Varrock and roll!
Jagex’s browser-based MMORPG RuneScape is an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, and printed on the Times’ crossword page; a game so likely to have been an obsession, but so unlikely to be included on a ‘favourite games of all time’ list. When recalling the days spent roaming blocky representations of rolling hills and quaint town centres, the memory is often accompanied not by a wistful smile, but by the same whistling through the teeth employed by a mechanic looking at a particularly brutalised car.
Did I enjoy my time spent on RuneScape? Well, there certainly was a lot of it. At one point I discovered the playtime counter which Jagex helpfully included with each account. That was a harrowing day in which I not only quit RuneScape, but also suffered what may be the youngest existential crisis in human history.
My recollections of RuneScape involve, to put it bluntly, a succession of long, boring stretches of inactivity tantamount to nothing, punctuated by occasional bouts of annoyance, set to a peculiarly melancholy soundtrack of interminable clicking.That couldn’t have been the whole story, right? Despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m still clinging to the belief that neither me, nor childhood me, is, or was, a tremendous idiot. (Leaving aside the fact that I have just constructed the sentence ‘me is a tremendous idiot’.) I couldn’t have spent countless hours on something that was a bit, for want of a better word, crap. I haven’t watched Casablanca, haven’t read War and Peace, haven’t climbed Kilamanjaro – not that I particularly want to but you get the point – and yet, I’ve sunk a number of hours I don’t feel comfortable divulging in a game I’m not sure I even liked.
That’s how this article came to be; it was born out of a desperate need to discover why RuneScape was good. If I were to die and, as part of one of God’s cruel tricks, I only flashed through the portions of my life in which I was playing RuneScape, it pains me to think of what I’d see.
There’d be a lot of myself casting a net into a blue, featureless expanse in a vague facsimile of fishing; a terrifying amount of ghoulish loitering around the wilderness in the hopes of snaffling a stack of monkfish or a full rune helmet; the screen filled with plaintive wibbly-wobbly cyan cries of “~lobbies for sale~” or “~need some lobbies~” or “~want GF, meet Falador for marry~”.
What brought me there in the first place? It was free, which was a good start for a kid whose closest thing to an income was the lollipops handed out on semi-regular trips to the dentist. It was also played entirely in a web browser, which was where you previously had Bebo, MySpace and absolutely nothing else.Why did I stay? What was it that, having been teleported to Lumbridge after a functional, if underwhelming, excursion to Tutorial Island, led me to explore every inch of Jagex’s world – free-to-play and pay-to-play segments to boot?
I have some theories. (For any disgruntled RuneScape fans present, this is the part where I stop bad-mouthing a game in an article with a misleading positive headline!)
Firstly, some kind words about the community. It was a mixed bag, like all online games, but I still remember a generally inclusive attitude. I mean there was one time I was lured into a church by a couple of ne’er-do-wells, told to drink of the forbidden Wine of Zamorak on the altar, and was subsequently clubbed to death by a dozen angry monks as the assailants shut the door and watched from outside. I vowed from that day on to treat everyone I meet with healthy suspicion and to never steal alcohol from a monk. Regardless, the majority of people seemed to be reasonable enough. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s a start. Secondly…
Right, well, okay, perhaps RuneScape is just one of those things that is more of an abstract concoction of goodness; a rich interwoven tapestry, as opposed to a clip show of great moments. Yeah?
Yeah…So RuneScape was a bit crap, really. But is there anything really wrong with a bit crap? No, stay with me on this one.
I’m from an English seaside town; our entire economy is built on ‘a bit crap’. Those two-pence coin pushers, sticks of rock, and an amount of postcards which is single-handedly keeping the Royal Mail in business. All endearing, and all absolute rubbish. If you’re not from the U.K and none of that made any sense, or if you are from the U.K but that was too English to take seriously, it doesn’t matter because the point is universal.
RuneScape is a kitsch treasure. It grows spectacular with the blossom of its imperfections, and dazzles with the light of its mediocrity. As kids, we’re all taught to be the very best we can be; RuneScape teaches us that, sometimes, it’s okay to settle for less. And for that, I love it.
Yes, that’s where the article ends. Please don’t sue me, Jagex.