I don’t really consider myself a gamer as such, or certainly not in the way I consider myself a reader, or a movie buff, for instance. But I have dipped my toe into most of the common types of gaming over the years, with only a few exceptions.
I’ve never played D&D or any other RPGs, which seem to have been the gateway dryg for many generations of hardcore gamers. They seem intriguing, and I’ve had roommates who were really into them… but the realities of post-adolescent schedules and geographical constraints have always gotten in the way.
Likewise, I’ve never LARPed, although certainly I know people who do and have seen LARPs in process at various conventions, and even a club or two (Vampire the Masquerade players, I’m looking at you). And in retrospect, 90% of my childhood games were proto-LARPs, I just never came across the correct geekosphere to teach me the craft.
But I’ve rarely become obsessed with a game the way I have with books, movies, or television series. Sure, I was pretty into Magic the Gathering back in 1994 or so, it was fun and all my friends played int, and I still think of it fondly, though the modern version confuses me in the same way Facebook baffles your eldely relatives. Sid Meyer’s Civilization games are closer contenders to the tru obsession crown, I certainly lost a few nights worth of sleep expanding my empire and the eventually giving up and going for the nukes.
But in the end i have to say the gaming experience that comes the closest to that immersive all-consuming passions were MUDs, MUSHes, and MOOs I stumbled across in the mid-90s.
For those unfamiliar with the terms, these were all text-based multi-player adventure games, the precusors to MMPORGs like World of Warcraft. Back before the internet (shhhhh, don’t be afraid, this is a happy story) there were BBSs, basically servers that you could dial into which had small communities of users, usually some chat and/or message boards, and a few other services. Some of these ran MUDs.
The beauty of them was the combination of simplicity and potential scope. Just like a book you only had words to play with but you could build a whole world with them. Of course in practice this mostly meant a whole lot of time casting magic missiles and mobs and then looting their corpses, but the potential was there and I loved it. They came in pretty much all genres, including cyberpunk and science fiction settings, and even a few that were in pre-existing worlds, like Amber and Pern, but I never did get around to exploring most of those. The most popular ones seemed to be fantasy-based, and those were the ones I played almost exclusively. Basic hack and slash and leveling up appealed to me in these settings in a way that I have strangely not been able to replicate in graphical games.
I dialed in on my Hayes modem and spent hours and hours exploring worlds that only existed as green text on a black screen. I repeatedly practiced spells or fighting, collected loot, and leveled up, never to truly expert levels but usually to respectable ones at least. After a time I learned the names of a handful of the other obsessives who played late and night like I did, and looked forward to seeing them log on again, even if I was never much for conversing at length while playing. In those days I got my communication fix on IRC.
Nostalgia being what it is, I had to hit Google once I started writing this and I was intrigued to find that MUDs still thrive across the internet. A website called MudConnect.com lists hundreds that you can connect to and play, and a little poling around also turned up a couple of steampunk MUSHes lurking about that I might explore. I don’t know if the magic will still be there now that I can click on a dozen other windows on my screen and call up all sorts of other distractions, but I’m game to find out!