“Well met, gaming travellers! I’ve been expecting you. When you’ve worn the red robes of a Game Master, you learn to sense the needs of players. You yearn to learn more of a simpler time, when MMOs were defined by two dimensions. A time when playing online meant playing Ultima Online.
I can transport us back into that realm borne of the imagination of Garriott, if your will is strong enough. Hold the number 1997 in your minds. A year when Hanson sang “MMMbop” while astronomers watched Hale Bopp. A year when Clinton tripped and injured his knee while the first all-woman team walked proudly to the North Pole.
It’s working! Quick, follow me over the jump into the time portal!”
I Like The Night Life
Being a professional demi-god was no different than any other job. Those new to the team had to pay their dues. In my case, this meant working the graveyard shift.
There’s just something about the late night hours that brings out the crazy in everyone. From players to co-workers, there was always something interesting or frightening going on. Sometimes that was in the game, other times it was one computer over.
Just like in real life, the criminals and bad seeds come out in greater numbers in the wee hours. With a smaller staff of vengeful deities present to punish the wicked, players felt freer to behave how they chose. Not coincidentally, this is when we figured out most of the player exploits and game bugs, since players were less careful about milking loopholes in the code during these hours.
If you talk to any law enforcement or hospital staffer who has been at their job for a while, they will tell you that full moon nights are the worst to work. This was no different on Ultima Online. The worst cheaters, racists, and griefer would always surface to ply their trade on these nights. It was always a challenge to keep order in the shard at these times.
Even the players who weren’t actively breaking the Terms of Service just seemed to get… creepier.
There was the role-playing fanatic who refused to break character, even to discuss technical issues. Now, I’m an old-school tabletop gamer, so I love to see role-playing well executed by a player in any game, but not to the point of obtuseness. Here’s a snippet I found infuriating at the time, but now I look back on it and laugh.
GM Backlash : Greetings!
Overzealous Role-Player : Praise be! Welcome to you, mighty spirit guardian of Britannia!
GM Backlash : Hello. You’re having difficulties with getting your skills to advance properly?
Overzealous Role-Player : Your mode of speech is strange to me, O Great One, forgive me. I cannot comprehend the greatness of your thoughts!
There was a long pause where we just sat there, but I finally decided to play along so that I could move on to the next call.
GM Backlash : Very well, mortal. I sense you find your quest for progress blocked by some unseen force. Is this true?
Overzealous Role-Player : Indeed, mighty Backlash!
GM Backlash: A troublesome quandary indeed. But not beyond my powers to remedy. Tell me, mortal, have you tried re-booting?
Overzealous Role-Player : You speak in riddles, O powerful one. Most humble apologies, but I fail to see how the removal and replacing of my footwear will help me to become more powerful.
Now, ordinarily I would have thought that that statement was a brilliant pun trolling and had a good laugh. But I had discovered over many interactions with this guy that he was dead serious. He expected me to come up with a suitable metaphor in archaic English for every step of the troubleshooting process. With so many pages in my help queue, I simply didn’t have time for that.
GM Backlash : It is indeed a riddle, mortal. A riddle to test your worthiness. And lest you are able to answer it to mine satisfaction, your prayers shall go unanswered. Farewell.
Within the hallowed halls of Origin Systems, working as a Game Master was an experience that kept you on your toes. You never knew what each shift was going to bring.
It was impossible to tell when a team of programmers or devs working late was going to uncase their infamous stockpile of Nerf weapons. Every so often, a squad of 3-5 people would sneak into our area equipped to the hilt with launchers and ammo. It was hard to get mad about being ambushed when they were repeatedly yelling “FIREBALL!” in the nerdiest voices possible while attacking.
Then there was my creepy co-worker who thought it was kosher to research the latest in sex-doll technology whenever there was a lull in his help queue. There are things I have seen that no man should be exposed to involuntarily. I learned quickly to ask other GMs my questions, as the worst you’d usually see on their desktops was Tetris.
The worst part about the graveyard shift was leaving work to go home at 7 am. Most gamers know what it’s like to stay up until the morning playing a game, but not many have to sit in traffic right afterwards. It’s a surreal experience that makes you feel like you’re somehow out of touch with the rest of the world.
It’s hilarious to see the faces of sharply dressed commuters judgmentally staring at you like you’ve been doing heroin in a sewage outflow pipe all night. I never took it personally, because after 10 hours of drinking Jolt Cola and staring into a screen, that’s exactly how I looked. Such is the price of power.
It’s What Bwings Us Togevha, Twoday.
Out of all the different functions I performed as a Game Master, one of the most entertaining and rewarding were the times when I bound together two digital souls in virtual matrimony. My position as both the physical authority and “religious” figurehead on my shards meant that I would occasionally receive a request to act as the officiant in an online marriage. I presided over 5-10 such unions in my short tenure as a GM.
The few straightforward requests were always very cute. Watching people deliver handwritten vows, even with the context of the fake fantasy world, was always a touching experience for a hopeless romantic such as myself.
I even had one couple who went out of their way to bring me an offering; I received a bag with a thank you note and one of every magical reagent in the game. They also provided an in-game book where they wrote out their entire ceremony, my lines, their vows, even the readings they had planned for their friends to deliver.
The main reason to have a GM officiate your wedding in-game, however, was not for role-playing effect or ambiance. In the wild west that was Ultima Online, pulling off a successful wedding event meant having someone with a god client present for griefer suppression and crowd control.
Streakers were a given at most weddings. Players just couldn’t resist stripping down to their loin-cloths and running back and forth through the crowds babbling random stuff in ALL CAPS. Player-killers often planned raids for wedding events, particularly when guild rivalries were involved. I was often forced to temporarily jail players just to finish a ceremony.
I also learned very quickly to skip the traditional “If anyone knows of a reason why these two should not be joined, speak now or forever hold your peace” section. That was just asking for trouble.
The most disastrous wedding I ever presided over was also the most hilarious. Two players had been cultivating a virtual romance for months on one of the shards, but the female character had been hiding a dark secret. They went through the entire ceremony, and when I finally pronounced them man and wife, the female character revealed in front of over 50 players that she was actually a man.
The husband was naturally outraged, demanding I annul the wedding immediately. I felt bad for the guy, but I couldn’t help falling out laughing at my computer as the “wife” paraded back and forth shouting “NO PRE-NUP! I GET HALF!”.
Such was the life of a demi-god in Ultima Online: never a dull moment.
If you missed out on previous installments of this series, you can catch up by using the links below!