Time to say goodbye…
Wow. This week we listened to the 99% Invisible podcast about the end of EA Land, Game Over. I was blown away by the emotions that poured out of the users over this game drawing to a close. Blown away, but not surprised. Yes, this is an online community, and some people may argue it was “just a game,” but since it was such a hugely social space, losing it must have felt like losing all of your friends. Watching the farewell video and listening to the very emotional response of the DJ made me really feel for them. I personally do not have an online experience like that which I can compare to this group of people, but I can certainly try to imagine what it must feel like. It must be heartbreaking. After years of socializing in this space, growing attached and making connections, to have it taken away must be awful. (I don’t know if any of you have read the Esther Earl biography, This Star Won’t Go Out, but this online community sort of reminded me of the group she was involved with, Catitude, which was entirely online but also extremely close.)
When I was listening to the DJ talking about his experience and playing “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, I’m not going to lie, I was definitely tearing up. I can’t help it!!! Hah, I’m definitely too empathetic for my own good.
Also, I remember when the whole Sims Online thing started. At the time I loved the games but was not allowed to play the online version because my parents were worried about online predators and whatnot (I believe it started in 2002… I would have still been in middle school). I have always wanted to be a part of something big like this online, because I think being able to share a space, make connections, and build lasting friendships would be amazing. I’ve just never actually done it…
Honestly, when something like this happens, I think the game makers are responsible for explaining why this is happening and making the announcement early enough for users to feel like they have adequate time to say goodbye and make peace with their time drawing to a close. Especially in a situation where a game is predominately social: it’s not something they should be allowed to just rip away from users. If they let them know early enough, the users are able to swap contact information and look for somewhere else online to hang out. At the same time, if it’s not making the money it needs to sustain itself, I can understand why they would close it down.
As I was listening to the podcast, I realized that this reminded me of when television shows with major fandoms get cancelled or end. It’s a little different, because it’s not a game, and it’s not something you are using each night to talk to others, but at the same time, it kind of is, in a different way. Hardcore fandom-ers are the ones who are logging on to forums and fanfiction sites and truly immersing themselves into the world of the fandom. And they’re the ones anxiously awaiting the next episode so they can call their friends or log onto online discussion forums as soon as it ends and debate and socialize with all the others who are out there fangirling (or fanboying) over the show.
When something ends (I’m looking at you Joss), the fan response is outrageous in how wholeheartedly people stand behind something. So while this podcast focused on the Sims, and the game, I don’t think it is a unique reaction. Yes, the Sims is a game, and what I am talking about are television shows or book series, but it has the same open-ended concept (to an extent). I think in its own way, this group of people became their own little fandom: they were completely immersed in a world outside of their own, they were connecting with others with the same shared interest, and they were taking part in a larger story. If that doesn’t sound like a fandom, I don’t know what does.