Reno was covered in puke. His pants were around his ankles and he had only a vague awareness of where he was as his equally disheveled cohorts lay slumped around his prone figure. His head pounded and getting up was trickier than he thought between ponderously moving around his friends and being forced to duck-walk with his garments at his feet. Rising to his feet, though, he saw the typical sight— empty wine and mead bottles galore.
It was, in other words, an average Friday night.
Reno Finnegan was your average 18-year-old college Freshman. Away from home for the first time in his short life, he was intoxicated with the freedom his new surroundings offered. Needless to say, that metaphorical intoxication soon turned to literal intoxication as he hit the party scene; loose women and more alcohol than an alcoholic could drink in a lifetime made his time at Tangagile University epic; he made sure to lose his virginity ASAP and thanks to alcohol’s rape-ifying effects, he had plenty of hookups. Fuck, he even got with a few guys when his judgment slipped; he didn’t really like giving head— but he sure loved getting head and quickly came to the conclusion that guys were far better at giving than girls.
Again, it was a typical college night for a typical first year. What wasn’t typical, though, was the location of this standard debauchery.
Reno wasn’t getting shit-faced in his dorm or his dick wet in some random upperclassman’s apartment stacked full of horny undergrads. No. He was having the time of his life in a place called Vingaard— the most fantastical online realm he had ever encountered; a place so full of details and realistic that it was all too easy to forget which world— Earth or Vingaard— was reality.
Like most people, Reno had heard previously of Vingaard before entering Tangagile University, the home of Vingaard’s server. It was one of the most famous online realms, so how could he have not heard of it? Built by the world’s best and brightest scholars, and some of the most dedicated programmers, Vingaard was a haven for the intellectual, a true recreation of the middle ages, a place where one could live in stunning detail any number of lives and occupations.
It didn’t take Vingaard long to gain immense popularity. Nerds, geeks, and enthusiasts the world over flocked to Vingaard to partake in this grand experiment. Soon, the world was awash in mods, guilds, and scholarly societies who helped enrich the game; whether you played for fun— combat, trading, gambling— or for professional ends— scholarly coding, debate, and networking— there was a constantly growing community of lively exchange and discussion.
At its height, Vingaard had a presence on at least half of the internet. If you included plug-ins which redirected to it, then closer to three-quarters of the web in some way redirected to Vingaard. But, like all great things, Vingaard soon declined. It was nothing the developers did to cause the world to fade in popularity, just the typical old story— competition.
Trade secrets were stolen, developers were poached (really, though, they were just offered better contracts than at a firm which had increasingly in years become more and more stingy with their resources), and new online realms sprung up. Realms which catered to everyone’s needs and not just that of a select group of enthusiasts; realms for military veterans, political groups, racial and sexual minorities, cooking, you name it. Gradually, these groups segmented the online community into niches, like a digital version of high-school.
But, like with any niche, the realms soon balanced one-another out.
People would jump into one niche, gain an interest or skill from that niche, and then leap to another. Soon, the realms became greatly intermingled as people used each realm little different than from how they used storefronts to shop. In this virtual climate, Vingaard regained some of its former popularity as the firm behind it pushed a re-branding and became— magically— less of a miser with its vast riches. Though now Vingaard sits comfortably still as one of the most popular realms on the web, it is nowhere near its former glory.
Still, even in dying empires, embers of a new dawn can be found.
Part of the re-branding of Vingaard related to “getting back to basics” in addition to a simultaneous push to branch out and make Vingaard a staple of everyday life. It was a risky strategy but it succeeded.
The idea behind the campaign was to relate the medieval world of Vingaard to the everyday. The scholarly would feed the non-scholarly; as researchers coded new and seemingly ever more snooze-inducing subjects and events into the game world, a team of New Media specialists would, in turn, take those details and relate it in clever ways to the player both in and out of the virtual realm; thanks to the firm’s investments in Artificial Intelligence Assistants and Integrated Reality Structures, people could get the “Daily Digest” as they worked out in their home which was covered in augmented reality screens and watch the grand confrontations of Vingaard’s battle mode as they burned those calories, all the while being spoon fed “fun facts” about the historical bloodletting they were watching.
This idea of a “Neo-Medievalism”, or a “New Medieval” world, helped keep Vingaard relevant through the long and bumpy financial quarters. Operating on a vast scale, Vingaard sold franchises to universities, allowing academic institutions to host unique servers, simulate their own versions of historical events, and add to the General-Access pool of resources. These “free-lance” professors, then, now had the freedom to do something only official firm developers had the ability to do— create new and unique scenarios and build re-creations of trades and events which were deemed “unprofitable” by firm HQ.
Students were exposed to a vast array of new topics. Everything from blacksmithing to farming to diplomacy was theirs for the taking. Naturally, students formed their own associations and in time, the firm developers took up the most wished for topics in these student associations and made it an official part of the game world… or, at least an official part in the lower difficulty settings of Academic Mode. From students mass-participation in Vingaard, professors began catering to student culture, designing courses and engagements in ways which responded to the students playing methods. In short, Vingaard began to resemble reality.
One student among the many hundreds-of-millions which comprised Vingaard’s population was, you guessed it, Reno Finnegan, a youth who, for the first time in his life, was soon to experience Vingaard not through a computer screen but through a fully virtual-reality augmentation immersion suit.
Happy beyond measure, Reno reflected on the emotional day he moved into his college dormitory.