I like RuneScape the old fashioned way, I think

You can play a game for 1000 hours, but that doesn’t mean you enjoy it. We’ve all seen this meme of someone giving a negative review of Steam with over 5,000 hours logged. But let’s be honest, this is no longer an absurd concept.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours in Fallout 4, and maybe enjoyed about five. The rest was just the promise of fun, with this bloody “kill, loot, return” gameplay loop making my stupid brain think it was having fun. And I saw what you all said about Skyrim – and how you got back to it yet again. Pathetic, all of us.

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But Old School RuneScape? I have no idea. It’s usually easy to spot one of these timeink games – they consume your life, then you complain online. But RuneScape is different. When I’m not playing, I still don’t really have an opinion on it. I just hear the music in my head and feel a gravitational pull pulling me back there. Finding out it was on mobile was a mistake. My family hasn’t heard from me in days.

RuneScape was one of the pioneers: a game that was purely about engagement, which doesn’t have to go hand in hand with fun. This doesn’t mean the two are mutually exclusive, it just means that there are ways you can keep playing when you’re not having fun.

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RuneScape also happens to be one of the most efficient at what it does. I watched the fan documentary, RuneScape Historical Timeline 1998 – 2020, about development (it really consumed every aspect of my life) and the devs were shocked to see players maxing out their stats in months rather than in years. The top-level accounts were online for more than ten hours a day, every day. And coming back to 2021, I understand why. If you like the fantasy genre, then atmospheric music will rock you. Everything is so basic that your mind fills in the blanks. I think that’s what we were addicted to when we were kids, it’s the perfect playground for your own adventure.

But as an adult it feels like a second job. Not bad, I think. But still, I’ll be sitting there watching TV, using the same laptop that I just used to work eight hours at my actual job, grinding at my magic level because I decided my character would be cool. Wizard. Then the next day maybe I want to fulfill my childhood dream of getting a full set of black armor, so now I’m a knight I guess.

RuneScape lead designer Dave Osborne alluded to it when I asked him about the continued success around his 20th birthday. “There are no classes to choose from, no siled servers to separate players and no locked content for a certain type of player,” he told me in a previous interview. “Anyone in RuneScape can play anything in their world. Everyone understands your success because they are probably aiming for it as well.

And that’s it: When you arrive in Lumbridge, all of the top players could one day be you. It’s intoxicating.

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“More than any other game I’ve played, the avatar is me – it’s an accumulation of everything I’ve accomplished in RuneScape, and it’s extremely valuable to our players.”

Many games fight to take control of your life, but RuneScape is the most honest about it. The call is not quests and lore. When people talk about the winning state, they’re talking about bringing all of their stats to level 99. No one considers the end goal to be all of the settlements in Fallout 4 – that’s the story, travel. But here the numbers are all it is. They are all there is to be.

RuneScape can be whatever you want it to be. It fits into my life like when I was seven, but in a whole different way. If you were addicted to the 2000s, I definitely recommend you take a look at Old School – just be prepared for a lot of conflicting emotions.

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