A Eulogy For City of Heroes - How A Video Game Saved My Life

I would like to take this moment to mourn the loss of a very good friend of mine, the video game City of Heroes. For all intents and purposes, the massively multiplayer online (MMO) role-playing game (RPG) died over the weekend, when its creator studio NCSoft turned off the servers.

Yes, I realize my emotional attachment to a digital pastime may seem absurd, but my connection to the game was oh-so-very real. I honestly believe City of Heroes saved my life as it gave me a purpose, even if that purpose was as ridiculously trite as leveling a character or saving a fantasy bank from being robbed.

At its most tangible, City of Heroes existed physically in the form of code. At its most ephemeral and visceral, City of Heroes showed up in my dreams and gave me a reason to get out of bed. I lived and breathed this game from 2004 to early 2008 - and when I say I lived and breathed it, I mean I spent at least three hours a day inside Paragon City. Basically, I did the stereotypical gamer thing- used the fantasy to avoid problems in my real life. 

 

How City of Heroes Saved Me

When I couldn't deal with my financial issues as a poor girl mistakenly attending a very expensive university, I stayed home in my shithole of a studio apartment and logged on.

When I craved family, lonely and hurt over my parents' divorce, I hung out with members of my "supergroup" - WoW plays would call this a guild, or community of players with the same colors sharing a base.

When I was working fulltime as a barista and being treated like crap by bosses and customers, I comforted myself with the knowledge that people in City of Heroes respected me and didn’t judge me over something as trivial as my latte foam skills.

Teachers may have hated me for snoozing during their classes, but at least the hostages I saved nightly thanked me for showing up.

On nights when I was too distraught to sleep from inner demons, there was always someone doing something heroic in the wee hours to soothe me. (My therapist at the time politely pointed out I was getting the support I needed to stay alive from a digital community of strangers and a machine, which she found unusual in 2005.)  

I may have felt worthless in real life, but inside City of Heroes, I was a god. I was a saucy pirate wench throwing fireballs and touting a flaming sword, or a mutated sexy scientist who could control radiation and gravity. I had dozens of characters, but my favorite was my Greek muse who had white and gold angel wings and amazing healing abilities.  

I was stumbling through life aimlessly, but not inside City of Heroes. I knew where to go, what to do, and how to do it. When I say City of Heroes saved my life, it’s because I don’t think I could have survived that particular bout of depression without it. That fake city and its superhero way of life was my crutch, the place I turned to in times of trouble.

How It All Ended For Me

After a little over a year, I got my life in order: I learned to stop caring about my level of wealth and grew comfortable with my past and my broken family. I left my oblivious boyfriend and my dead-end job and I started writing. When things got too much for me, I always had the game to fall back on, but I found myself turning to it less and less out of need and more out of boredom and MMO addiction. I stopped playing in 2008 when my gaming PC refused to turn on, and I got a laptop instead without much thought other than, "I guess it's time to stop playing City of Heroes now."

I never got a chance to play again.  

I've actually cried over City of Heroes’ sunset four times to date, the worst bawling session happened right after I installed the game again only to learn the patch servers (required for me to update the game) were no longer running. This was back in October.

Have you ever chewed gum so furiously that you forgot to breathe and when you finally do, you are gasping for breath? That was me. I had a panic attack in the shower over not being able to play City of Heroes one last time. Unlike other diehard CoH players, I couldn’t even access the game to play it until the end, and I certainly couldn’t take any video or pictures of all the characters on whom I spent literally a year or more of my life on. I couldn’t even contact my old friends. I was locked completely out.

 

So what remains of my mentor, my therapist, my savior, my best friend and helping hand of a video game? Nothing except the two gaming disks pictured above, and some old screenshots. Oh, and, of course, memories that will eventually fade away.  

What gives me solace is the fact that my misery is shared by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people across the globe that play MMOs. Even famed graphic novelist Neil Gaiman knows my pain, with the best-selling author at one point championing the efforts to save City of Heroes.

It's Not Fair

Perhaps this is just the anger talking, but I feel that as a consumer, I should have some rights to a working product. When I purchase a movie, I can still watch the film if that studio goes out of business. I can do this with books, and with music too. The product still works. I realize a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) is a little trickier, but why can’t I at least access the game in a limited capacity hosted on my computer? Even if it is only missions I run myself, or to look at the characters I built?

There is a real need for this kind of capsule, considering that MMOs are shut down all the time. Besides City of Heroes, five other MMOS were closed down this year, and once Glitch closes next week, seven gaming communities will have come to an end. World of Warcraft will one day come to an end too, and then the world will be full of virtually homeless and emotionally distraught MMO players. What happens then? I don’t know.

I couldn't save City of Heroes like City of Heroes saved me, and all I have to show for the years of my life spent inside the game are two now useless, CDs. City of Heroes taught me many life lessons though, so maybe that is enough.