a part of a world that brought people together. It was by no means uncommon to hear about players meeting up in the real world afterwards and moving in together while taking their relationship to the next level. Hell, even for preexisting couples EverQuest served as an activity to do together. It was no different than getting some buddies together to play cards with or throw an ice cream social… that’s still something people do, right?
As a social experience it was exciting, personal, opened for growth as a person, and for new branching friendships. Life wasn’t the greatest when I fell into EQ and it provided a safe space to socialize in. I was in my mid-teens, moved away from my friends just far away enough to make it a rarity to hang out. EverQuest started off as a means to meet up with them somehow fairly easily and catch up. Countless times we’d hit a rut and have to pull in random players to fill out the group and from there just built our list of people to play with. It was the first time I’d seen a “friend list” in a game. Seems rather bold to just outright tell me who this list of others are in relation to me, right? Yet like I mentioned before those times served as a gateway to friendships I’ve made personally that’ve stuck over the years. I’d spend plenty of nights in game just chatting with any of those dozen or so friends I’d made – hundreds of miles across the US and bounce off things I was struggling with in real life. Romance problems, my father’s alcoholism, depression, loneliness. A year into EQ and I had a support network that felt more genuine than most blood relations I had. Feeling like I could open up without ridicule or judgement about things that were upsetting me was foreign to me. That was just the nature of the community that formed around this virtual world. Digital characters controlled by real people. It became an intimate clan connected by this fantasy realm of wizards, shaman, elves, magic, and frog-people. If someone didn’t log in for a few days or within their usual play schedule it’d be a cause for concern as e-mails or forum posts would try and reach out. “Does anyone have Punky’s phone number?!”. Whether friends in real life prior to playing, a married couple, or new adopted into the community at large – no one went at it alone in EverQuest. Someone always had your back. You always had someone to talk to.
I know it’s not an original thought to acknowledge how strange it is we can be surrounded by dozens of people in the real world and still feel alone. Fear of rejection, emotional desolation, or in my case as a defense mechanism. Throw me into a world inside digital space where I can disconnect at any time to just play for fun, suddenly all of that melts away to let you just be you for a little while. Spirits rise as you gain a sense of confidence. Your humor fills the welcome ears of others visiting Norrath if even just for a bit. Now the real world, real affections, real emotions are spilling into the play space until the two are indistinguishable from one another. This “game” became a social platform years before Facebook normalized online interactions or friendships. Looking back at it all I’m amazed at what it accomplished from a social aspect. As powerful of a structure as it was for building a vibrant community it wouldn’t have been as interesting as it was if it didn’t give you a reason to keep logging in every day. There were mechanics that kept us coming back and turned it from a weekend fling like World of Warcraft, into a long-term gathering place for friends to return to. Quest lines, guild raids, getting new gear, building factions… but all of this we’ll explore in the next part of EverQuest Remembered. For now let’s just appreciate the quiet moments found together over a digital frontier.