I have once again returned to Lord of the Rings Online’s Middle Earth. According to the game’s launcher, it has been a year since I last logged in. This is not odd. I return around once every year, progress a little further, and then gradually slow down before finally stopping altogether. Rinse, repeat.
The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) holds a curious place in the MMORPG market. It represents some of the best and worst aspects of the genre all at the same time. It has a large sprawling world, is relatively faithful to a lore which has a dedicated fanbase, and has scenic vistas that many over a decade after its release still describe as beautiful.
On the other hand, its cash shop is rapacious, its expansion model is clearly exploitative of new players, it has significant server stability issues, its character models are clunky.. and on and on. But I make an almost annual pilgrimage to LOTRO, and part of that has to do with my early experience in the game, as well as a real life loss.
A tale yet untold
I started playing LOTRO in 2008-09, with a group of friends I grew up with. One of my friends in particular was a huge Tolkien buff, and had devoured everything he’d written. He of course lost himself in the game and his enthusiasm was contagious. He could fill us in on all the minutiae and the small details we saw in-game. We all eventually got to max level, at that point Level 50, did some raids – the usual.
We all returned when Moria was released and we delved into the depths. Moria is a fantastic expansion that evoked the feeling of a dim, dark dungeon. By the time you reach the other side you are grateful for the lush, peaceful forest of Lothlorien.
Eventually, as with most MMORPGs, as a group we grew tired of it. We drifted to other games and LOTRO was left alone.
Around five years after we stopped playing LOTRO, my friend tragically and suddenly passed away. He wasn’t even 30 years old. It was a shock, as are all deaths of friends, but perhaps moreso because as ‘young’ people we grow accustomed to ‘old’ people passing away, but not our contemporaries.
But this article is not about my friend’s death but about how I remember his life. I have lived away from this group of friends for a long time, and much of my interaction with them is through online gaming. To some extent it still is, though we play less and less these days. And similarly, when I play LOTRO, as cheesy as it sounds, I remember my departed friend.
I return to LOTRO because I want to take a character all the way to Mordor and beyond, because I know my friend the Tolkien buff would have loved to do just that. He never got the chance, and though I’m making slow progress, I think this time I will get there. And if not, there’ll always be next year.
That’s the beauty of MMORPGs. For some of us, they are our living memories. A ‘memory palace’ for us to visit, stay awhile and perhaps leave. But we can always come back again.
Rest in Peace, mate.