I remember the first time I played Demon Souls, the precursor to the critically acclaimed Dark Souls. Who could forget dying in a tutorial? Or missing your bloodstain by mere inches? Or maybe taking on a boss with only a club and a loincloth? These mechanics are now commonplace in the genre, but experiencing it all for the first time was truly something special, and something that we gamers crave.
But I also remember watching the online community of Demon Souls slowly wither away.
There is a tragic element in seeing a video game die. As gamers, we live in an apparent utopia, where the things that bring us joy have unlimited replayability. If we want to save Princess Peach one more time, we can. If we want to re-experience an epic boss fight with Ares, we do so. Every game, no matter how short, can be replayed until the end of time. This doesn’t apply to online servers though.
When servers die, we are reminded that games are an art form, and like all art forms, video games are fleeting. One day, maybe a year from now, or maybe 40 years from now, Blizzard Entertainment will shut down all World of Warcraft (WoW) servers. It is unfortunate as it is inevitable. A game that has brought countless hours of joy to players all over the world will no longer exist. Never again will players be able to fight for the Horde or the Alliance; the battle will have ended, the soldiers will go home, and a beautiful piece of art will vanish. Though WoW shows little signs of stopping, it is a reminder that even the biggest giants will one day fall, and when they do so, the crater they leave is earth-shattering. Browsing the servers of a once popular game is like taking a trek through a post-apocalyptic city. You only see small pockets of life among a sea of emptiness. Survivors are filled with dread, knowing that their time is limited; that soon the announcement will come, and their favorite game will no longer exist.
But some games refuse to die, and some rise from the ashes like the Phoenix.
Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings(AoE2) was released in 1999, to much critical acclaim and its expansion The Conquerors is considered one of the best strategy games of all time, rivaling the likes of Starcraft and Civilization. But despite all of its success and mass player base, AoE2 was at one point dead. The popular servers at “MSN Gaming Zone” had closed down and players could no longer lead their civilization to victory. Amazingly though, new sites like “Voobly” and “GameRanger” sprung up, which offered players the chance to relive the epic battles they had fought at “MSN Gaming Zone.” Additionally, the release of Age of Empires HD on Steam further brought AoE2 back from the dead. New expansions (some of them featuring fan content) with their success, proclaimed to the world that AoE2 will continue to fight on and will do so for the foreseeable future.
AoE2’s revival offers hope to other gaming companies like Jagex, known for their MMORPG RuneScape. There is no doubt that Runescape has lost massive amounts of players, but with the launch of Old School Runescape and a developing mobile app, it is starting to regain some of its former glory. The ability to reclaim old players with its nostalgia and gain newer players with exciting new player-voted content is keeping this MMORPG alive.
Unfortunately, these phoenix-like games are increasingly rare. We have to come to terms with the fact that Half-Life 3 will never be released, and that yes, Paragon is gone forever. It hurts, and it contradicts the inherent replayability of games, but all good things must come to an end. We must appreciate the moments we have with games, whether you game as a hobby, with friends, or professionally; take a moment to realize that the game you are playing right now will one day be gone, but in this exact moment, you are enjoying your time with it.
And that is all that matters for now.