Sunday, 11 January 2015

Who are we?


I have most of a post written up about story content and the overall lack of consistent lore throughout the Realms of Despair gameworld...but it made me think about something else, so I'll summarize what that post would have been:

Basically, I'm glad in News 1024 that the imms decided to conclude the story of the Wyrm that destroyed the guilds by having Merlin catch it and trap it inside a cave that players can now run. Realms lacks a lot of this continuity/conclusion of storylines (ie. the guards at the southern gate of Darkhaven have been worried about a goblin attack/balrog uprising for over a decade now, and yet nothing changes). And honestly they could use their own immortal-run quests to continue stories (ie. "The Wyrm's scales have been found across the realms...collect the scales and Merlin can use them to track it down" instead of "Hey, leftover food from holiday parties have been scattered across the realms....go find some leftover turkey legs"), but they don't. It's sad that while each area contains its own storyline, the areas don't often interconnect across the world and create one big story.

But that got me to thinking: if there was a coherent overarching story for the gameworld, how would we explain away things like repops? I mean...entire stretches of land suddenly resetting themselves? That guy you just killed reappears and has no recollection of you murdering him and taking his loot five minutes ago? So I mulled it about my brain for a few days.

My first theory involved magical time travel. We, as the characters within the game, are time travellers, zipping around to various areas. The areas themselves are essentially moments in time captured from an environment - for example, the Duke never seems to age, nor his guards, nor the merchants, because the New Darkhaven we know is just a small snippet of time that's been isolated by a greater power. When it reaches the end of that snippet, it resets, sort of like a VHS tape that's hit the end, and it automatically rewinds. Instead of rewinding with the area, however, our characters are immune and can continue forward. Every entrance to an area would consist of some sort of portal/gate that links the areas together - maybe not a literal portal/gate, but the concept of one.

Several thoughts followed this: what of new areas? New areas would basically be new moments in time of different lands that are captured and connected to the world we know. But the question arises: who's doing the collecting? And to what purpose? Are we basically playing inside some greater being's collection of "moments" across the universe/dimensions, and that greater being is watching us? This would seem to play into the idea of the immortals: they connect and manage the areas, we delve into them.

But then...was the Shattering our version of the Matrix? Was it a group of individuals trying to break free of the system? Ultimately, that group failed and the immortals prevailed, and though the system sustained heavy damage and was changed forever (astral disruption, etc.), the immortals patched everything back up......which, in the analogy of the Matrix, would make the immortals the Agents...aka, the villains. Or at least the anti-heroes. And that would explain how whimsical and fickle the immortals can seem at times, tasking mortals with quests like gathering supplies for a beach party, or just slaying people for fun.

There are small inconsistencies that don't work with this theory, however, like the destruction of the guilds. New Darkhaven was clearly reacting to the Wyrm, with the Duke suddenly coming up with a quest to rally an effort to thwart the dragons. That failed, though, and the guilds were destroyed and reformed...this suggests that things aren't static. The quests for eqsets also affect older areas; merchants that were part of the loop before suddenly have new information - but that's the only new thing about them. The only explanation I could come up with is that all of these events could just be those mysterious immortals pulling the strings and manually inserting new events into the isolated loops of time.

However, something that puzzles me in relation to this theory is character death. Our characters clearly die, at least from what we can tell: physical corpses exist that decay over time...yet if we're immune to the time loops (and somewhat immune to the effects of time itself as there are characters who are tens of thousands of years old), why do we respawn? And I don't mean that as in a "what revives us" because the answer would sound something like "magic". I mean...for what reason do we respawn?

The second theory I had, which I personally like more, is that we, the characters in the Realms, are in a state of purgatory or limbo....or, we're possibly in a version of hell/the underworld itself. Think about it: we all enter the Realms at the age of 17 through the Sunless Sea. Not only is that name a depressing one, the Sunless Sea, (we like to imagine a beach with sparkling waters, a blue sky, and a radiant sun, don't we?), but here's the description of the area:

"Tales of the Sunless Sea are legendary: endless underground seas populated 
by horrific monsters, entire underground cities where Drow scheme and perform 
elaborate rituals, and vast mountain ranges where Dwarves work secret mines are 
only a few. One such story tells of an intense magical battle that took its toll even 
above ground. What is known for certain is that an ancient tower crumbled,
leaving an exit from the Sunless Sea."

Every character passes through here, this underground abyss with monsters and even cities...doesn't this seem hellish in theme? Furthermore, could the cities mentioned be a reference to cities like Pandemonium, the capitol of hell in John Milton's Paradise Lost? intense magical battle above ground...perhaps the fall of Lucifer? 

Having arrived at this point, I concluded that the Sunless Sea is an area within hell. But it's not over for our characters; far from that, hell is apparently the beginning, because at the end of the area, all characters line up before a great tapestry and a cord they pull. What happens when the cord is pulled? They receive judgement...after which they are torn through realities and deposited into the Halls of Knowledge. Isn't it interesting that it's the Halls of Knowledge that we're introduced to first upon our descent into purgatory? According to the Christian Bible, wasn't it the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that Adam and Eve ate from, which triggered their banishment from the Garden of Eden? Just as Knowledge was the fall of man, this place of Knowledge marks the beginning of our own plunge.

There seems to be many ties and references to concepts and themes within Christianity, whether or not it's intended - after all, it seems fairly intuitive that when you're starting out in the game, an academy/educational institution would be a safe thematic area from which to begin. Nevertheless, the references are there.

The funny thing about this theory is that it would mean the immortals are actually sort of like our demon overlords. But that doesn't sound too far from reality, does it ;) They could also be angel-figures tasked with supervising hell, but I think the demon overlords would be funnier.

However, the idea of the Realms being a state of limbo isn't limited to our characters, but to every NPC and mobile in the game. For whatever reason, every living soul in the game has been rejected from some state of heaven and left to rot in the Realms of Despair. It would explain repops and deaths; since everyone is already truly dead, they can't really die again, so they merely reform and suffer the trip back to recovering their belongings. Repops are much the same; all the individuals in an area sentenced to hell, and they can't do anything but die at the hands of the adventurers...only to respawn and be subject to it over and over again for the rest of eternity.

Another thing I find interesting is that we have access to the Underworld, and at lower levels of it, our characters can encounter the figure of Satan, and even kill Satan...I mean, if this is hell itself and God intended to punish Satan as much as the sinners within, wouldn't it be a pretty fitting punishment that Satan, because of his (or her, as Satan is female in the game) hubris, would also be subject to dying at the hands of lowly mortals? At the same time, while we have Satan in the game...why do we never encounter God? The closest we seem to get within the area "The Realm of Worship" is one of the game's ultimate mobiles, Divine Retribution. Again, thematically fitting that one of the toughest mobiles in the game for our medieval sinners is divine retribution.

It's not too difficult to imagine why every character would be sent to hell, either. Look at how we level up and obtain gear: we kill things. Animals, creatures, people...even children. All without remorse, so we can gain power and wealth. One thing that might stand as an obstacle to this theory is why infants/babies exist in the Realms for us to kill as well, as the Bible does imply that babies/others incapable of professing their faith are given lenience and permitted to enter heaven...but I would respond by saying that the infants we encounter in the Realms are tests of our character's...character, in various ways. The two that come immediately to mind: the baby in Tull Manor, and the merbaby in Coral Depths. Killing the former proves that our characters are being watched and judged. Meanwhile, if you kill the latter, the merbaby, unlike most other mobiles in the game, cries out for its mother if trying to appeal to your sense of guilt to make you stop. But we don't. We never do. No surprise our characters are down here, huh?

Through all of this, a frightening proposition arises: what is happening in the mortal world? Every character that enters the game begins right when they turn 17 (based on the fact that it takes the same amount of time to age to 18 compared to aging to 19). Is it some sort of disease that's killing people in their teens? Not likely, seeing as the timing is so specific and precise. A form of age-based genocide, perhaps? For whatever reason, as soon as someone turns 17, they're put to death?

What about the apocalypse? You might think it unlikely because of the steady stream of new entrants to the Realms. The end of the world would mean everyone dies and enters the Realms at once, then no more afterwards, right? Well, it depends on how you view the end of the world. If we're look at it from the Christian perspective, the world doesn't end with one big explosion, followed by nothingness. According to the Christian Bible (though there are varying theories on the sequence of events), the return of Christ signals the beginning of the world. Following that are the trials and tribulations, upon which much death will occur. The population of the world will be reduced to a fraction until the end of the process...

Sounds like what happened with the Realms population, doesn't it? Back in the early 2000s, the game was positively humming. Thousands of active characters exploring the one seemingly big boom.........and then, as time goes on, a slower pace of new faces to the Realms...sounds like the end days began, and the human population was culled. A large amount at first, due to the total size of the human population, but then less, because there are less humans left alive to die. Kind of an eerie prospect, huh? While our characters are roaming around the Realms, the end of the world has been going on...

Anywho, this post has gone on long enough and is a clear indicator that I've been watching far too many Youtube videos on video game theories. But it was a fun concept to think about and led much farther than I initially thought it would. And it's doubly amusing because I'm planning to do a few minor runs in the Underworld with my shiny new Nasr soon!

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