I’m finishing up City of Heroes today.

It’s my last paid subscription day, after canceling my account ahead of some disappointing game designer decisions and because I’ve really more or less run the course of what I find interesting inside the game.

I’ve played City of Heroes/Villains, off and on, for almost four years, and it has become my most contemporary and primary reference point for comment and understanding about the nature of online communities.  Most recently, I have been intrigued by the pvp community within CoH/V, and that interest has resulted in a couple of research projects and papers.  Look here to find presentations I’ve given on this topic in Tokyo and Copenhagen.

But today’s my last day.  And so I went online to play the game again a bit, to look here and there and do the things I’ve done before again, hoping perhaps to discover some final crown of meaning that might pop up to crystallize and culminate my City of Heroes game-playing experience.

There was nothing special.

I went onto the game’s test server, which is currently running the newest version of the game software — issue 13 (which helped remind me of the reasons why I have chosen to look elsewhere for examples of mmorpg play).

And I logged onto the live servers, where I have spent many hours doing this and doing that.  But not that many other players were available to play with or comment on or reflect about — until I reached my old and most favorite stomping ground of Recluse’s Victory inside the game’s east coast “Freedom” server.  Here there were a couple of villains at play.  And here once again I, as a lone hero, engaged each one in combat, with this result [as of this post, ‘Prime Opp A’ will be my persistent pseudonym for any Twixt opponent, likely bearing only coincidental resemblance, if any, to any existing CoH/V character name(s) even somewhat similar — I truly hope.]:

11-21-2008 15:04:01 Your Air Superiority drops Prime Opp A from the skies.

11-21-2008 15:04:01 You clobber Prime Opp A for 126.27 points of smashing damage!

11-21-2008 15:04:01 You knocked Prime Opp A from their feet with your Air Superiority attack!

11-21-2008 15:04:19 [Tell] Prime Opp A: F8CK YOU

11-21-2008 15:04:53 You activated the Teleport Foe power.

11-21-2008 15:04:53 You teleport Prime Opp A

11-21-2008 15:04:58 Longbow Warden has defeated Prime Opp A

11-21-2008 15:05:06 [Tell] Prime Opp A: F*CK YOU

11-21-2008 15:05:17 [Broadcast] Prime Opp A: twixt is a piece of sh1t

11-21-2008 15:05:34 [Broadcast] Prime Opp A: he is a faaaggot

11-21-2008 15:06:54 [Tell] Prime Opp A: did i mention…….F*CK YOU?

As I look back at these sort of responses to my play in City of Heroes, perhaps indeed these are the most lasting impressions I will take from my time spent online.  The game has been tremendously fun, but also, on many levels I have largely forgiven and forgotten because of that fun, the game has been a revelation as to how social order and structure are most characteristically blunt, brutal, and unwelcoming to individual play and players.

While some might find heroic potential in their online play, I must confess, here at the end of my CoH/V journey, I do not.  I find rather something closer to despair that the individual must eventually, inevitably, be forced to succumb to the great momentum of the zerg, the irresistible press of the mass.  We may call that mass and that zerg consumers, or players, or simply people, but each of those in aggregate I now see as primarily and most fundamentally an important and perhaps insurmountable threat to individual freedom, creativity, and hope.

Others, of course, are less pessimistic than I.

In order to represent that optimistic view — which I cannot myself find in Prime Opp A’s vitriol above — let me leave you with this, an alternative reflection on the present and future of individual values in online worlds.

Fairly well known, this piece has appeared in several collections documenting the virtual, including The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology,  Here it is again, in an online readable form:

Bow, Nigger.

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