Looking back

I first stood in front of the Raging Thrak Inn when I was twelve. The game was still called Gemstone III, and no one in the house was allowed to use the phone when I played, lest I get “booted.” I was a different character then. I quit playing when I was fourteen, then joined again in my mid-twenties. Things change in a decade. The inn hasn’t changed much, which is a comfort.

I stumbled upon Gemstone III while exploring AOL’s games section. That was back in the days when AOL presented their online content in curated sections, only one of which was labeled the “world wide web.” Take a drive on that information superhighway, and it was nothing but GeoCities and Angelfire pages for miles. At least it seemed that way. I didn’t much care for it.

Games I could always get behind, though, and soon enough I found myself in Gemstone’s character creator. After getting over the initial shock of seeing nothing but scrolling text on my screen (this was a video game?), I chose my race, profession, physical characteristics, and name. I also placed a limited number of training points into various stats and skills without having any idea of what I was doing. Soon enough, I was thrust into the high fantasy world of Elanthia, dressed in rags and standing in an alley in a frontier town called Wehnimer’s Landing.

Eventually I made my way to the town square, which was buzzing with activity. There were other people here, real people, and they were healing each other, raising the dead, pickpocketing, talking, laughing, passing through. The text scrolling by so quickly was dizzying.

TSC

Town Square Central remains a hub of activity today. There’s no better place to drag a dead body, I can tell you that much. It’s still the best place to find both a healer and a cleric on short notice.

Here in Gemstone IV, I step into the Raging Thrak Inn’s barroom, then move west to the trophy room. With some trepidation, I move behind a non-descript thrak hide curtain.

Thank the Arkati he’s still here.

A thrak is a monster in the game, but the Raging Thrak is a human warrior gone to seed, and if a young player seeks him out, both experience and wisdom can be gained from the meeting.

He surprises me by launching into his spiel:

“Well, now,” he starts off, “it seems we have another fresh young face right off the turnip farms come to town to be a hero. Bein’ a hero ain’t all it’s cracked up to be some days, but most of the time it’s pretty excitin’. Now, listen up and I’ll give ya the benefit of my many years of wisdom, gleaned from the farthest corners of the lands and the brightest and best of the heroes of the past.”

I’m level 17, three trains away from titling. I’m a long way from the turnip farms, Mr. Thrak, sir. Nonetheless, I sit and listen to his advice, for nostalgia’s sake. Except I’m fairly sure you can’t have this meeting more than once. It’s a tutorial for new players. Thrak gives several paragraphs of information on game mechanics and etiquette, and quizzes you afterwards. You gain a modest amount of experience points if answer the questions correctly. Could it be I never visited the Thrak with my current character?

Sure enough, here’s the test. I pass with flying colors.

level up

Ha! Level 18! So I suppose I didn’t come to see him this time. I laugh, in real life and in the game, like this:

>laugh
You laugh out loud!
>

I get a little misty in real life. I play it cool in the game.

It’s strange, the things that cause you to look back. Listening to the old warrior tell me to avoid using all caps or multiple exclamation marks when speaking to other players sends me shooting back through time to the age of wearing cutoffs, and climbing trees, and otter pops, and riding bikes. An age of cops and robbers, and my neighbor’s swing set, and my other neighbor’s friendly mutt dog.

An age where this:

>

Meant “What’s next?”

The age of my first MUD. My first RPG, for that matter. My first, but certainly not last, text-based game. Perhaps my first experience feeling emotion while playing a video game. Perhaps Gemstone is a reason I write about video games. Strike that “perhaps.” It’s most definitely a reason. It taught me how to type, at the very least.

To say writing about video games here at The Idler was an honor and a pleasure would be an understatement. It’s only been a couple of months, but the brightest flames burn quickest, they say. Even more of a pleasure was reading the works of my fellow Idlers. I still have much of the archives to comb through. I can’t wait to look back.

But let’s all remember to look forward, too. Here, a parting gift:

>

Sara Clemens is an ad copywriter for a book publisher, so every single day she pretends she’s in an episode of Mad Men. You can follow her on twitter at @TheSaraClemens, and find all the things she’s ever written for the internet at saraclemens.com.

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