CHAPTER 4: AN IMAGINARY HOMELAND: A POLYPHONIC CULTURAL HISTORY
A Polyphonic Cultural History
What follows are the findings of an 18-month ethnographic study of The Gathering of Uru, a “neighborhood” of the online game Uru, and the group’s immigration into There.com and other virtual worlds. It also draws some comparisons between immigration by other Uru groups into multiplayer virtual worlds, most notably Second Life, and explores the role of the player-run Until Uru servers in community cohesion.
The study can be characterized as a design research approach to “applied ethnography,” employing a method for sociological/anthropological research that serves to inform game design. Building on my background as a game designer, my primary focus was to study the ways in which the design of games and online virtual worlds influence or constrain the emergent social behavior that takes place within them. I was also interested in the broader question of how play communities are formed and sustained, and how they change and evolve across virtual play spaces.
The spirit of this project was one of collaboration. From the start, members of The Gathering of Uru (TGU) embraced me as part of their community, and were highly supportive of this research. As the “semi-official” ethnographer/folklorist of the TGU group, I spent many hours talking, visiting and playing with many of them, both individually and in groups in different contexts, and studied and documented their activities and creative output in detail. Some members of TGU active participated in the research by gathering data, editing interviews, and providing pointers to key threads on the forums, for which I am extremely grateful. They helped shape the development of the methodology in a very active and productive way. Once these findings were complete they were posted to a “participant blog,” an online web site which group members were invited to annotate.
A Note on Anonymity: Anonymity is a complex issue in Internet research. Virtually all the subjects in this study were amenable to the use of their real avatar names. This became a particular challenge with regard to issue of authorship. I was also aware that while participants might not have a concern about their privacy in-world (what happens if your “avatar” becomes famous), there may have been some unanticipated consequences from using actual avatar monikers. I thus adopted the standard ethical practice of maintaining study subjects’ and informants’ anonymity through the use of pseudonyms for individuals, groups and locations that are described throughout this account.
History & Context: Myst, Uru and Beyond
Laying the Groundwork: Myst Players Come Together
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst was a massively-multiplayer online game (MMOG) based on the Myst game series by Cyan Worlds. Myst, first published for the Macintosh in 1993, held the ranking of top PC game of all time for eight years in a row until it was surpassed by The Sims in 2001(Wright 2000). Myst was heralded as the first CD-ROM game to garner a significant audience of adult women. One of the first computer games to be considered a work of art, Myst was often referenced as an indication that computer games had ‘come of age’. (Carroll 1994; Tiscali 2005; Unknown Unknown). Some early computer business analysts posited that the bundling of Myst with PCs sold in the mid-1990s was instrumental in establishing a market for PCs in the home.i Myst is described in the following article in the online game zine Game Revolution:
There are only a few truly monumental moments in video game history, a small number of games that have fundamentally changed the cultural landscape. However, it is clearly the case that Myst was one of those games, and its heyday was one of those moments. When Myst became the best-selling PC game of all time (a title it held for eight years), video games were no longer just for kids. Gaming had suddenly risen to a new level, a respectable and artistic level, and it was no longer possible to simply dismiss it as childish entertainment.
In the original Myst, players slowly wandered around beautiful, fantastical environments composed of pre-rendered, two-dimensional stills. To progress, you had to solve mind-bending puzzles designed to challenge Mensa veterans in an effort to slowly unravel the story of two deranged brothers, Sirrus and Achenar, and the strange book-worlds their father created, which eventually became their prisons
Figure 5.1: Myst's compelling environments and complex puzzles made it the top-selling PC game for eight years running.
Key to Myst’s incredible success was its groundbreaking use of high quality graphics, audio production and storyline. (Figure 5.1) Many computer games up until this point had devoted the limited processing power of PCs to pixilated animation, poorly compressed video and the classic electronic, low resolution audio associated with early arcade games. The conventional wisdom was that action was essential, and high quality visuals and audio were of secondary concern. Myst inverted this equation and sacrificed speed and action for the highest possible visual and audio quality. With a very small team and a ‘garage band’ ethos, the Miller brothers’ technique involved using 3D software tools to create vividly rendered still images of a complex imaginary world. Technically, the game was deceptively simple—it was merely a branching matrix of still images, augmented by a moody, ambient musical score. The interface was elegant and minimal. Players navigated the eerily abandoned game world in a first-person perspective. There were no controls on the screen. Instead, as you dragged your cursor around, it would change shape to indicate that a choice was available; most of these choices were directional in nature, but could also involve opening drawers or books to obtain clues and information. There were very few occasions when one saw any characters in the game, and these generally appeared in the form of rough video clips seen in the pages of books. Simple puzzles integrated into the world caused unusual large-scale transformations to the environment. The images were so breathtaking, so elaborately thought-out and intricately rendered, that players almost relished in the slow pace of the gameplay. Like other popular imaginary worlds, Myst had an entire culture, history and language, symbols and technologies, and a sustainable mythology that spawned a perennially popular multi-game franchise.ii
Understanding Uru Players
The decade-long history of Myst fandom is key to understanding the Uru phenomenon in general and the TGU community in particular. In-game interviews and surveys of the online forums revealed the following:
Most TGU members had been Myst fans prior to joining Uru, many since the game’s inception.
Because of the diverse and perennial appeal of the Myst franchise, TGU members range in age from mid-teens to mid-seventies, with the majority being in their forties and fifties. This remains a surprisingly diverse figure relative to other MMOGs, and represents an unusually high age range.
The gender mix, which is consistent with the Myst demographic overall, is exactly equal, a statistical anomaly where PC games, and especially MMOGs, are concerned.
Players’ longtime immersion in the Myst world made them both facile at its unique style of puzzle-solving and experts in the game’s narrative, history and culture.
Players had been inhabiting the Myst world for a decade by themselves, although a small handful communicated through a rich fan culture infrastructure; Myst Uru was the first opportunity they had to actually play with other Myst aficionados within this well-loved world.
Because the game is intellectual in nature, players tended to value intelligence and problem-solving; most players expressed an aversion to games with killing and violence.
These qualities are important because they serve to reinforce an observation that was echoed in player interviews. At the core of a play community’s character is the sort of people the game attracts. This blend of people with these characteristics were drawn to this particular game for a particular reason. They arrived on the scene with a certain set of values and a predisposition toward certain emergent social behaviors. They brought with them a long-term devotion to and deep knowledge of a ‘classic’ game, combined with an aversion to many of the play mechanics that are presumed ‘fun’ in the contemporary commercial game landscape. These are all prerequisites to understanding the ways in which The Gathering of Uru formed and developed over time.
It would appear that, to a certain extent, the game’s own values and ideologies predispose it to attract a certain type of player, even before the game is actually played. Once those players come together, their community forms and develops around these shared values, which also intersect with the values embedded in the game itself. In many game communities, players may not even be aware of the values and ideologies that attract them to a game in the first place, let alone the ways in which they influence play and social interaction. This remarkably self-reflective group, however, was well aware that part of their uniqueness originated from their connection with the Myst series, its narratives, play patterns, individual and group identities, and values.
"At the core of a play community’s character is the sort of people the game attracts."
Does this observation illuminate the root of Uru's failure? Has the gamer world changed? Much has been written about first person shooter and "EverQuest" type games and certainly they are very popular, particularly with the most recent generation (or two) of gamers. Is World of Warcraft the "Myst" of the current gamer generation?
This raises a question in my mind. What sorts of people are attracted to the Uru game? Is the Uru community you have studied an anachronism?
Posted by: Raena | February 05, 2006 at 05:04 PM
Myst Uru: Story, World, Game
The narrative and rules of the Myst world are rich and complex. They have evolved and expanded for over a decade, while remaining internally consistent. The original Myst designers, minister’s sons Rand and Robyn Miller, embedded implicit Christian spiritual themes in the game and its narrative, although this was executed in a subtle way that has often escaped the awareness of even long-term players. This may be comparable to the way Christian themes appear allegorically in the fiction C.S. Lewis. The game was intended for a secular audience and, although the designers spoke openly in interviews of its Christian subtext, there were no direct references to Christianity, nor was there any evidence that the game had an evangelical agenda.
The overarching mythology of the Myst series revolves around the epic tale of the D’ni people, a human-like race that had the power to call into being entire worlds (game levels), called Ages, through writing. Special ‘Linking Books’ serve as transport mechanisms between these Ages, prompting some game scholars to interpret this as a metaphor for computer programming. The basic premise of world-creation through writing serves as a mechanism for extensibility, allowing for the easy addition of new Ages. The proliferation of books is key to the Mystmythology, and books are a recurring motif shared in different instantiations of Myst/Uru culture across all the virtual worlds it occupies. The notion of who can and should create Ages became a topic of deep philosophical debate as Uru players began to move into other worlds and create their own instantiations of Uru culture. In spite of the popularity of and scholarly interest in Myst, I found no other scholars writing about Uru itself. In fact, most game scholars I spoke with were not even aware of the game’s existence.
The Uru Experience
The first thing players are asked to do when launching the game is to design their avatar. Avatar features are limited and aesthetic rather than skills- or statistics-based. The avatar choices offered are male or female human, with a limited choice of hairstyles and outfits, and an unlimited color palette, as well as the ability to make the avatar look older, add wrinkles and graying hair, or even present male pattern baldness.
With their immersive first-person perspectives all the prior Myst games placed the player in the game narrative with an ambiguous identity. You never knew exactly who you were, although in the first Myst game it was implied that you were Catherine, wife of Atrus and mother of their two sons, the focus of the game. Giving the player a unique, customizable identity was a first for the Myst franchise.
Once they enter the Uru world, players find themselves called to a mysterious cleft in the middle of an unnamed desert, presumably New Mexico, or possibly somewhere in the Middle East (given the mythology of the world, potentially both). Descending into this underground cave, they eventually discover the ruin of an abandoned city. Dispersed throughout the city are numerous clues, as well as Linking Books to various Ages, each one of which has a Myst-style puzzle integrated into its environs. Along the way, players also locate ‘journey cloths’, left behind by Yeesha (the main character in the story, and daughter to Atrus and Catherine). At the core of Uru is the controversial restoration of the lost world of the D’ni people, a culture which one player described as created by ‘taking a tribe of New Mexico Indians and adding water’. This player went on to point out the resemblance between the artwork and iconography in the Myst games Riven, Uru and Myst Exile, to caves built by Native Americans in New Mexico, where the Miller brothers once lived (Carroll 1994). According to players, the D’ni culture bears many resemblances to these Native cultures, down to the architecture built into rockwork, although some also hypothesize that it is the mysterious Bahro ‘beast people’ who most closely resemble these cultures. Unlike the settlements of New Mexico’s indigenous people, in D’ni Ae’gura, as in most Myst worlds, water is plentiful.
In D’ni Ae’gura, players take the roles of explorers to solve various puzzles that are integral to both the environment of each Age and the storyline. (Figure 5.2) Solving each puzzle results in the resumption of some feature or service of the world, the activation of a technology or mechanism, and/ or the opening of access to new zones. Most of these puzzles are spatial in nature, requiring a level of spatial literacy and cryptography. Puzzles are embedded seamlessly into the environment and their solution transforms the space itself. Turning on a power supply with the correct combination of moves, for instance, activates a rotating room or a lift system that allows access to another part of the Age. Closing the correct combination of steam vents allows the player to ride a puff of steam over a rock formation into a secret area containing additional clues and more ‘journey cloths’. Indeed, the narrative is so deeply embedded in the space that the two are indistinguishable from one another. In order to solve both the game and the narrative, players must become expert at reading the space. As with all Myst games there are no explicit instructions given as to the game mechanics or rules.
Figure x: Avatar exploring Myst Uru world.
Uru was unusual in that it could be played as a single-player game (known as Uru Prime) or a multiplayer game. Players who were so inclined could request an invitation to the multiplayer server-based version, known as Uru Live; they would then be put on a waiting list until the next round of invitations was issued. Uru Live was entered via a neighborhood, or ‘hood’, to which all new players were randomly assigned. These ‘newbies’ began in one of the generic D’ni Restoration Council (DNC) hoods, but they later had the option of joining a player-created hood or starting one of their own. Though there was no direct competition in the game, there were apparently several ‘factions’ that were fomented by Cyan through the use of paid actors. Cyan’s attempt to perpetuate drama in the game met with mixed responses from players.
There are six key ‘geographical’ components to Uru, which will become relevant in the discussion of player-created artifacts:
Figure x: The Relto is the player's home base in Uru, and where they store their library of personal Linking Books.
Relto: The Relto is the individual player’s ‘home base’, a small adobe cottage on an island in the clouds. (Figure 5.3) As a player progresses in the game, her Relto changes. As each Age is solved, new features are added, such as weather, landscaping (waterfall, volcano, rocks, trees, for example), and Linking Books to allow access to parts of the world the player has thus far discovered. Players can access these Linking Books, located in a small built-in bookcase inside the Relto, or within special columns in front of the building. Players travel from Age to Age via these books, one of which leads to the Nexus, a sort of mechanical dispenser of Linking Books. Linking Books can only be obtained after finding them in-world. They therefore function as a reward for exploration and accumulate in the bookshelves and columns in the Relto as the player progresses through the game.
Ages: Each player has unique instantiations of each of the Ages. Ages almost always combine both fantastical ‘man-made’ and natural features, a large part of the series’ appeal. (Figures 5.4 & 5.5) Ages generally include elaborate puzzles involving manipulating contraptions, matching patterns, starting up machinery, opening portals, etc. In Uru, the Ages have persistence, meaning that they will remember whatever state of solution the Age is in. Players can invite other people into their own Ages, allowing for group puzzle-solving and exploring. Some Age puzzles are nearly impossible to solve by oneself, thus encouraging social interaction. Players also use Ages for formal and informal social gatherings, and to play other sorts of made-up games.
Figure x: A typical Uru Age contains mysterious puzzles and machines.
Figure x: Eder Kemo, the Garden Age.
Figure x: The abandoned city of D’ni Ae’gura.
The City (D’ni Ae’gura)
This is a shared space, a large ancient city apparently abandoned and uninhabited by its creators and in various states of disrepair, and now occupied only by explorers (other players). (Figure 5.6) The City contains an inoperative ferry terminal, a library, classrooms, and a number of Linking Books. Large chunks of walls are missing in places, and the streets are adorned with barriers, and orange traffic cones placed there by the D’ni Restoration Council. Players can explore the city, search the rubble and debris, and attempt to gain access to locked or seemingly inaccessible areas. Central to the city is a large tree, known as Terokh Jeruth, the Great Tree of Possibility. One of the Cyan-created mythical controversies revolved around whether or not the city should be restored. Some players preferred the city to remain a ruin, as it was more fun to explore. There were also implications that there was a darker side to the D’ni, which might be brought to light as a result of restoration.
Figure 5.7: The 'hood' was both the group and its gathering place in Uru.
In Uru Live, there were many identical instantiations (shards) of the ‘hood’, each of which was home to a particular group, also called a hood. (Figure 5.7) The hood contains a number of features, the most notable of which is a central fountain. There is also an archaic device called an Imager, on which players can post text or images within the hood, an auditorium with a lectern and a library with Linking Books to the Nexus and other Ages and areas in the game. The hood is also the site of the ‘Egg Room’, a mysterious chamber that houses a floating, ornately decorated egg, the meaning of which is an enigma. Players can visit other hoods besides their own but the hood of their group is their social home base.
A small chamber that contains a mechanized library of Linking Books. Players can access the Nexus via Linking Books in the City or in their Reltos, allowing access to the hoods, their own and other players’ Ages in the game.
The Bahro Caves
The act of collecting all of the journey cloths left behind by Yeesha provides access to a network of hidden caves formerly inhabited by the Bahro ‘beast people’, referred to by Yeesha as ‘The Least’. The D’ni’s relationship to the Bahro, who appear to have been enslaved and possibly even tortured, suggests a darker side to the D’ni culture. The Bahro Caves hint that these beings, who may or may not have been ‘human’, were marginalized and persecuted by the D’ni, a potential deterrent to wishing to restore the D’ni culture.
Each player also carries two personal devices on her avatar:
Relto Book: a small Linking notebook enabling players to transport themselves back to their Reltos.
Ki: a small PDA-like device that facilitates remote communication and the location of other players, as well as the ability to capture and store in-game screenshots, which can be shown to other players or posted on the Imager in the hood.
The Gathering of Uru: Birth of a Hood
The Gathering of Uru (TGU) was one of the larger and more influential hoods within the Uru community. It was formed unofficially prior to the so-called public release of the game during the beta-test period, but officially began accepting members in November 17, 2003. In an in-game interview in There.com, Leesa, the founder and Mayor of TGU, described its creation as followsiii:
…I was a beta tester for Uru Live and created The Gathering neighborhood but to start with it was private and I was the only member. I had never been in a multiplayer game or chatted on the net - was quite a loner. Then as part of the beta I had to make my hood public and see how it worked with visitors and other members so that also meant I was going to have to speak with people…which terrified me. One night I was walking by a new beta tester and he asked if I would help him. I couldn’t be rude so I started my first chat. He became my first member. Got a few more members. To my surprise people started asking to join. They would ask me what I wanted the hood to be and I guess they liked my answer. Then so many started joining I realized I would have to become organized and set some ground rules. And it grew from that.
In the first hood there were 138. Then a second shard was opened and I started another TG on it. It grew to 157. Then a third shard opened for the last few weeks of Uru Live and I got 49 members. When we came here [There.com] I said I'd start TG up again but other Uru and Myst people wanted to join so I renamed it here to The Gathering of Uru.
…I was very flattered because people were coming in the last night of Uru Live and asking to join before they pulled the plug. Once the plug was pulled, they were, in Leesa’s words, ‘bound and determined to stay together in any way we could’. They were prepared to apply a great amount of time, effort, creativity and resourcefulness to this end.
The Rise and Fall of Uru/Becoming Refugees
Uru went on sale to the public in November of 2003, after having undergone a private beta since January of that year. Although the game itself was officially released, the online version was never actually launched in commercial form. Instead, Cyan and Ubisoft launched a ‘public beta’. Like Leesa, a number of the members of The Gathering were part of the original beta test and thus were already established in the Uru Live community prior to the public beta opening. Many of these beta testers (including Leesa) were also part of the Welcomers’ League, a hood devoted to helping new players.
As mentioned earlier, Uru Live had a somewhat unconventional structure: it could be played as a single-player game, Uru Prime, or players could apply to be in the multiplayer version, known as Uru Live, or Prologue. Once they had submitted their applications, they were put on a waiting list until the next slot opened up. This was a way to ‘gate’ the world and control throughput, possibly to avoid potential server problems. Players who were not yet enrolled in Uru Live could learn about the game through the Uru forums. One player told me she was afraid to play the online version because she had read on the forums that there were actors playing game characters whose job it was to foment conflict and pit players against each other in different factions.
Players were apparently admitted to Uru Live in batches of about 500 people at a time. However, in the last two months of the game’s life, two mass-invitations occurred that allowed the majority of eligible players into the game. The first of two so-called ‘clerical errors’ by Cyan, often couched in historical terms, occurred in late December or early January, inadvertently generating invitations to all eligible players. Accounts of what caused this error remain vague and unclear, but the game was again closed to new players and the queue resumed until the end of January when, again, the entire list of qualified players received invitations. Many Uru refugees now believe that the second so-called error was deliberate—for Uru Live was to close down only a few weeks later. Events occurred very quickly from this point forward. Many key members of The Gathering hood were not admitted into Uru Live until this second mass invite. They therefore only played the online game for about two weeks before the servers were shut down. Other players arrived on the heels of the announcement, posted by Cyan on November 4, of the game’s imminent closure.
As is the case with almost all online games, the actual facts behind the closure have never been completely revealed by either developer Cyan or publisher Ubisoft. Differing accounts can be found on forums and blogs on the Internet, but according to Ubisoft’s Uru Community manageriv, a total of 40,000 people ended up receiving invitations to Uru Live, of which only 10,000 actually signed up. Ubi was both surprised and disappointed by what they perceived as low turn-out, although it should be noted that at this point, there was no subscription charge levied to players. A much more challenging problem stemmed from the instability of the client-server architecture, also related to the gated entry. Because of the way the client (player’s software) processed incoming data from the server, the more players who were playing together, the more unstable the client would become; this caused both excessive lag and frequent client crashes. As mentioned earlier, Leesa actually had to have three TGU shards to accommodate the 350 plus members; but even groups as small as 30 concurrent players could cause lag and crashes. So in fact, had the game been as popular as Cyan and Ubi had hoped, it still might not have survived due to challenges with the client/server architecture. The instability of this architecture became much more apparent to players later when they began to use the server software on their own player-run Until Uru servers.
When weighed against this evidence, Ubisoft’s claim that the game’s closure was due to insufficient players does not ring true with many members of the Uru Diaspora. Rather than admit that the game’s failure was the result of poor marketing (a common complaint of players, reinforced by the fact that the game is virtually unknown in game research circles), or a faulty technology, it was much more convenient for Ubi and Cyan to blame the ‘market’ for its demise.
Well I have really enjoyed reading this and can see how much work and thought has been given.
When I first heard of this, I was a bit skeptical (as you know), but having read this and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's been a pleasure.
As the author has taken a long look/time to be part of our TMP community, by joining us 'in-Game', she has produced a wonderful piece of writing, and after many interviews with various members, I think she has done a brill job. [sic]
Thank you for doing this, its great to be seen as a community, and to be expressed in this way. Good luck with the project and it’s been good to get to know you as well.
Posted by: Tristan | April 03, 2006 at 04:17 AM
I find it interesting that the creators of MMOs, whose survival depends upon the communities which arise from them, have so little understanding of those communities and make little effort to learn. When things go wrong they blame finances, low membership, software, hardware, etc. but never look to their own ignorance of the community as a major cause.
Posted by: Leesa | April 10, 2006 at 01:23 PM
Virtual World/Real Grief
The Uru Live server shutdown is the key historical event for the Uru Diaspora. In my interviews with Uru refugees across several MMOWs it was referred to variously as ‘Black Monday’ and ‘Black Tuesday’, and I was told that it took place on February 9th or February 10th. I later learned that in fact, both dates were correct. The server closed at midnight Pacific Standard Time on the evening of February 9th, and concurrently, for players in European time zones, at 8:00 AM the morning of February 10th. (Because so many MMOW/G servers are based in California, Pacific Standard Time has become the GMT of cyberspace).
This crucial date is extensively documented in a number of locations, and has become a kind of ‘national’ holiday for members of the Uru Diaspora throughout the ludisphere. In anticipation of the imminent server closure, The Gathering’s Deputy Mayor Lynn and hood member Henry set up Koalanet, a forum to enable hood members to stay in communication with each other after their world was destroyed. The forum included a mechanism for asynchronous discussion via topical threads, as well as a live text chat environment. Koalanet quickly became the community hub, as well as a conduit for intense expressions of grieving both before and after Uru’s closure. The forum also became essential as a transitional space, in the planning and ongoing maintenance of the TGU community, and ultimately enabled the group to support its inter-game diasporic community. (It should also be added that this archive proved a valuable research tool; as all participants were asked to register and enter details such as their membership date, birthday and gender, demographic data was culled primarily from this source).
Players were made aware by Cyan and Ubisoft of the imminent server shutdown about five days prior to the event, although staff and community managers were aware of it earlier than this (a source of great anguish to Uru staff)v. The announcement was made jointly by Cyan and Ubisoft via a personal letter from developer Rand Miller. In the weeks following the news, over 2,000 players petitioned, offering to pay subscription fees for an entire year in advance, in order to keep the game running.
Figure x: TGU members embrace during the final hours of Uru. (Image by Leesa)
The last day of Uru, many players assembled in-world, gathering in hoods, or visiting each other’s Ages. (Figure 5.8) Due to varied time zones, not all players were able to be online at the strike of midnight PST, the scheduled shutdown time. A core group of TGU members gathered in the garden of Lynn’s Eder Kemo Age, talked, told each other stories, and played hide-and-seek. As the time approached, they moved into a circular configuration close enough so that their avatars would appear to be holding hands. Several players recall the clocks in their ‘rl’ (real-life) homes striking midnight, the screen freezing, and a system alert message appearing on the screen: ‘There is something wrong with your Internet connection’, followed by a dialogue box saying ‘OK’. As one player recalled: ‘I couldn’t bring myself to press that OK button because for me it was NOT OK.’ (Figure 5.9)
Figure x: The last thing Uru players saw was a screen saying they were getting an Internet error.
(Image by Raena)
In the minutes and hours immediately following the shutdown, a number of TGU members regrouped in the chat area of the Koalanet Forum. This was not pre-arranged, but occurred spontaneously. Players experienced a kind of ‘shock and catharsis’ and many described symptoms of post-traumatic stress. This collective trauma, and the ability to share its aftermath together via their own self-created chat and forum, was absolutely critical in cementing the bond that carried the group forward to its eventual immigration and ongoing survival. At this point, the players had been made refugees, and the impact of this shared trauma on long-term community building cannot be understated. It is difficult to determine what would have happened to the group had the game stayed open indefinitely, but many continue to cite this shared trauma as a factor in their deep emotional connection to one another. In fact, all former Uru players, even those previously unknown to each other, seem share this common bond when meeting in other virtual worlds. Added to this were additional personal revelations, such as the fact that some of the members were disabled, which seemed, on an individual level, to literally add insult to injury. In some sense, the turning point for players was when they realized that it was ‘all about the people, and not the place’. Koalanet quickly became a daily shared ritual where players could check in with each other, as well as expressing their feelings about their collective experience.
The examples below of writings created by TGU members in the days immediately following the close of Uru Live are an indication of player’s reactions to what for many turned out to be a harrowing experience:
To all who are grieving our loss.
February 12, 2004, 01:52:48 am The tears the tears why can’t I stop the tears
It was only supposed to be a game, no violence, no fears
A neighborhood? A community?
It was just a game to me
but the more that I played the more I could see
this was becoming so much more for me
I have a family, I have friends,
my busy schedule it never ends
Out to a meeting, out to lunch,
Can’t wait to get home to spend time with this bunch