"Lost Server Connection": The Last Minutes of a Virtual World

In the Preserving Virtual Worlds project, we are exploring many methods for preserving the software and data of virtual worlds.  Another central concern is making sure that an archival record remains of the activities and events that have occurred in these worlds.

Our project's efforts are of course motivated by a simple question.  What will happen to the assets and objects created in virtual worlds when they are closed forever?  This question leads to an event that many residents of virtual worlds have encountered already or will encounter someday: the closing of a virtual world to which they have become attached. What is it like to be there when the plug is pulled?  How do the players or residents mourn (or celebrate) its passing?

Electronic Arts' EA-Land, formerly known as The Sims Online, shut down forever at 4.35am PST on 1 August 2008, just last week.  Alex Degtiar from our project team had been capturing video to document places and activities in EA-Land before its closing, and he was present for the final See you Soon Party in EA Town Hall, hosted by EA's Parizad.   The event began at 11pm the previous night, and Alex was able to capture the entire 5 1/2 hours of celebrations and goodbyes.  We have just added a clip of the last five minutes to Archiving Virtual Worlds, the repository for virtual world videos curated by the How They Got Game project and hosted by the Internet Archive.  (NB. If you have a fast connection, download the divx version for best quality.)

This clip documents a range of emotions associated with TSO/EA-Land and no doubt many other virtual worlds. These emotions are brought out intensely as a virtual world at last closes down.  Note that in this video, the precise moment is represented in the anticlimactic form of a network error, "lost server connection." 

Alex's comments after the event better describe the lost emotional connection for many residents of the world:

"Being there for the very end really was a unique experience. Many players knew each other and had been a part of The Sims Online/EA-Land for years, while others were newer to the experience. Regardless, this final event welcomed all, and everyone shared their happiness to spend their last moments together with EA's Parizad, their friends, and their acquaintances, their tears and sadness over having EA-Land torn from them, their frustrations with EA and it's decision, and their hopes for keeping contact and meeting again. The last moments were especially moving, as emotions ran high and people that had made TSO/EA-Land and this community a part of their lives for so long had to make their final goodbyes. It was a once in a lifetime event that would be hard to forget."

Many thanks to Alex for his work on our project.  We will posting dozens more videos to Archiving Virtual Worlds in the next weeks, primarily from EA-Land, Second Life, and World of Warcraft.


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