Tea Breaks is an ongoing experiment of sorts, in an attempt to fit in a bit of the going-ons in my life. So every Monday, I talk a little bit about what happened last week, and maybe a bit of my own plans. So sit down, make yourself comfortable, and brace yourself for a bit of rambling.
“Breathe in. Breathe out. You need to breathe, Vira.
Except with every breath she took, she could smell the rust, the abandoned decay, mould seeping in. She saw the passageways barely lit by the dying moon outside, shielded by spidery branches. The trees were withered. A promise cut still.
It had been a residential complex that had gone wrong during construction, where funding had been cut, the supposedly beautiful and decadent pool dried and covered in a layer of dead leaves and detritus.
And a small group of teenagers thought it’d be funny to sneak into here.
She’d have expected this sort of stupidity from poorly-constructed horror movies, B-List slasher films, or horror games. Not from her dearest baby brother and his ragtag band of friends. Who were educated at the best schools UK and Asia had to offer. With a Ouija board.
Her evening had gone so well too.”
Barring the lack of formatting and editing this piece had…
I wrote that a while ago for a little MMORPG I played. It was called The Secret World – a game that was set in modern times. Their tagline was “Everything is real”, and boy did they live up to it. You had mummies, djinn, wendigoes, zombies, and Draug prowling the lands. You had ancient forest gods drinking with busty barmaids (yes, really), fae hanging around enchanted gypsy caverns, oni and enchanted pachinko machines. All this was topped off with a moody, melancholic atmosphere, that sense of inescapable dread as you fought off the “big bad” of the game – the Filth.
My character was Vira. She was my “main” – she’d progressed the furthest, unlocked most, if not all the content, and had the best weapons. She’d also been my first foray into proper roleplaying online – I had no idea of her personality nor her backstory. The only thing I knew for certain was her appearance, and even that was because I’d tinkered in the character creation screen for nearly an hour for the Dreamworld Engine to let me make someone remotely attractive.
But she was my character, and The Secret World was the MMORPG I’d stayed with the longest. I made connections with other characters, and we would hang out to roleplay together in-game. I’d even set up a Twitter account for my fictional character, and along the way, I tried to figure out who Vira was.
When I got to my second year in university though, things changed. I got busy. I got a boyfriend. I had exams. I volunteered to teach. I didn’t realise how much of a commitment online roleplaying could be. Most of my friends were in the US, and I was the only one on the Asia Pacific region.
To cap things off, I was inexperienced. There were a few players who preyed on that, trampling over my boundaries, and I didn’t realise that I should’ve said no until much, much later. When I finally realised that, I didn’t know where to turn, because – at the end of the day, I was never comfortable with putting myself out there, and I had few I would truly call “friends”. So I began to play less, ignoring them and withdrawing into myself. Eventually, I stopped playing The Secret World and left the roleplaying community.
Maybe one day, when I’ve finally gotten it straightened out, I’ll write something about what happened. If anything, it’ll make for a fascinating study as to RP interactions, and how easy it is to blur the lines between “IC” and “OOC” if you’re not careful.
The end result was I was no longer obsessed with it as I used to be. I was content to re-read lore online, run a Halloween event on my own, keeping away from roleplaying. I retired Vira to the back of my mind, and kept her with all my other forgotten characters: half-formed, abandoned, waiting to be used as a template for my other works.
At the end of March, a new announcement came from Funcom, after a year of silence and no content. The original The Secret World would be “sunsetted”, and re-launched as Secret World: Legends, a so-called “shared RPG”. This was met by an outpouring of vitriol from the veterans, who felt that they’d been strung along with promises of new content, only to be tossed aside.
Despite everything, I’m excited, though I am disappointed with how this was handled. I want to dip my toes back in, start with a new character, and run around being creeped out and slaying vampires again.
I owe their writers a debt. The Secret World inspired my love for anything urban fantasy, how magic could still co-exist side-by-side with modern tech. It gave me a taste for the darker, grimmer side of fairy tales and myths. Say what you will, but the original writers, Ragnar Tørnquist and Joshua Doetsch, did an excellent job writing and creating the world, crafting their lore.
You can still see a smattering of what they left behind if you look up The Secret World’s lore. Even without context, it can still send chills down your spine. For example, a piece of lore about the insidiousness of the main antagonist, the Filth:
Night after night she listens to the howling in the pipes. It gains a bloodcurdling cadence. She hums along. She can almost sing the words. She scratches the pimples dotting her body. They swell to boils. They burst, revealing new eyes. The eyes show her unutterable truths.
I want to remember the game I used to play, one of the many places that’s inspired me and given me new ideas to play with. Even now, while I’m outlining a novel idea or two, I’ve got a bartender dabbling in the occult tucked away somewhere, based in an urban-fantasy world that I’m still roughing out.
I want to remember all the roleplayers, both the good and the bad. The good made me want to dive in deeper, forge deeper connections, and appreciate the story and the time they spent creating their characters to inhabit the world the game had created; the bad showed me what and who to avoid, and taught me how to stand up for myself, even if it took me far too long to get myself out of the entanglements and the drama.
I’m going to miss the old game, the hours of running around. I’m going to miss learning Morse Code and reading up on old science manuals to solve puzzles. Hell, I might even miss the roleplaying community. I like to think one day, I’ll be able to build a world and characters as well as they have, melding urban with horror with fantasy and conspiracy seamlessly.
For now, I’m content to sit down, sip a bit of my tea, remember, and hope that whatever Funcom does, they don’t screw up what The Secret World created.