When people talk about their experiences gaming online, especially in MMORPGs, it can often feel overwhelmingly negative. It’s not uncommon to hear that MMOs are irrelevant, too expensive, cash grabs, superficial, and at worst, have ‘communities’ in name only, full of either apathy or trolling. Take your pick. Yet, while the genre has seen shifts over time, there is still something about MMORPGs that remains unique, and brings out the best in online community. Unfortunately, these moments of a community’s finest all too often happen as they do in real life - in moments of difficulty or tragedy. Recently, the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn community came together as one of its own lay in the hospital, surrounded by his real life family, who had gathered to say goodbye. Word spread, and the tributes to Codex Vahlda lit up on his native Gilgamesh server and beyond. Across the world, and even in other games, his tale touched people.
Codex Vahlda, the character, was a Mi’qote bard. He was given a permanent rank as “Immortal Siren” by his Free Company as a sendoff. The real player behind the screen was, according to a Reddit post from a friend, a 29-year old man with renal failure. His brother was set to donate a kidney to him before Codex was suddenly struck ill with no further options. The adage about never seeing certain people except at weddings and funerals has, in its own way, a truth to impart upon MMORPG communities. Adulthood, which can look like an intricate web from the perspective of a child, is also sometimes where bonds begin to fray. Some will inevitably break, and new ones don’t always take hold in the same ways as before. MMORPGs represented, and still can represent, a safe and fun community that also serves as somewhere those bonds may just form. Although yes, things have gotten more solo-friendly in general, there are games out there that do retain a sense of interdependence.
If the matter of community had truly been lost in MMORPGs, we wouldn’t still see acts of kindness like this. We wouldn’t have players asking which games still have good or helpful communities (FFXIV’s community is often cited as a good example, and this offers a peek at why). Although I am not a FFXIV player, I have a couple of friends that do play frequently. One is on a different server, but offered her own tribute to Codex Vahlda that day, as many others did on that day. The tributes spread beyond Gilgamesh. Codex Vahlda’s tributes included a group spelling his name out on the beach, gatherings, songs composed in tribute from fellow bards, silent gatherings, candle-lit, and even a live stream of the gathering. That live stream was sent to his family in their difficult moment. As their son’s life support was turned off, the vigil in-game continued for hours and several in-game day/night cycles. At some counts, over 80 people showed up on Gilgamesh and stuck around. Tributes and wishes that “May he walk in the light of the crystal” kept coming in the days following the vigil.
It’s easy to forget sometimes the real person behind the avatar. When our days are long and game time short, we want to maximize our experiences. For some, that might mean more solo gameplay and time spent around others rather than playing with others. Yet, the spirit of community is still alive if you look for it. It doesn’t always have to happen in times of sadness or death, either, though it can seem like these are the times people feel most compelled to give their presence.
Other games have seen similar gatherings, as well as communities coming together to build things or create situations that would make someone happy. One of the more memorable times was when EverQuest II’s community gathered after a mother asked for a few decorators to add elements to her terminally ill six-year-old son’s island to make things more fun for him. The modest request was met by players from all around the world and an effort for several days straight to get a top tier guild house for the boy, Ribbitribbit, as well as populate the island with trees, a pirate ship, and a full playground. Players showed up to pitch in from all around the Guk server, and some even rolled alts on the server just to help out. People gathered to help make his favorite game that much fuller in the little time he had left.
Events still happen all the time, though there are so many MMOs to choose from, as well as social media and other demands on our time, that it isn’t quite the same. However, when I see some claim “no one plays” MMOs, or that they’re all full of trolling kids, or toxic communities, I know that people are still bonding in their games. Friends are still made, significant others met, and sometimes MMOs serve as an escape into a different world without the painful cards life can deal. The Kickstarter-funded documentary WoW Mom will follow Terry Bolt as she finds escape and copes with a terminal cancer diagnosis by playing World of Warcraft.
MMO players - there’s someone behind that player character that just ran by you. It might be your new best friend. Might be a casual acquaintance. Might be someone you always encounter when you need to trade for crafting mats and offers you fair trades. Might be someone temporarily escaping into this world you share. Make people feel welcome as often as possible, and think of ways to come together. MMOs still stand in a special position when it comes to the potential for touching a community. The shorter leveling times and MMO tourism may be some factors, along with soloing, that eroded some of this spirit over time, but maybe decide to make the effort in your game to contribute positively in some way. I’m not sure if this is the new year talking, but the gathering for Codex, along with a difficult year have had their impact. The Codex tribute and Ribbitribbit are wonderful examples of how MMORPGs still provide a sense of community. Yet we can do more to recapture that spirit a bit and not leave the “weddings and funerals” notion to be true.