There was a time when using a computer an hour after school was the only luxury many had to explore the still-developing internet. The hour had to be spent wisely, and much of mine was spent on Runescape. As one of the earliest free MMOs, Runescape presented an opportunity for kids of all ages to explore online games for the first time.
While it was around at the same time as hits like AdventureQuest, the vast 3D world offered in Runescape was absolutely fascinating for a first-timer. You could wander for hours in Runescape and pick up exactly where you left off in your next ‘go’ of the computer. It wasn’t shiny or flash; character animations were as basic as they came.
But travelling the land of Gielinor felt absolutely magical.
Video games were far from mainstream in the early 2000s when Runescape made its debut, but it was unique for being one of the most accessible games out there. There was no need to download a client (an act which always carried the risk of installing viruses in the early 2000s) and there was a hearty free tier that rarely prompted you to spend cash you didn’t have.
Sure, quests locked behind paywalls. Certain features required a subscription. But there was plenty without all this content. There were low poly dragons to fight. Chickens to defeat and turn into delicious meals. Potions to brew, and fields to conquer.
If you were the unwitting sort, you could also stumble into the Wilderness and accidentally knock yourself out on a high-powered foe. (There really should’ve been more warnings about the dangers of the forests, but I’m not bitter.)
The important thing about Runescape was its overall lack of purpose.
In most modern games, this would be an issue. But Runescape‘s lack of structure meant you could wander anywhere without the guilt of pressing quests. You could spend an entire day just mining for ore or hunting chickens, or fishing. In many ways, Runescape was the original life sim. In those days, the emptiness didn’t matter. There wasn’t Facebook to check or Twitter to update. The internet was just a fun tool for passing hours.
Time moved slowly in Runescape, and that was perfect for its player base.
If you scroll through any Reddit thread about the early days of Runescape, what shines through most is the idle pleasure of the game. It was one of the earliest games kids ever played on PC, and it was also the one where they had the most freedom. It didn’t matter whether you knew what you were doing. It didn’t matter if you had no rare spells or cash in the bank. It was enough to wander and chat with strangers.
Runescape has changed a lot since those earlier days.
Not just in the graphics (which are now brighter and smoother than they’ve ever been), but also in the community around the game. While there was the odd ‘money for gf’ rogue who’d offer gifts in exchange for companionship (a very strange feature of a game mostly populated with kids), there was a friendliness in the Runescape community that is rare to foster in modern games.
If you needed help with a quest or any rares, there was someone eager to offer advice. The kindness of strangers filled my bank with cash, my inventory with high-powered items, even without a subscription or the means to buy one. There were plenty of places where you could just hang back, chill and ask for advice where people were only too happy to help.
It’s because the internet was in a purer phase in the early 2000s. It was still an exciting tool, and limited access meant time on it felt more precious. More than that, the internet was a happier and simpler place. Studies of social media will show they breed negativity and while they can have a positive impact, it’s easy to see just how much social media has changed our experience of the internet. People and opinions are siloed. Personal attacks are common. Unhappiness is more visible and prevalent online.
In the days when ‘Old School Runescape’ was just ‘Runescape’ it was easier to have a great time in online games. It was easier to find friends and not doubt their sincerity. Everybody was in a similar boat: just learning the game, collecting ingredients and trying to get by. You didn’t have to feel bad about not knowing the game’s lore, or not knowing to avoid the Wilderness. (Once again, I am not bitter.)
I’ll always cherish my early Runescape memories of how pure the game felt. It was an better time, and one that helped introduce me to later games in my life. All my adventures started here.
In late February, Old School Runescape is hitting Steam for the first time.
A lot’s changed since the game first released but if you’re thinking of diving back in, I would strongly encourage it. Runescape has a charm that not even modern games can ruin. Its early 2000s clunk and aimlessness are what make the game so great. It may have been technically surpassed by every game that came after it, but few games are as fun and memorable as the OG version.
Long live Runescape.