Raiding Research Online

Exploring and mapping the MMO raiding culture

When sadness grips you…

September 25, 2014 By: Ladan Category: Uncategorized

I don’t usually write about personal things on this blog. It originated as a supportive outlet for my doctoral research into online gaming and group play and in recent years–since completing that PhD–it’s morphed a bit to be more about gaming and gaming culture in general. I know it’s not read by many, but I keep it alive because it’s a kind of ‘living contribution’ to the great repository of ideas and opinions that makes up so much of our Internet. It’s a kind of permanent exhibit which supports and enhances my professional credentials and CV, I suppose. But something very personal happened to me this week which has an indelible link back to the world of gaming and my own situated experience within it. So I feel compelled to write about it here. Also, in some way this is my own meagre attempt to offer a tribute when I don’t know what else to do.


You see, a friend (and former colleague) of mine passed away last weekend. His death has come as a profound shock to all of us who knew him as he was only 28 and did not appear to have any health issues. He had been running a half-marathon and collapsed after he’d completed it. The response to his passing–as often happens in these cases–has been dramatic. There is already a memorial 5k run in the works, money has been raised in his name, and his family has begun plans for a long term memorial in the form of a vineyard and honey farm, so that his impact and contribution will long be felt. Losing anyone close to you is devastating, but in these cases it always seems particularly painful and ‘unfair’. Nothing to prepare you.. nothing to do but reflect on what should have been a long and fruitful life with the rest of us and to acutely feel the absence left behind.


Now in this case, there’s another detail that I should explain. You see, if not for online gaming, we’d have never even known each other. And while we knew each other for years, we had never even met each other in person. Before my foray into MMOs like WoW, I was a GM (and before that a player) of a fantastic MUD (multi-user dungeon) called DragonRealms. This is a US-based text-based roleplaying game which has been around for almost two decades now. I love that game. It’s not just an example of roleplaying at its best, but it’s one of the most creative outlets in gameplay you will find online. I worked on it as a GM in a number of capacities, but most of my time was spent as the member of staff responsible for hiring and training other new staff. That’s when I met this friend. He was still a university student at the time and really enthusiastic about coding for the game. I hired him up with a few other new GMs. He did a stellar job in training (despite falling asleep in class occasionally!) and became a productive GM himself, eventually being one of the top-ranked GMs in the game.

And even though I myself had to move on from working on DragonRealms (living back in the UK and doing my PhD did not mesh with the work obligations of a game which was largely situated on American time and needing a sufficient time commitment), we remained in a sporadic kind of contact. I even remember one conversation a couple years back where we had thought his company (the gaming subsidiary of a very large computing firm) might send him over to the UK for some meetings at one of their UK based studios and we had talked about him coming up to visit me. Sadly that fell through. Oddly enough, however, I found myself at this same game studio two weeks ago giving a daylong series of lectures around my own research into sociality in gaming… I even brought up DragonRealms as a case study of excellent sociality and gameplay narrative during those seminars. I thought to tell him but my own hectic schedule made me forget. After all, I never thought I’d run out of time to talk to him. He was 28 after all.

And this is where I come to my point here.. I have been on a rollercoaster of feelings this week. I’ve been sad at this loss, angry at myself for being so crappy at keeping in contact with people, worried for his family.. all the emotions I’ve gone through when I’ve lost other friends or relatives. and what struck me here is that this person wasn’t even someone I’d even met face to face before. But his life and his loss have hit me just as strongly. It really does not matter where you form your friendships–what matters is the quality and impact of those friendships.

The game we both worked on is doing something quite special this week for all of us ex- and current-staffers of DragonRealms. The producers are giving us all ‘in-game’ access to meet up and be with each other this weekend in the game’s space. Most of us live all over the place (both in the US and elsewhere in the world), so going to the actual memorial or funeral is not likely for most, but we will gather and memorialise this friend and colleague in the only way we know how–and it will likely feel as comforting and as painful as any memorial taking place in the corporeal world. But as the sadness of something like this grips you, the only thing you can do is gravitate toward those who share that feeling. And for all of us, it’s been this virtual, online space wherein we formed these friendships and I suppose on some level it’s the only place we all feel we can adequately remember him and what he meant to us.


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