Saturday, April 26, 2014

Epitaph to Neverwinter Nights

The Internet isn't very good at keeping its own history, I guess in part it's too young to learn it needs to. But it's beginning to become apparent it should. is great and all, but it only captures a part of the Internet that was. A lot of things are fleeting, and you don't realize just how fleeting they are until they are already gone. This applies especially to communities. With regards to that, here is my testimony about a community that came and went.

It was in the early 2000s. I was a socially awkward teenager playing a game called Neverwinter Nights in my bedroom. This is not to be confused with the recently released MMORPG with the same name, or the older MMORPG with the same name. Neverwinter Nights was a computer RPG, one in a long line of attempts to bring the Dungeons and Dragons franchise to the computer. It wasn't the best in its genre by any means, but it had one feature that set it apart from anything RPG-like before or since: It was very easy for players to make content, and share content. In fact, you could build entire worlds with community created maps, quests, and rules; and keep them running on a server indefinitely, so called Persistent Worlds, or PWs for short.

Neverwinter Nights

After a while, a pretty large number of these Persistent Worlds started cropping up. Each had their own tone. Some were dedicated to non-stop hack&slash action (mimicking games like Diablo), some were absurdly hardcore RPG experiences where all experience was awarded by game-masters for role playing, rather than through game play mechanics like killing monsters. It was the sort of place where you'd get a hour long pause and discussion about what should happen when you use alcohol to numb the pain before treating a crippling 2 HP injury on a fellow player, with intense historical and contemporary medical research going on in the background...

The Goldilocks world for me was called World of Haven (WoH). It encouraged role playing, but didn't enforce it. I spent the sorts of time on this server only a teenager can afford. The hours must tally in the thousands. I played probably half a dozen or so characters, but I sank most time into an alcoholic down-on-her-luck sword master called Joanna, and a god-of-disease worshiping half-orc monk called Roshnak.

The people that frequented the server were a mixed bunch, but a decent portion of the crowd were servicemen in the US armed forces. All that aside, the player community around the PW was very close knit, yet welcoming. There was also a sense of unspoken friendship between a lot of the more active role players, that despite rarely breaking character, tended to associate with the same people.

All good things must come to an end, and Neverwinter Nights was no exception. Around 2005, the Neverwinter communities started to severely hemorrhage players. There was a new player in town, World of Warcraft, which had hit the online RPG scene like a bomb. There was a glimmer of hope in Neverwinter Nights 2, the sequel released in 2006, that it would stem the tide and save the community. Unfortunately, it didn't offer nearly the same modding capabilities as its predecessor, and this was really the final nail in the coffin. There was no resisting the new generation of MMORPGs anymore, and the community slowly ran into the sand.

There are still a very small number of servers running, but that isn't the same as saying the community still lives. It was the people that created the experience. What truly set NWN apart from the games that replaced it is that absolutely everything was community created, the maps, the quests; and most importantly all the role playing adventures were made enjoyable by the fellow players you interacted with. And sadly, almost all of the players are gone.

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