(This review was trimmed to fit Mud Connector's size standards. For the full review, see https://goo.gl/o7ZQNq)
At the risk of seemingly looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, I will carefully explain a clear phenomenon with any game world. On Day 1 of starting a new game, the game's setting seems vast and exciting. Every place to explore is new. Every creature or character you can run into is a new experience. But play through the game, and start again, and that setting loses some of its luster. You already know it.
It stands to reason, then, that to keep a setting interesting, new things must get added to it. Unfortunately, once you hit Armageddon's borders, that's all there really is to them. Staff have ideas on expanding the world, but they tend to fall through or get shelved. I sincerely hope I am wrong about this statement, but I don't see Armageddon's world growing any time soon. And that is because the trend suggests shrinkage, not growth.
To some extent, it's shrinking because it's practical to shrink. With a smaller playerbase, fewer players will actually interact with one another if they are spread out across longer distances.
Armageddon had two major, opposing playing areas: Allanak and Tuluk. At some point a couple of years ago, Tuluk was closed. Although the high-level staff made this decision with good intentions, they ignored reports from lower-level staff as well as clear metrics from the players showing that Tuluk was gaining additional interest and more time investment from players. Suddenly, Tuluk, which has more documentation than Allanak and was more fleshed out then Allanak, was set to close, with a final storyline to ensure that it would be plunged into chaos and swept under the rug. And while I had fun observing this storyline, it was bittersweet. The community has a loud and obnoxious subset of Allanak fans who gloated over Tuluk's closure, but what they failed to understand is that it removed outside conflict for their precious city.
Since then, the stagnancy of Allanak has been put on full display. While the staff do focus on the players there, and give them opportunities to participate in storylines, the setting as a whole does not change significantly enough to hold a player's interest for long. Staff interest has turned outward, to make minor playing locations like Luir's Outpost and Red Storm Village more interesting. But with Allanak as the recommended starting location for new players, and the main hub of activity, it sets a poor example for the setting as a whole.
The player community, the staff, and roleplay are severely intertwined. And not usually in a good way, unfortunately.
Before I continue, I will say one good thing about each of these things, because there is danger ahead. - Community: Player helpers, the official ones with the Helper title as well as the unofficial 'players who just happen to be helpful', are awesome and dedicated to their work. - Staff: There are a lot of creative minds on staff. They are always looking to flesh out even the most minor aspects of the game's setting through additions of lore. - Roleplay: As far as RPIs go, Armageddon is one of the giants. If, over the course of months of time investment, you establish a compelling and driven character, your investment will pay you back.
The MUD community as a whole is fraught with dramatic people, haughty people, and, yes, even unstable people. It's the fact of life for any gaming community. So when I say that Armageddon's community - a term I use very loosely to describe the amalgamation of internet people that have gathered to play it on a regular basis - is easily the worst I have encountered in any MUD, and indeed, among the worst I've seen in any game, with only online first-person shooters getting lower, I want you to understand precisely what I mean. To do that, I'll break this down into a few parts.
1) Elitism and privilege. This game is a very old RPI, and there are players who have been around for ten, fifteen, twenty years or more. They expect, and often enjoy, rights, second chances, and storylines that the average Amos does not get. This is not an equal opportunity game. If you join this game, expect to play for a long time before you are involved in anything more complex than tavern roleplay and sparring. Expect to have to gravitate toward and kiss the boots of whichever character has the most attention at any given time. Expect that these old players will do stuff out-of-theme just because it's fun and cool. And if you die, expect to start all over again. Staff, at best, do nothing about these privileged players, and at worst, hire them onto staff, despite all the headaches they create for the staff team.
2) A significant portion of the community completely ignores standards regarding out-of-character communication about in-character events. This is one of those things that's meant to maintain the mystery of the game. Cliques of players openly discuss in-character events, spread rumors about unpopular characters, coordinate out-of-game to screw over or kill characters they dislike, and more. It's horrifyingly easy to become a member of one of these cliques: just talk to someone that you think is in one and pretend to be an asshole, and you'll get a Discord invite or Skype handle quickly enough. As of now, staff do nothing about these cliques, and are seemingly resigned to accepting that they exist.
3) There is more sex roleplay per capita in Armageddon than in a sex MUSH, and I wish I was kidding. I have nothing against it, and I'm certainly not a prude when it comes to such matters, but it's not the most story-packed roleplay. Although polyamory is common to the setting, it tends to devolve into soap opera dramatics, which will likely be the peak of a sexy character's roleplay.
4) Many players do not trust staff, and many staff do not trust players. This results in a subculture where many players simultaneously avoid communicating with staff and complain they do not get enough positive attention from staff. For staff's part, they try to reach out to players, but it is easy to burn out when the response is distrust. Like any long-standing conflict, it's hard to trace things back and see who insulted whom first. It's also not important. Players and staff should work together to mend rifts, and they don't.
5) My own anecdote about my experience with this game's community is an unfortunate one, and I won't claim that it is the norm, but it has certainly informed my opinions of the game:
I started playing Armageddon in 2007. I had a lot of fun. I was even invited to staff, but I declined because I was having so much fun as a player. Eventually, though, I was between characters and felt a desire to give back to the game that had provided me so much fun. So I applied for staff, and I was accepted. I worked very hard on providing fun for the clan I was assigned to, and providing new plots, game elements, and scripts.
Looking behind the curtain was a bit of an eye-opener. Seeing how mysterious things worked was nice. Seeing how players operated when they think they're alone was not. Up until this point, I had a rather naive view that because I was roleplaying, and the characters around me were roleplaying, that everyone was roleplaying. This was far from the truth. While I was on staff, I saw code-abusers and people skilling up when they thought no staff were online. I infiltrated player cliques, often to find that big and small players alike were plotting against characters outside of the game, so that the staff body could be aware of them in case those plots came to fruition. I saw storylines created by staff and players alike speculated on and spoiled. I even witnessed, and sought to do something about, staff misbehavior, investigating things from unfair use of staff avatars to sexual harassment.
But I think what hurt the most is when I woke up one morning to a new e-mail in my personal, not staff, account, addressed to my staff handle. It listed y full name, my home and workplace address, and my cell phone number, and it stated that if I were to ban anyone else, that the information would be posted publicly. I did end up banning a player after that, and the information was not posted, but the experience soured me like no other. I think that is when I truly started to burn out. Concerned about the possibility that another staff member was involved, I elected not to tell anyone about it until I sought a legal course of action. Eventually I realized that Armageddon's toxic community had made me into an angry person, one that I did not want to be, and I stepped away, never to return.
Even after leaving, I continued to be harassed with messages and e-mails. Additionally, my personal e-mail was signed up for porn newsletters and other nonsense. Early this month, I resolved to cut Armageddon out of my thoughts. But my story continued to nag at me. So, I post this review in its entirety in an effort to provide myself some relief, so that I'm not held back by it anymore.
Armageddon players and staff will likely be tempted to reply to this review with one of their own. I welcome anyone who can prove me wrong to do so with their own actions. Don't focus on me. Focus on fixing your game and your community. I'm not the one who broke it, but I tried to fix it anyway. The least you can do is do the same.
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