Epic NPC Man often pops up in my Facebook news feed. Today’s topic: “That NPC with only one line.” What I love about these videos is that all of us who are a part of the culture of role-playing games can relate. I only had to read the title, and it instantly brought back memories from Everquest II, a game which I played for over a decade.
For those of us who have made homes in online games, nostalgia plays a large role in our collective memories of those worlds. For me, I heard the voice of Nathan Ironforge reciting, “Have you ever seen a gnoll before?” I could hear it just as if he were standing before me like he did so many years ago when I first stepped foot into Qeynos Harbor.
Was Nathan Ironforge among the most well designed and developed aspects of the game? Absolutely not. He was nothing but annoying, and I’m sure that many gamers wished at one point or another that they could punt his creepy little self into the harbor. Yet, here I am, being pulled back into a world that I have not visited in many years. Norrath is full of fond memories and game design elements that gave me (and the friends I met along the way) years of enjoyment.
There is power in nostalgia—it typically brings warm memories of a past time, while blocking out what we don’t want to remember. There is solace for something we feel that we’ve lost. I don't remember Nathan fondly. He wasn't well liked. However, instead of feeling annoyed when remembering him, I feel reminiscent. I remember the game where he resided, and the people who played there. It’s nothing but warm, fuzzy memories for a world that no longer exists or, perhaps, never existed at all.
When I say that it no longer exists, I’m not talking about in the literal sense. Everquest II is still running, and I could log on and play today. Yet, those friends that I mentioned are long gone, the game mechanics have changed, and the once vibrant world has slowly emptied. This is a harsh reality that most MMOs will have to face at one point or another, but it doesn’t have to be the end for that game world.
If I logged on today, more likely than not, I would spend an hour or so in my house, walking around, clicking on objects that I placed on shelves or hung on walls nearly a decade ago. I might even remember who I was with and conversations that we had when I completed the attached quests. Even the pets in that home are named after long lost friends. It has become, in essence, a museum of a past life.
This isn’t necessarily bad for the company that owns the title. It circles back again to the social ties that we make while playing. It’s about setting down roots to enable longevity. Game design that strengthens these ties anchors the players in the game world. It anchors them there long after they’ve gone and creates a connection that is lasting. The original Everquest set a precedent that is still shaping games today. While Everquest II was not as popular, it was still able to draw in a number of players that has kept it going over the years. The fans of the original came to play. They came to re-experience the magic that they felt when they first stepped foot into Norrath.
While many have left the world of Norrath, they haven’t gone for good. We are all here, and we are waiting. When Everquest rises again, I, and many like me, will be there. We’ll be standing in the harbor, two seconds away from blasting the one-line NPC with a fire ball, waiting for those long-lost friends.