On Saturday February 17, 194 people gathered to remember a friend who died. Almost none of them had met the man. Some only knew his name. Others were there to support their friends.
And it all happened through the Internet.
Fourteen years ago, in 2004, I started playing Until Uru. UU was the bones of what was supposed to be Uru Live, a multiplayer Myst game. It never got off the ground, but the company behind it released the code for others to run their own servers, and the game took the name Until Uru.
I’d never played an online game before. But I got connected to the Guild of Greeters, a group of players who’d taken it upon themselves to welcome new people to the game. I started hanging out with them whenever I logged in, and eventually joined their group. For years I helped new players to the game and enjoyed every minute of it. Unlike other online games, in UU, you didn’t play a character, you played yourself (“you are you”, or “URU”, as the community would say, though that isn’t what the word actually means). Eventually, when more funding became available, UU became Myst Online: Uru Live. When that was canceled, it returned as Myst Online: Uru Live Again. And the community still struggles on.
In 2006, I had the opportunity to go to Spokane, Washington, with my cousin Max to visit the game company’s headquarters for a fan gathering. There, I finally got to meet in person many of the people I “knew” in the game. And I did know them. Online communities do connect people. We talked about life and got to know each other pretty well. I finally had faces to connect with names like Ayli, Allmyst, Devonette, Rex Havoc, Ja’de, Tyion, SuperGram, AnnaKat, Goldenwedge, Papa_Smurf, Tomala, CAGrayWolf (some I’d met earlier when the fan gathering was held in Chicago). We ate together, saw the city together, went geocaching and got lost together. It was like meeting up with friends you haven’t seen in forever, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.
And then CAGrayWolf died.
I’d only met him once in person, at that gathering. David had been sick for a long time, and we all knew it. But it’s hard to see that stuff when you only communicate in text. David had been planning the next fan gathering up until just a few days before he died. A fund was set up with a wolf rescue organization he loved so those of us who wanted to show our love and support.
Even though it was a friendship cultivated over text and the Internet, for many, the death of CAGrayWolf was difficult. Some knew him much, much better than I did. They were good, personal friends. Everyone knows what it feels like to have a friend die. It was the same way when Shadowcats died a couple years later. Richard had also been sick for a long time, and his illness finally overtook him. Their names, along with the names of other players who have died, are listed on a memorial that still stands in the Kahlo Pub in MO:ULa. People still visit that memorial to see the names of their friends they’ve lost.
This is not a phenomenon restricted to MO:ULa of course. In college I began playing a game called Lusternia. There are memorials to the players Visaeris, Vathael, and Rhaffe, who all died after I started playing. And, in Lord of the Rings Online, 194 people just gathered last week to remember Sevak, Ken, who loved his game and the community in it.
Some may read this and scoff. How can people mourn the death of someone they never met? We don’t question this when it’s a national hero or celebrity we’ve never met–everyone mourns when they die. But for some, the idea of cultivating a friendship or relationship online is ridiculous. It can’t be done. It’s not a “real” friendship, relationship, or community.
Community takes many forms. I’m thankful for the communities I’ve been lucky to be a part of–especially the online communities that connect people from all over the world. They’ve helped me through hard times, opened me up to different view points, cultures, and ideas, and challenged me. They’ve provided places to celebrate and places to mourn in ways the church has yet to fully realize in its own communities. I wouldn’t be who I am today with them and the people in them. And I’ll miss them all when they’re gone.
Rest in peace, Ken. Say hi to Richard and David for me.
Dedicated to: Sevak, Rhaffe, Vathael, Visaeris, Pehpsee, CAgraywolf, Shadowcats, Aquila, Grassie73, Sil-Oh-Wet, Myst’Aken, Terra, Ron Hayter, GLO, Jahuti, Wamduskasapa, Perlenstern, Mo’zie, jmb30321, Zardoz, JDrake, Katzi, oldmanjob, Ramsine, Cindy Farrar, Dust’ei, Gandhar, Flyboy, and Josef Riedl.