He’s absolutely right about the modern approach to MMORPG gaming on PC. Compared to the original experience, what we enjoy today is adulterated, fractured, incomplete.

Bhagpuss (2019), There Is No Mystery Left (Inventory Full)

This was said in response to Pete’s post on the topic of finding a happy balance between computer and console gaming. How he is able to achieve a better degree of immersion on console by power of the fact that there isn’t the same ready access to a second monitor, filled with social media ticking by, ready at a moment’s notice to be flicked through.

I know what Pete is talking about, as I’m exactly the same. My second monitor will have some mix of Discord, Twitter and general browsing pages up. Sometimes even a TV show. I find these ‘distractions’ to be a welcome part of the PC gaming experience, though. So I don’t find this breaking of immersion as problematic.

But it did start my mind down another track entirely.

Changes to Social Interaction in MMOs in the Absence of Social Media

I’ve talked about changes in social interaction before, but then I was tackling a perceived shift in my priorities and loss of even openness to forming relationships in MMOs or games fullstop. I attributed this in part to the shifting nature of the games themselves, without much of a look at the external factors.

And to clarify, in this context perhaps actually I less mean ‘Social Media’ as it is understood today and more mean a lack of any ubiquitous communication platform upon which you could aggregate your social contacts.

The effect of this being, as Bhagpuss also said, “…turn-of-the-century MMORPGs were the social media of their day.”

Certainly in my experience, this meant that the relationships you formed — even the close ones — remained exclusively in the confines of the MMO itself, for me this being Asheron’s Call. There didn’t seem to be any real extension of communication to email, or any of the Instant Messenger clients which were starting to pop up in that era.

I looked it up to confirm when writing my comment on Bhagpuss’ post, ICQ came out in November ’96 — so even if not by ’98 when I started into the beta of Asheron’s Call, then certainly by the release late ’99 or shortly after I would have been using it.

So WHY Did I Not Save Those Connections?

I struggle with this question, looking back on things with hindsight. There were friends made, relationships established, that at the time meant a great deal to me. I would now give a great deal to have a do-over in which I didn’t let those contacts slide.

But I don’t recall ever making the effort to ensure the communication could exist standalone from Asheron’s Call itself.

One theory I have is, as I alluded to above, a lack of a ubiquitous platform on which to actually achieve this. I was using ICQ, but this was not common place. Instant Messenger had not taken off as a mainstream concept yet. Then when it later did, there was AIM, ICQ, MSN and any number of others.

Another is that I was simply young and foolish. I was 16 in ’99 when Asheron’s Call entered Retail. I very likely didn’t even give any thought to the possibility of a need to secure channels of communication outside of the game. Asheron’s Call was forever. For me. For you. For everyone.

But some people did drift from the game. People could pass first to days without being /seen, to weeks, to months. There was no Facebook, so those remaining could only speculate on what might have occurred. Sometimes I was the one who would take days, weeks or even months away.

Especially after the transition from Beta to Retail where I had two groups of my friends split and make different decisions on server to play on. My core group decided on Darktide (the PvP server) whereas quite a number of my other friends were going to stay on a PvE server.

I had good intentions of splitting my playtime, but ultimately Darktide won out and my visitation on Morningthaw became more and more sporadic, with less and less of my friend’s list around each time.

Some of those losses are actively painful, and I wonder whether that might also have been at least a tiny contributing factor to my stance on social interaction in MMOs today?

In any case — I am curious, for anyone else who might’ve played back during the EQ / AC / UO era of MMOs, was this your experience too? Or did you make more of an effort to secure communication channels separate from the games? Or was this simply not a concern?