(Too Long, Don't Want to Read : Send money to this Kickstarter, please.)
I know it will sound just a little crazy to say that a video game helped me become who I am. That's okay, I'm more than a little crazy, I'm happy to sound that way. When I was a young thing, my brother was a computer addict. I, too, was soon bitten by the bug. Of course, not being the hard worker my brother was and still is and being three years younger, I didn't have a computer of my own and had to bug him, as only little sisters can, to use his. First it was a Vic 20, and then it was a Commodore 64. On that C64, he played CRPGs; computer role-playing games.
I'd already been introduced to the world of RPGs via his gaming group who said "We need a cleric" and Dave looked at me, handed me a piece of paper and said "When we say heal, heal." and I said "Okay!" The magic, at first, was being included with my cool brother and his awesome older friends. I was getting to play a "grown up" game at the grand age of 11. However, as the Game Master (Gordon Westbroeke) described this world and what was happening (Mostly my brother and his friend Chris having a complex duel, which I don't remember who won.) I fell in love with this concept. Here was an imaginary world (and I'd created lots in my head) that didn't require props of any sort. I could be anyone I wanted to be and I could do anything!
The problem with the computer versions of these role-playing games was that they were very linear. You went from a to b to c to d. You were this male who may or may not be a native of the world, you did magical things and heroic tasks. Don't get me wrong, they were pretty cool and I sunk many hours that I probably should have been spending on academic things on them. However, I always felt there was something a bit missing. Then my brother came home with "Ultima IV".
Not only in this game could I actually play a GIRL, I could do ANYTHING. I could go anywhere, I could kill anyone, I could save anyone. I had this huge and heroic quest to save this wonderful detailed world. I was in awe and I was in love. I don't think I ever actually finished Ultima IV myself, I watched my brother finish it a couple times, so I never sat down to go through the Abyss, etc, on my own. The only flaw with the game was you could only save on the main map, which meant once you started dungeonering you were pretty committed. And let's face it, my brother has always been a much more patient individual than I. (Some might say it was from growing up with me as a little sister.)
But the most magical thing was, you had to be a good person to win. Well, actually, you had to be an incredibly awesome person to win but that's not hugely relevant. This game came with some guidelines on how to be a good person. Be honest, be brave, be humble, be compassionate. Now, I'm not saying at the age of 11 I suddenly became the grandest person on the planet. One of my biggest problems with being an imaginative and creative kid, and later teen, was I enamoured of embellishing my life with tales of untruth, writing them in my diary as if I had this totally awesome life. This, unfortunately, developed into a person who lied about pretty much everything. I lied about who I was to even myself. It took meeting someone with the exact same qualities and a rough break-up to shake my world enough to say "Oh. I don't want to be that way." I would love to say I became a great person overnight, but alas, no, it took years upon years to get there, and it took years upon years to become the person I wanted to be. I first had to start unweaving the web of lies I'd built. Some were obvious, some were subtle and well woven, some just so well developed over time everyone just took it for granted.
Somewhere in the morass and mess that was my life at the time, I gained a copy of Ultima VII. It'd been out for a while, but Ultima VIII hadn't arrived yet. I explored every corner and inch of that world, in love with being back in Britannia and the rich, wonderful worlds Lord Britishcreates. I was also happy to be that heroic person again who goes forth and saves people, who helps people, who is noble and wonderful, and hey, a pretty hot lady in or out of her armour. I pestered and harassed the Origin team with questions, suggestions, bugs, problems. The poor people had shipped this game two years before and I'm bugging them about it? Two years is aeons in gaming time! I then opened Ultima VII part two. My biggest issue with part two was it felt like it didn't have the polish of part one, like it was 95% finished and then shipped rather than 100% finished. However, I still got to be this awesomely avatar person. (Who may have cried in real life when Dupre died.)
These games, as strange as it seems, sat in my subconscious. I didn't have a lot of problems with lying and stealing to and from those I loved growing up, I don't know why, powers know my parents tried and tried. The penny dropped, however, when I started Ultima VIII. A friend gave it to me saying the game was terrible, I could have it. I was overjoyed. I put it in, I started playing and.. Good Lord, what was this horrible thing? It was buggy, it was unfinished, storylines would just hang, the population was next to zero and I had to play Mario and jump and slash and, well, let's just say I loathed it in comparison to the other games. I finished it, I'll say that much, mostly just to get the story and say I finished it. What, I think, was lacking the most was the virtues, the lessons, this example of being a shining beacon. Somehow, everything that my parents had been trying to drill into my head, everything my friends were (I won't deny my friends were better people than I was at the time!!), sunk in. I realized, I wanted to be the Avatar. Not the sword swinging, armouring wearing avatar; I wanted to be the lady who is honest, who helps people, who can be counted on to guard your most precious possession or secret and return it to you as you gave it. I wanted to be someone who my parents could be proud of. I wanted someone my friends could say "THAT'S why we're friends with you, doofus! We knew that was underneath!"
Then I started playing Everquest (which didn't become linear, no matter what Mr Garriott says, until long after WoW came out.) I got sucked into this magical world where I got to hang out with hundreds of other people. Some of them were cool, some of them were asshats, most were in between. I eventually stumbled into a guild called "Sanctus Covenir." They'd started as an Ultima Online guild and grew into other gaming worlds. The general gist was you lived your life by the code of the Avatar. This is challenging enough in real life, its even more so in the game world where there's actually no real consequence for going through the city of Freeport and killing the guards and merchants and griefing other players.
If I hadn't had the love of Ultima, I probably wouldn't have joined Sanctus Covenir. I would have written them off, as many did, as goofy role-players on a non-role-playing server. But somewhere, Max with his polite thees and thous, with his willingness to help no matter the cost to him, Glofindle with his polite pokes in the ribs when I was being a bit of a, well, bitch, Delphinae and Thalstan with their teaching me how to play my druid with grace and patience, amongst others. There were many laughs, many long, long, long, nights in dungeons, and there was camaraderie. Unfortunately, I was getting bored with the mid-level content and wanted to raid, real raids against dragons and gods, not just dungeoneering. So, off I went to another guild that was chaos and a cess pool that I didn't swim well in, and really missed my old companions. It wasn't until I found another guild with similar principals to Sanctus Covenir and Ultima's virtues in the end gaming world, that I found another home.
When I was faced with dealing with an asshat situation, I often thought of what would the virtues have me do. I forgave people, I was honest with people even if they didn't necessarily want that honesty but had asked, I tried to be courageous when I'd rather just cower under my bed, and I tried to help people however I could. I thought about the leaders of Talaire, Max, Moonchaser, Sierrah, these people who guided with patience and respect and tried to emulate. (Though, Sierrah was pretty good at the Gibbs smack too. That taught me to hit delete rather than enter on some of my more choice observations and comments.) And even over a decade later, these people are still friends and still in my life. Its gotten to the point where I don't have to stop and think (okay, except when talking with stupid people, I still have to stop and hit delete instead of enter sometimes) "What would the Avatar do?" I just carry on with my life and I like to think I'm a good person.
Maybe I would have developed into this person anyway, maybe my parents would have managed to get sense into my head, maybe I would have found another source that made me think "Wait, is this who I want to be?" But, what it boils down to, is this series of games, and let's face it, Richard Garriott, had a huge impact on my life. And that's why this long huge ramble, to in essence say, if you have a few dollars, please throw it Kickstarter'sway, and help him bring this world of virtues back into play.