Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."
The Second Coming -- William Butler Yeats
In the dark of the basement, blue screens shadow the room with cold, cold light. Sound echoes off the concrete floor. The vast wasteland of game hours remain a solitary excursion into other worlds.
But the silver cord is ambrosia and jacob's ladder both. It runs from machine to router, to yellow cord, to the mysterious black box which massages the spirit with arcane incantations before passing it to the white plate on the wall. From there, more strange than alchemy, it becomes spiritus mundi.
And then I'm not alone.
It's some months after 9/11, perhaps nearly a year. I have become insular. I have fled the city with wife and family. I work from home. I have family and friends and fresh air and trees.
I am a beta tester for Star Wars Galaxies. It is a beta I begged my way into, cajoling every member of the industry with whom I had any contact. Eventually I hit paydirt.
I arrive in the desert, confused. I go walkabout. I fight. I break up a quaint imperial guardpost. I need rest, so I wander aimlessly, looking for a likely spot. The sun is setting over the dunes. The music speaks directly to the lizard part of my brain that embraces stimulus, bypassing conscious distraction, and lulling me into a sense of warm nostalgia. I see a man sitting by a fire. He invites me to sit down.
I tell the story of my first day. He tells me stories of his weeks.
We become friends. Time passes. I grow stronger.
Word spreads that one of the original family members, Nathan Larkins aka Moraj, has died in a car crash. I don't know him. I don't think I've ever met him in-world. But my friend does, and again, on a different night, in a different place, we sit by a campfire and tell stories. Some time later, the developers plant a flag in his honor near the original spawn point. I visit it alone one night. I feel scooped out clean like a Halloween pumpkin--glowing orange but empty, waxy and false.
As a group, as a community, we love the world. Our complaints to the gods are only ever offered out of an unjustifiable love for the mystery that Star Wars has left in our brains as children of the '60s (perhaps the 70s). We want it to be perfect. We want it to reflect the visions in our heads. Oddly, as the legion of citizens expands, the community grows even closer. There is a sense that anyone you meet is connected. If they are lost, you lead them. If they are in trouble, you come to their aid. If they need an ear, you listen.
It's June of 2003, the game is about to go retail, and thus, the beta has to end. Word spreads that there will be (as there usually is) an end-of-beta celebration. It is, fittingly, to be at Moraj's memorial. That same flag out in the barrens where I'd spent 10 minutes of disconnected reflection. An otherwise empty location, it features a hill on which one can sit and watch the sunset.
So we sit there, my friends and I, quiet witnesses to the end of the world. One by one, people join us. One by one, they sit on the hill. We set off fireworks. People dance and play music. There are duels. But mostly, there are stories. At some point in the evening, I weep. No, not for this faceless stranger who'd shared this new world, but for the emptiness that I know the next morning would bring.
I will buy retail, play for a few months. But the world will become sprawling, crowded, and insane. The initial self-satisfied ego of helping newbies will wear off, and I will move on. So will most of us. The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The genesis of worlds is different than meatspace. A new world is small. The inhabitants are there not by chance, war lust or greed, but out of love. Those early pilgrims, Adams and Eves all, endure hardship, experience the first fruit of the tree, and become family.
I never met a single person from that genesis again. There's not one I still play with online today. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. At the time, they were as close to me as any family. And with a moment's inattention, they were gone.