RuneScape: The Best Awful Community Ever

I’ve been perusing the history of Runescape eBook that was recently released by RSHistory, and it’s got me feeling a lot of nostalgia. I played RuneScape from 2005 until around 2010. It was my first MMO, and the one I played for the longest. During that time, I saw every kind of troll, scammer, exploit, vulgarity (despite the hyper-restrictive chat filter), and general player-created annoyance you can imagine. I saw servers that seemed to have more bots and gold spammers than actual players. I watched the rise of a system for stopping gold sellers and scams by forcing trades to be balanced (through dynamic price fixing), and its fall due to constant complains and protests from players, and predicted the subsequent influx of bots and spammers (personally, I preferred the price fixing). I was even a player moderator–a player hand-picked by the game’s developers to have high priority rule breaking reports, as well as the ability to mute players who are spamming or otherwise abusing chat–with all of the privileges and abuse that come with that (mostly abuse; being a “game cop” isn’t as glorious as some people seemed to think). I stuck with RuneScape when all of my friends jumped ship and played WoW, then came back, whined about how it wasn’t WoW, then went back to WoW again.

The point is, RuneScape isn’t exactly known for its exemplary community. Yet it’s the only game I’ve played where I actually felt like I made friends who I’ve never met in real life. RuneScape is unlike most modern MMOs in that it’s pretty hands-free game; combat, crafting, and movement are all mouse-driven, and the gameplay is pretty much nothing but grinding. This frees up players to chat with people who are in the same area killing stuff, fishing, mining, or whatever. Given that the average age of the players of RuneScape was, at the time, probably somewhere around junior high, you can imagine that this sometimes lead to some rather… interesting topics of conversation. But the point is it actually lead to conversation. It blows my mind to think about the fact that I had more conversations in “say” chat (unless you sent a direct message to someone on your friends list, you could only talk to people you could see, and the game’s draw distance was atrocious) than I ever do now in zone chat, or even guild chat in some games. When you found someone who wasn’t a total jerk, you bonded a little. RuneScape had a somewhat unusual user culture in that it was commonplace to add anyone you had a civil conversation with to your friends list. If you didn’t have your 200 friends list slots filled (and a few ignore slots) by level 50 you were probably a social recluse. People would strike up conversations in private messages, be it about the game or something outside of it.

I’ve often wondered what exactly made RuneScape’s community feel different from that of games I played later. First and foremost I think it’s because of the aforementioned mouse-driven grindfest gameplay that frees players up to type while they play. Also, the fact that there were no guilds in the game (well, people grouped up in “clans,” but there was no official system for it back then, and you technically weren’t allowed to tell anyone to go to any website that wasn’t run by Jagex), so a lot of the social dynamics were person-to-person instead of a group. It also probably helped that, with the MMO market being dominated by subscription-only games, players tended to stick with one game at a time a lot more back then. Most of all, however, I think it was just a very different time in the Internet’s history; people still hung out in chatrooms for goodness sake. The MMO genre was still in its infancy, and people were still figuring out the social dynamics of communicating and cooperating with people from all over the world. Come to think of it, people I know who played older games like Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, and City of Heroes had similar experiences, so I think the different Internet culture had a lot to do with it. Games have gotten more engaging since then, but are we really better off? I’m not sure.

Anyways, thanks for letting me vent some of my gaming nostalgia.


One thought on “RuneScape: The Best Awful Community Ever

  1. I wonder as well if it’s a good that that games are more engaging, and take more attention now. Seems like when we were more free within rote activities and long down times that the social elements seemed to flow from that

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