City of Heroes: The death of an MMO

I hadn’t been to the city in a while but I was half expecting a ghost town.  The end was certain and so I figured the sane people would’ve packed up and moved on.  Instead I found large groups of people, soon to include myself, huddled around and talking about good times had by all.  I wouldn’t call it bravery per se.  More of a hopeful desperation that can only occur in a city of heroes on it’s last night of existence.  We had beat back countless alien invasions, we had carried on in the footsteps of our fallen leaders, we had lol’ed in the faces of defeated clowns, witches, and giants.  Of course, we did this all on our computers.

2012-12-01 00:08:10For the uninitiated, here’s the story. City of Heroes, a MMO (massive multiplayer online) game that has been around for 8 years shut down on Nov. 30.  Although the game remained fairly popular the parent company, NC soft, announced the closing three months out according to “a realignment of company focus”.  As a writer, I of course saw an opportunity for a good article.  I’ve run into my share of nuts in Paragon City throughout the years and so I could imagine the hoarder-level desperation I would find in the last hours of a game that some people have spent hours-a-day for years on.  One of the first people I talked to said this word for word, “It’s a sad day, I worked my ass off to get my SG (super group) to number one.  This year was different because of my pregnancy so it’s good I have a baby to be busy with.”  Ya, you’ve lost your super group but you’ve gained a baby so even-Steven.

Now, I could have cherry picked people and quotes like that and wrote a dark human nature story filled with obsession, depression, and depravity.  After all, people love that shit.  But, the more I interviewed people the more it became clear to me that this wasn’t the real story.  I guess I knew that going in since the people I talked to reflected my own experience in City of Heroes.  So, even though it might be a bit less dramatic I have to tell the real story of the heroes of Paragon City.

I interviewed quite a few people of all different ages and backgrounds which is accurately representative of the regular gaming population on City of Heroes.  I’ve learned a lot of words in other languages playing over the years because of the diverse community.  I’ve teamed up with grandmother’s and teenagers while I was somewhere in the middle (started just after the game came out in my early 20′s).  The cool thing that happened while doing interviews was that I got to talk to some people who had started very young and were now young adults and so could talk about growing up with the game.  Here are some of the things they had to say about that experience:

“AP (Atlas Park, the main ‘hangout’ zone in City of heroes) was sort of my high school experience, sadly. High school was not unusual for me in any way, and people always have these crazy stories about that time in their life.  I had none, I did my work, went home, worked on films and music.  So this game was really that place where I could relax and have fun.”

“I play everyday, this game has been a part of my life since I was 13 and I’m 19 now.  This game is a big part of my life.  If I had a choice this game wouldn’t end and I would play all the time because I like talking to all the nice people.”

I’ve played a lot with both these people along with other young people like them and they were maybe some of the ones I was expecting to have a hard time with the game shutting down.  And in truth, they both expressed sadness but it was more about the friends they had made than it was about some addiction.  They used the same terms to describe the game that some older people did, it was like a family.  Speaking of the older people, I talked to a couple very active gamers about what made City of Heroes a unique experience.  This is what they had to say:

Ariel’ – Guardian server’s favorite Pixie

“The family feeling comes from how the game was setup.  It is more co-operative than other games.  Gone are the worries of loot and gear.  Playing as heroes may be a factor as well.  CoH has always been a place where I could help others and feel better doing so.  I hope that makes sense.  Ariel’ sprinkles pixie dust on everyone as she leaves (something she was well known for).”

Unstable Ion – Guardian server

“I like this place a lot.  Love it, maybe.  It was like a family.  There was always someone to talk to, someone to listen to.  And its been around long enough where we all grew with it, changed with it.  My family went through a divorce, I learned to drive, had sex, broke up, graduated twice, all while this was still here for me.  Pretty crazy to think about it.  I’m going to miss it.”

It was really after talking to these two, who are more my age and who I remembered from the beginning, that I knew what the story was.  I hadn’t been back to the game for a long time and only came to try and get the story.  But once there I saw my global friends list light up and found myself talking to people like I rarely do in the outside world.  Joe Rogan, comedian/MMA announcer/all-around inspirational speaker, always says some version of “be the hero in your own life story.”  For a lot of us that can be difficult, we can get caught up in the way we look, the way we were raised or treated by peers when we were young, etc. But, when we went to the City of Heroes we were literally the heroes in our own stories.  Even if only in a game.

I saw names on my global list that I really wanted to light up so I could talk to people that I hadn’t seen in forever.  Names like “dragon canadian”.  DC, as we called him, was the first level 50 (highest level) person I met when I was a noob.  He was standing in AP looking all shiny and I asked him for help with something.  He took me all over the city and pretty much explained the whole game to me.  Before the transportation system went through a series of upgrades to make travelling around the different zones much easier high level players like DC would actually teleport low level players across zones so they wouldn’t die.

I think, as people that I interviewed said, that it’s unique to have such a helpful community in a game.  I think that spirit of helpfulness that permeated through Paragon City is what made it emotional for many to say goodbye.

One of the young people I talked to told me in a private message that her and her mom were crying together towards the end and one could conclude something like “wow, these people are seriously addicted”.  But that doesn’t hold up if you knew them.  They were nice people, a family that had been through some hard times but stuck together.  A lot of their time was spent on this game, but they were always together and had a lot of friends.  It’s not people stuck in another reality, it’s just reality.  It’s on a computer but so is skype and email and other forms of communication that most of us use in our personal and working lives.  Sure, you throw in some tights and super powers and you may have hit some grey area of social activity but personalities still show through, at least they did in the city of heroes.

2012-12-01 00:56:25

So as we all stood there on the steps of city hall in a pixelized vigil to mythical fallen heroes and the battles we had all shared I couldn’t help but feel connected to everyone.  It wasn’t a bunch of ultra nerdy people in basements feeling the utter desperation of their fragile alter-egos being ripped away.  It wasn’t suicidal cries from mixed up and alone outcasts that technology had taken hold of.  In the last moments, before the screen froze for the last time, people were saying “I love you all” and cracking inside jokes that only we would understand.  I was laughing at the end.  And I imagine for most of the folks I met over the years, and the few that I interviewed in the last two day, it wasn’t that hard to say, “it’s just a game” when it was all said and done.  Heroes have always lived on past mortal endings.  I don’t see these heroes being any different.

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3 thoughts on “City of Heroes: The death of an MMO

  1. Great article. I’ve only been playing for just under 2 years, and was just starting to get involved with the community when NCSOFT announced they were going to be swinging the axe.

    As an Alt Addict (person who continually created new characters for those who don’t know the term) I didn’t get to know anyone really well, but enjoyed every minute I spent teaming up with others, be it radio missions, the one Task Force I joined (thanks, Final Furry,) or even just going on one of the many Death From Below runs I went on.

  2. Pingback: Rebel Gaming

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