Way back in the beginning, before there were computers, nerds and geeks would get together to play a little tabletop game called Dungeons & Dragons. Pencils, paper, character sheets, dice, Cheetos and Mountain Dew made for long nights of battling dragons and clearing out dungeons.
When computers came on the scene, these avid roleplayers made the leap to the electronic age and began transferring their adventures into computer programs. Now instead of the manual labor of recording hit points (life totals) and character levels on paper, a computer took care of all the math for them. These initial programs were known as "MUDs - Multi-User Dungeons," where individuals could connect using dial up modems and bulletin boards to facilitate their adventures. October 20th (just last week) was the 30th anniversary of the very first MUD. These MUDs were text based, meaning there were no pictures. Everything depended on the imaginations of the participants to create the scene.
The next evolution then, was to take these on-line adventures graphical. Now known as "MMORPGs - Massively Multi-user Online Role Playing Games" (pronounced as each of the individual letters, not "MORE PIGS") the best known, EverQuest (EQ) was first published by Sony Online Entertainment in 1999. In the nearly 10 years since EQ came on the scene MMORPGs have expanded into a multi-billion dollar industry. World of Warcraft alone boasts over a million current subscribers, with the industry overall garnering more than a half billion dollars in revenue in 2006.
EverQuest II and World of Warcraft are two of the most prominent games in the current generation of MMORPGs. In essence, they are the same as the Dungeons & Dragons games of the 70s, but now instead of playing with your three neighborhood friends, you are playing with thousands of people from all over the world. The game software acts as the Dungeon Master, sending you on quests and epic adventures, and the experience is augmented by amazing graphics, full orchestral soundtracks, stunning sound effects and voice chat with your fellow players.
In one recent session I grouped with six other people, including individuals from the Netherlands, Michigan, Australia, stationed in Iraq, and just down the street from my home in Rockland, MA. All from the comfort of my home computer system. In the eight years I've been playing on-line games (I started in the original EverQuest in 2000) I've met people who have become true friends and that I still regulary keep in touch with.
So that is a little bit about what EQ2 and WoW are. If you click on the links above, your browser will take you to the Wikipedia entries where you can get some more detail on the genre. If you are interested in hearing more, just let me know! I'm always happy to show these fascinating worlds to new people!