We discuss a lot about how to create believable game worlds in class, but never really about what happens when they are gone. What happens to a world when the computer hosting it shuts down, or when it has no more players in it? Of course, it never existed in reality in the first place, but to the players that once inhabited it for that period of time, it was real to them. So what happens when a world is devoid of players?
A world, empty
This train of thought was inspired by a video of a youtuber, Vinny, deciding to explore Active Worlds, an old online virtual world made in 1995 that allowed users to create content for it. It has since been mostly abandoned, and the landscape of the barren world gives off an eerie atmosphere. The empty streets and the abandoned houses are evidence of the world that once was, still the way the players left it long ago.
Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRgATG6PUA0
It makes it all the more creepier when Vinny finds a lone player in the world, spouting rather strange phrases to him. He thought it was an NPC or a bot at first, but slowly realized that it was another player. It was interesting to see the interactions between them, and seeing Vinny wonder whether this mysterious player was friend of foe. It really showed how powerful a world is even if most of the inhabitants aren’t there. I personally felt that it gave off a similar feel to an abandoned theme park.
You can imagine the people playing in this world, giving life to it. But now, they are just there, quietly left to the elements, whether it be the local greenery or the server computers. There’s a kind of sad, quiet elegance to these environment that I appreciate. The one difference is that time stands still in this virtual world as long as the server is up, you can come back 10 years later and still find that old tavern in the same place it once was. This world felt like a real place that was left behind by the times, frozen in place for all eternity — at least until the server shuts down.
A world, gone
Playstation Home was a social gaming platform on Playstation that was shut down last year, without too much fanfare. As said by this article, “As anticlimactic in death as it was in life.“. It wasn’t a particularly good game, but it did find a niche audience that were sad to see it go.
Some people went out quietly:
Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWMfq4dNKKs
While others went out with a bang:
It’s interesting to think that it might be how we will actually react if the world really ended. Virtual Worlds do mirror our own after all. Just imagine, all your belongings, your clothes, your person, all disappearing at the flip of a switch. I imagine that would what most users feel when a game that they’ve dedicated months of their life to gets shut down.
A more recent example of a world getting shut down would be the Nostalrius, a very popular vanilla World of Warcraft private server that was shut down by Blizzard. A lot of players were not happy with this, and there was a huge outcry about the shutdown. Many people played on Nostalrius because they didn’t like current WoW anymore, and Blizzard’s refusal to provide legacy servers meant that people naturally flocked to servers like Nostalrius. In this particular case, the players didn’t just want a world, they wanted a very specific version of that world to inhabit, because the “official” version of that world didn’t satisfy them.
In the future, there will be many more online game servers slowly being abandoned and eventually shut down, which is kind of crazy to think about. Just imagine a game like World of Warcraft shutting down. It seems impossible now, but I think that it will be an eventuality. I wonder, what happens to worlds when they are shut down permanently? Do worlds persist even if the servers that host them don’t exist anymore? When a world is deleted, the avatars of every player are deleted along with it. Avatars are in a way, an extension of the player, which is why I feel like deleting a world deletes a piece of the players along with it. Yes, there are private servers, but they are not quite the same. Sure, you can make a new character, and see the same things that you see in the official servers, but the game can no longer evolve the same way the official game can, as the admins of those servers won’t be able to add content like expansions and such to the game.
Some day in the future, the last WoW player in the world, in their little private server, will quietly log out for the last time, bringing an end to an era. I suppose in a rather cliche way, these worlds will remain in those who lived in them, until the memory of those worlds fade away.