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Back in the day, MMOs were synonymous with social experiences. If you wanted to play an online game, you had to interact with that game's community, form connections, friendships, and the inevitable rivalries. Lately, however, a great deal of MMO players prefer to play them “alone together,” interacting with others only when absolutely necessary. But that's not the only way, as evident by this PC Gamer article penned by Alyssa Schnugg, a journalist, grandmother, and a veteran Ultima Online guildmaster. A few sniipets:
I'm a 50-year-old grandmother of five and an award-winning journalist with a respectable job at a local newspaper. My days are spent writing stories about the town I live in, telling people what their local government is up to or who was arrested the night before. My PC is nine years old and runs Windows Vista in the corner of my living room. Nothing about me says "gamer," but every night I sit at my computer, boot up the classic version of Ultima Online, and my second job begins.
A life in Sosaria
In 1998, my son was 11 years old and attending an after-school program run by the local police department. The internet was new but becoming a common feature in most homes. One day he came home and asked if I could buy him a new computer game that the police officers showed him and played themselves. After spending $30 on the game and agreeing to a $12 a month subscription fee, my son started playing UO. He spent most of the next year trying to convince me to “make a character."
My experience with games at this point was going to arcades as a teen and playing Tetris, but I had to admit it looked fun. UO wasn't like other games I'd seen. There was no ending, no final monster to beat. You could be a warrior or a mage. You could be a tailor or a blacksmith or a tamer of beasts and drag around big dragons to help slay monsters. You could have a home to decorate.
What really caught my attention was that you didn't play alone. People from all over the world were playing UO. By 1998, it had more than 100,000 subscribers. I caved and made a character called Temptress Lydia. She was to be a great swordswoman. I soon joined a guild and made friends from around the country and beyond.
Being a single mother of three children at the time, I was lonely. UO gave me a social life, allowing me to have adult interaction at home while my babies slept.
The life of a guildmaster
A couple nights a week, I play very little and instead spend time reaching out to players who want to join the guild, answering their questions and explain my expectations from guild members—no killing, stealing or griefing of any fellow guildie; be respectful; and have fun. I keep a Google spreadsheet of all members, their Discord names and when they joined. I plan events for the guild, from group hunts to tournaments to in-game social gatherings.
I'm a mother, doctor, therapist and friend. I've had members tell me things in confidence that they've never told anyone else. I've have members who struggle with depression, alcoholism and drug abuse. I've had female members who deal with sexual harassment by male players. I've had husbands ask me how to save their marriage. I usually tell them to stop playing so much UO.
I've had members send me flowers when I was sick and cookies at Christmas time. When one member was sick, others sent him money to help pay medical bills.
I deal with members fighting and drama—oh my, the drama gamers can whip up. I've seen marriages bloom from relationships that started in the game and I've seen marriages fall apart. I've sat in voice chat trying to comfort a man who lost two sons to suicide in the same year.
My guild members are fathers, mothers, grandparents and in a few cases, college students who started playing Ultima Online Forever because they remembered their fathers playing it when they were young. We have members who are IT techs, doctors, lawyers and pizza delivery drivers. Some live in the U.S. Others live in the Philippines, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Russia, and France.
At least once a week, I hear the chime of Discord going off in the middle of the night from a member needing to have a character guilded, asking a question about whether being a bard is profitable, or simply saying hello.
One night, a member had an argument with a guildmate and at 3 a.m., I heard rapid bleeps coming from Discord. I read the messages, got out of bed and lectured the guild on respecting the fact that some people had jobs and needed rest and to handle their issues like adults. I was jokingly called “Mama Skye” for quite some time afterward.
A new role playing guild called The Knights started playing on UOF a couple of years ago and for some reason decided my character should be Queen, and every time I see them in game I’m called “Your Majesty” or “My Queen.” I still blush a little.
I wake up each morning and before I check email, I check Discord and tell everyone good morning. I then go to work and continue to chat with my guild members throughout the day. I come home, and by 7 p.m., I’m back on the game, working my second job. Recently, the creator of Ultima Online, Richard Garriott, visited UOF and I found myself in the game, side-by-side slaying monsters with the man who made the game that has made such a profound impact on my life.