a.k.a “Tag, You’re It!”
A couple months ago, I received an email about Yahoo Groups shutting down after 20 years. Boy, does that take me back. I don’t even have my Yahoo or Hotmail email addresses anymore. I had rejoined some writing groups via Yahoo Groups within the last eight years, or so, using my Gmail account, but seeing that email was like hopping in the Delorean and punching it to 88.
I heard once more the melodic bleep blorps of dial up connections. Desktop computers weighed as heavy as the buyer’s remorse from Black Friday impulse purchases.
It was a time when you were filled with excitement at the “uh oh” notification in ICQ. All the cool kids hung out on Friendster before MySpace came in to dominate. The moments of reprieve came when the dial up connection was lost–or someone had to use the landline. Ahem… for those who don’t know, read the definition of ‘landline’ here. (Also known as the “I got it. I said I. Got. It. You can hang up now… I can still hear you breathing Carl! Hang up! Mom/Dad, he won’t hang up! Just a second, Becky, I gotta go maim my brother first.” device). Anyhoo, it gave you the chance to rest your eyes from the visual assault of electric blue text against pink background GeoCities websites.
A bygone era, indeed.
You may be wondering why an email has caused me to wax nostalgic for online life many, many moons ago? I’ll tell ya. Online roleplaying games.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever participated in this collaborative affair. I’m not talking about the Massively multiplayer online role-playing games that are dominating the interwebs today. MMORPGs are to the more basic online RPGs as the Borg are to Humanoids. The online RPGs I’m referring to used little to no graphics (reserved mostly to the group web page, or Yahoo Group) and we, the faithful participants, used our words to drive the story forward.
Today, I’m taking a stroll down memory lane to recount my experience with these online RPGs and how it helped transform and evolve my writing and online presence.
My first foray into the online RPGing world involved storyline mashups within the Yahoo Groups. You had to audition for the role by writing a scene. Some crossover RPGs had everything from from Buffy the Vampire Slayer notables interacting with the characters from CSI: NY. You could play someone from Smallville playing opposite people from Charmed or The Office. It was glorious.
My regularly “played” characters were: Buffy, Spike, Angel, Xander, Clem, Lorne, Chloe Sullivan, CSI Flack, Dwight, Jim, Wyatt, and Piper among others. I was commended for the scenes reading like they were watching an actual episode. I was told that I nailed the dialogue and I even included song lyrics to add to the ambience of the scene. This was fans’ way of expressing how they wanted a series to continue when the show was cut short before its time.
In this type of game, you’d write your part and then end it with <tag>. Depending on the character(s) you were interacting with, you’d tag them and have intriguing subject lines to create a thread at that location. Some RPGs were very simple in nature while others had elaborate rules and infrastructure. It was technically how I got my feet wet with online critiques of my writing, let alone the fact I was putting my creative writing out there for the world to see.
After a spell, I began to venture further out from shore and joined Star Trek RPGs. This was more complex than the yahoo group iterations due to the more regimented vetting system, the necessity to respect the canon more strictly, and the overall Trek universe, in general. They had a separate server where the game was hosted and you could rise in the ranks, or face a tribunal, if the scenario and your character’s actions called for it. This was certainly more involved as it meant I needed to create my own characters. I still use my Star Trek character handle to this day. Other RPGs were completely made up so original character creation was even more of a necessity.
This was where more of the writing prep overlap came into play. Character bios, descriptions, quirks, etc., were steps that some people didn’t enjoy as much as I did. You had to come up with the character’s back story and do a deep dive into their traits so you knew how to portray them within the parameters of the game. This process is similar to tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons.
I learned quickly what people liked and liked less about my writing because I got instant feedback with each tag. It also kept me on my toes because my next post was dependent on the other player’s response. There were other opportunities where I could collaborate with one or more players on a joint post so that it read more fluidly, much like a chapter of a novel.
We’re in such a visual era, we now have streaming platforms where people just watch a person play a video game. Everything’s changing so quickly. With VR gaining even more traction, there’ll be a whole new way of gaming immersion that will thrill our senses faster than you can type “a/s/l” in a chatroom text box.
I miss the games of yore. Be it online RPGs or tabletop games with friends. The collaboration and creativity was pure enjoyment and inspired what was to become this website and the future projects I’ll be sharing here hopefully in the new year.
Oh, and for those who enjoyed ICQ, it’s still alive and kickin’ online. A newer platform was released this year. You can “uh oh” to your heart’s content. And when we can safely travel using public transit again, you can be sure to annoy your neighbors on the train with the various chirps the app has to offer.
As always, stay creative, stay weird, be kind to yourself and others.
Until next time… Game on!