I never really saw the appeal of MMORPGs until fairly recently. Back in 2004 when friends of mine were raving about World of Warcraft, I was one of those silly fourteen year olds who rolled my eyes and scoffed. "You have to PAY to play the game you ALREADY paid for? That's stupid!" In those teenage days, I was huge fan of JRPGs. I still enjoy them, well, some of them, but back then, when I had much more free time? I LOVED them. They were the only things I ever wanted to play. I thought that JRPGs were the pinnacle of video games, that they could not be beat in any category. So while friends had fun in Azeroth, I was having fun in Sylvarant and Tethe'alla.
I eventually grew out of the singular minded "JRPGs or nothing" phase, dipped a bit in "RPGs or nothing" before finally just saying "Games in any genre can b good." It took me considerably longer to finally give MMOs a fair shake. I still remember the first time I played an MMO. It was in early 2011 and it was DC Universe Online. I got into the beta for the PS3 version and despite all the problems that it had in beta, I still bought it day one. I stopped playing it about seven days later, because I had reached the cap and didn't want to play any more. MMOs and I were not getting off on the right foot.
I would not play another MMO until later that same year.
Before continuing, let me talk a bit about myself. Despite not playing in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign until I was of legal drinking age, I still loved (and still do love) roleplaying. I've always liked telling and writing stories. One of my earliest school memories is when I was seven years old and my school got these little personal pad things that hooked up to the computer. It's archaic by today's standards. Students were allowed to use them during break time if they signed up for it. I signed up for it almost every day all so I could write my masterpiece. It was a story about a sentient fighter jet that had to save the world. It was called Jet Fighter Jet and the secret was that the sentient jet could transform into an even better jet.
My love of telling stories, of writing stories, only grew from there. My early internet days were spent on places like the Gamewinners forums, specifically in their forum RP sections. I branched out to places like Quizilla, any place that had a thriving forum based post-by-post RP community. So many characters portrayed over the years, so many shitty Naruto alternate universe RPs, so much shit involving vampires and angels fighting demons and everything else inbetween. These days I participate in e-fedding which is when you RP not as an anime character or something, but as a wrestler. You RP by having character development and cutting promos and the judges decide who wins the match. I've won fake championships, had rivalries, feuds, have FOUR separate Twitter accounts that are accounts for FICTIONAL WRESTLER CHARACTERS.
I've not grown out of my love of RPing. My love of telling a story. My love of creating interesting characters. I've just shifted out of the anime/vampire/teenage fan shit days.
In December of 2011, Star Wars: The Old Republic launched. I was there on day...three.. even though I had no love for MMOs. My purchase at the time seemed like a no brainer. "The company that made Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and the first KOTOR are making an RPG like those set in a universe I like? Fuck yeah!" Even though I thought KOTOR 2 as a much, much superior game and that the canonical changes to make KOTOR 2 largely irrelevant were shitty, I still bought the game. I still installed the game. I still set up a subscription fee for the game. After the installation and the intro cutscene I was presented with a large list of servers. I was confused. What did PvP mean? Would that mean people would attack me all the time? I didn't want that. PvE? What's that? What does any of this mean? And then I saw it, like the Star of Bethlehem guiding me to my destination. 'Ebon Hawk - RP'.
Here was a server for people like me, people who enjoyed roleplaying. I clicked the server and I was taken away to character creation.
I made a Jedi Consular. A Miraluka named Adaia. Immediately I was excited. There's the Star Wars intro! Oh man, my character is talking! This is so cool! Then after the first scene ended and I was told to go kill X number of Flesh Raiders the realization was starting to set in. This was going to be the whole game, isn't it? Even if every single quest chain was voiced, it would all return to 'gather X' or 'kill X things' or 'go to X', wouldn't it? That was the MMO design, right? I had heard the anecdotes. But I continued on. I continued on, with the slow run speed, the lack of a dungeon finder, the fact that Tython was boring, I continued on.
I continued on, answering questions in quest lines as my character would, not as I would. I had this whole personality and background all made for this character, and I was just waiting for a time to let that out, to interact with people who were just like me.
That time never came.
I stopped playing The Old Republic in February of 2012. Adaia was on Nar Shaddaa. I had thought it would be simple, that I could wave to people in the world and start RPing with them, but whenever I did that I was ignored. I found that most people, even on this RP server, were focused instead on getting to the end game and had the chat windows closed. I was supposed to be surrounded by like minded people, but I wasn't. It never occurred to me to search for RP communities in the game, I was a new MMO player, I just thought RP servers were exclusively filled with RPers.
So much for that. I tried rolling a bounty hunter, but I didn't get off Hutta. I unsubscribed and thought "Well, fuck MMOs."
In April of 2012, The Old Republic introduced patch 1.2, known as the Legacy patch. With this patch came such things like 'matching armor colors to the main piece', 'being able to sprint at level 1' (which is still the best thing they ever did to the game), and the Legacy system. This thing...this caught my interest. The Legacy system was a way to unlock perks and bonuses from every character tied to your 'legacy' (meaning, all your characters on whatever server you were on). Perks like reduced teleport times, faster movement options, mailboxes on your ship, just a lot of handy shit to have. But as neat as all that sounded, what grabbed me was the incredibly useless ability to create family trees for your characters.
I came back to SWTOR a few weeks before the patch went live. I got Adaia all the way up to 50 without ever grouping up, even though a group finder was added. I never got to RP as Adaia. And when the Legacy patch went live the first thing I did was take advantage of a certain feature. See, back before Legacy and the Cartel Market, the races in SWTOR were faction specific. A Chiss couldn't be in the Republic, nor could Rattataki, Zabrak's had different skin color options based on faction, and Miraluka, my favorite race in the game, were Republic specific. BUT with Legacy, if you had, say, a Miraluka at level 50...you could make a Miraluka on the Empire. You could make a Chiss on the Republic if you had a max level Chiss.
So when Legacy went live, I made a Miraluka Sith. Her name was Valalia Selwyn. Selwyn was the name of my Legacy, the last name of Adaia and Valalia.
I had my whole headcanon established. Since I didn't want to play Adaia, I had the story that she was missing after giving birth in secret to her daughter, Valalia, and that Valalia was searching for her now that she was older and wound up in Imperial space where, despite being a near-human race, she was a victim of the racism the Empire was known for. It took some tinkering with the time line of the game (essentially, Adaia never took part in any event in the SWTOR story in my canon) but I made it work. And at least I tried to adhere to the lore. Valalia wound up at the Sith Academy despite her displeasure with the things she witnessed from the Sith. I realized that it was very possible that I'd run into the same problem I ran into with Adaia, that I'd be burned out and quit around the high 20s, but for the moment I was just excited to have a family tree.
That night, as I was doing the quests on Korriban, I met two players. They were standing outside the Academy and as I was leaving on my way to get Khem, the inquisitor's first companion, one of them emoted me. It was a simple emote, a greeting. But I stopped. I turned. I saw that this character was level 50. A Darth. I was level 9. Not even an Apprentice. But, Valalia was not a fan of the Sith and their practices. So instead of bowing and calling the player 'My Lord' I had Valalia say something snarky to him. He, of course, was not amused. But the other character next to him was. "About time the Academy churned out someone who can think freely" she said, "Lighten up, Xion." Xion being the name of the Darth. The other character was named Scyella. They were part of a guild named the Ministry of Imperial Inquest. Valalia and Scyella struck up a natural rapport. This was it. This was RP. I was RPing for the first time in SWTOR.
Valalia wound up being taken on as Scyella's apprentice and I wound up joining the guild. The Ministry of Imperial Inquest, as it turned out, was a heavy RP guild.
That night, I joined the Ministry website on Enjin. The next day, I RPed with a character named Akkat, just a simple meet and greet. Akkat was a doctor with the guild. Valalia and Akkat got along . That same night, Valalia attended a ceremony hosted by the MII which was to welcome new members into the organization proper. Akkat was there. And Valalia was very un-Sith like and got flustered. Everyone there picked up on it, with Scyella even having a laugh and telling Valalia that "Akkat's a good man, don't be embarrassed."
Over time, Valalia and Akkat's friendship grew into a relationship.
Yes, that's right. My character had an in game boyfriend.
Over time, the Ministry grew larger. Valalia rose through the ranks, eventually being granted the title of Lord by the officers in the guild. Even though the game gives players the Lord title when they finish the first act, in the guild you weren't a Lord until your master or the Darths granted you the title. We took RP seriously. With the Lord title, Valalia changed. She went from someone who was not fan of the Sith to someone who openly derided them and their practices. She constantly told her peers that their reliance on the Dark Side was idiotic. She was spouting treason. But she did so because she was protected by the leader of the Ministry, one Darth Ashea. However, in order to not look weak, Ashea was forced time and again to make an example of Valalia. But Valalia was gifted with the tongue, she was able to convince the officers time and again that she was not at fault, even when she blatantly was. All it took was a twist of the words.
It was during this time that I developed a style for Valalia in RPs. Valalia was something of a manipulator, gifted at deception via words. I started writing Valalia without ever using contractions when she spoke, because it sounded more proper and malicious while still coming off as intelligent and stuck up. Over time, Valalia became a known name in the guild. I attended the weekly events, I helped out in planning them, I helped others new to RP get a footing and a grasp on the basics of playing a character.
I was suddenly playing the game not to get to end game, but to RP. Whenever I quested on the planets, I did so because Scyella had given Valalia an RP task and I pretended that doing, say, Hoth, was Valalia completing the task. I reached level 50 before long. During this time, Valalia and Akkat broke up because Akkat could not balance his increased workload, having been promoted to head of the medical division, and a romantic life. Valalia was upset but understanding. And she knew very well that that was an excuse. She knew that everyone in the guild was distancing themselves from her because of her heretical views.
As the guild grew in size, so too did the events. And so too did Valalia's infamy within the guild. She was much more open in insulting those who fully embraced the Dark Side. Valalia preferred the neutral, to remain in the grey, to pass judgment on both the Sith and the Jedi and how both were fools, because at some point Valalia took a page from Kreia's book and grew tired of the Force in general and how it turned everyone into petty assholes. Valalia was searching for a way out, and it culminated in a large guild event spaced over multiple weeks. The Ministry was investigating an Imperial family with rumored Republic ties. Before the event I had co-ordinated with Scyella and the officers and created alt characters to play the part of two of the family members.
The event continued next week with the capture of the son of the Imperial family. There was going to be an interrogation, to learn the location of the Darth father who was a traitor. But when the interrogation happened, the Ministry found that the son had escaped. It was then discovered, after a night of investigative RP, that he was set free. He had help.
Valalia had set him free.
At that point, there was no going back. Valalia had acted in open defiance of the Ministry, the punishment of which was death. Valalia and Scyella fought with Scyella being the victor. As Valalia was 'killed' she smiled. She laughed.
Valalia had died.
At the time it was because it just made for a neat twist on the narrative. No one expected the end of that, and a funeral was held the next week. Of course, Scyella and I had planned it and Valalia wasn't actually dead, but no one knew any better.
At this time, I rolled a new character, a twi'lek named Gem'benin that was hired by the Ministry to be a surgeon. Gem was a very different character, she was a war criminal that once fought for the Republic but her butchering of prisoners and corpses in order to do experiments on cross-species super soldiers was reprehensible to her Republic benefactors, so she sought refuge in the Empire. But Gem was a sweet person, I gave her a bit of a Southern drawl to enhance the innocent but insane gimmick. Gem was instantly well liked by people and Gem eventually rose in ranks. I became an officer in the guild.
I still played on Valalia even though she was 'dead'. I played on Valalia because the guild started doing the raids and I was the second tank when needed, and a melee DPS when a second tank was around. I grinded up two sets of raid gear, one for tank spec and one for DPS spec because I was having so much fun with this guild. I hung out in the Mumble, posted on their website often, I became friends with these people whom I've never actually met in person.
So of course it didn't last.
The guild imploded. Problems with operations and management upset a group of people who split off, quit the guild, and went off to do their own thing. One of these people was Valalia's first friend, and someone I was friends with as well, Akkat. I hitched my post to the Ministry. They had made the game fun for me, and I would stick with them. So the Ministry went on, bringing in new blood and new officers. By this point, Valalia had returned due to an event I ran with help from the guild. But some of the new officers never got the memo about Valalia's character. They also never got the memo about keeping OOC (Out of Character) separate from IC (In Character). Valalia returned to her ways of stating her displeasure with the way things were being run in her absence.
This eventually led to the new officers telling me to leave if I wasn't happy. They thought Valalia's thoughts IC were the same as my own thoughts OOC, which just wasn't true. But I increasingly felt like I was unwelcome. I was suddenly getting ignored in RP, officers were wondering why I was even sticking around. I was being given the cold shoulder.
So I quit.
I was upset. Physically. I had honestly felt betrayed. I had been part of the guild and active, and this was how it came to an end. I had thought that to be the end of my SWTOR adventures. Realizing I still had a month left, I figured I'd at least do the Hutt Cartel stuff that had recently come out. During what was to be my final month, I met a new character. A Chiss. Our characters got along well, really well. And I was taken to different RP events put on by other guilds. I was introduced to the server community website, where events were planned and posted.
Eventually, Valalia and this Chiss character were married in game. Yes. I was one of THOSE people. I get super into my characters. I subbed for another three months.
But, both my in game spouse and myself were growing bored with the game. The RP I was having on the regular was declining. The Chiss left the game before I did. We had one final RP together. I stuck around a bit longer. I guess I have trouble saying goodbye. It was now the springg of 2014. I realized I had been playing this game for quite some time, not because of the content, but because of the community. I realized also that I really didn't like the game part of SWTOR. But I loved the community. I loved the RP.
Over the summer I met another character. We stayed up until about two in the morning RPing. We became fast, fast friends because both of us were tired of the generic, boring 'cantina RP' and we were both impressive to the other. We struck up a fast friendship, RPing often and with others. We even started questing together. We created new Republic characters together and gave them a backstory. (They were siblings!) I was suddenly enjoying the game again, because I was back to RPing regularly, and with a new batch of people.
But, of course, that slowed. And again I was playing the game part of the game, which was my least favorite part. My new RP friend became the leader of a guild thanks to circumstances involving the old guild leader not wanting to run a guild anymore. My friend didn't want to lead a guild, and I didn't blame him.
In August of 2014, I quit SWTOR. Life got in the way and I couldn't commit. But it wasn't as if I was a fan of the game anyway. I was a fan of certain people, and most of them had quit as well. I left without saying goodbye to my final friend.
The second expansion to the game came out in December 2014. I still had no love for the MMO part of the game, but I did have a max level character in Valalia, and I was mildly curious about the new story beats...I mean...Revan is back. And as much as I think Revan is a shit character, I was not a fan of his treatment in the regular game...but I didn't bite the bullet right away.
Yesterday I signed into the game for the first time since August, just to see some of the new stuff like housing. I found I was still in the guild that my friend had become the leader of. It had grown. Considerably. There were people in it other than just us two. I had no idea, obviously. But I posted a simple "Uh...hi" in guild chat.
I was then greeted with a whisper from my friend. He expressed how glad he was to see that I was alive, that he was worried that when I up and left all of a sudden that I had died or something. He went on to explain to me how the guild was doing, their current storyline, and how excited he was that the guild was going and that I was back.
It was heartwarming. I was smiling and on the verge of tears as I whispered back, realizing that I was actually, genuinely missed. That this person that I've never met in real life thought of me as if I was a dear friend. It was in that moment that I finally understood why people who were into MMOs were way into MMOs. I finally understood the friendships that are forged in MMORPGs. The only difference is that mine didn't come out of running raids with people over and over again. My friendships were formed because someone responded to an emote out of the blue.
Today I resubscribed to The Old Republic and purchased the expansion. I can't say for how long I'll stay subscribed...but I think it's time for another chapter in Valalia's story.