The Game Archaeologist: Five eye-opening videos about the MMORPG genre


When it comes to tracking down history for MMOs, I’ve found that there are an array of sources at hand that have preserved (unwittingly or not) the past for us to discover today. It might be the news articles from long-running game sites, scans of magazine articles, old Usenet files, and especially interviews from those involved in the making and running of early titles.

Another great source, of course, is YouTube. If you’re ever curious about how a long-dead MMORPG looked and played while it was operational, you need only pull up archived videos to see them in action. Once in a while I’ll stumble over interesting videos that reshape how I’ve envisioned the decades during which developers and gaming pioneers formed what we now enjoy, and today I want to share five of those videos with you.

1. Raph Koster’s History of Virtual Worlds

In a punchy six-minute video, renowned game designer Raph Koster (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Crowfall) takes listeners through an overview of the history of virtual worlds, from MUDs to World of Warcraft, touching on many of the highlights of the MMO era. What I like here is that he delivers all of this from both players’ and developers’ perspectives.

2. LucasFilm’s Habitat promotional video

Try to forget everything you know about online gaming and go back to a time when all of this wasn’t just far-fetched, it was completely unknown. So how do you explain and sell such a concept like LucasFilm’s Habitat, the first graphical online world? You might create a silly and whimsical promotional video such as this one, which goes through the lingo (including “avatar”) and how online interactions work.

3. BBS: The Documentary

If you’re only vaguely aware of the existence of the bulletin board system (BBS) — or completely ignorant — then settle in for this eight-part series on the history and use of these minature, privately owned “internets.” Plenty of online gaming took place on BBSes in the ’80s and ’90s, and this film is worth watching just to hear users recount the wonder and awe of reaching out and gaming with others around the world for the first time.

4. Evercracked

OK, so the presentation of this video is a little cheesy, but it’s still the best “making of EverQuest” documentary that I’ve seen. Created for the game’s 10th anniversary in 2009, Evercracked interviews key members of then-SOE about how the game came into being during the 1990s. No matter what you think of the game itself, I promise that you’ll be fascinated by the accounts of how Sony took a huge gamble on the genre and took MMOs to a whole new level of popularity and possibility.

5. Aardwolf Multi-User Dungeon

Hosted by former Massively colleague Jeremy Stratton, this video does a spot-on job of taking MMO players into the world of text-based MUDs. If you’ve ever been curious how MMOs worked before graphics, you’ll want to give this a watch.

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.

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