Most nerds growing up in the late 90s didn’t have a lot of options as far as gaming. There was Magic: The Gathering and a few other card games as well as single-player video games.
This was the era of the first-gen PlayStation. The Sega Gamecube was well on its way to being a flop and at the time, most of us were content with playing on our Super Nintendos or even the original.
At this point, we had not seen innovation as far as gaming for quite some time. And then Ultima Online hit the market. The first true MMORPG to hit the shelves.
It had a level of gaming that I have not experienced since. It was a complete sandbox style game. The game is now more than 20 years old and free servers still exist. Not every game can stand the test of time, but UO was able to do so. Thousands of people have played other games but come right back to UO for one reason or another.
For me, it wasn’t about the gaming experience, it was about the life lessons I learned from playing. Here are my top 3 life lessons I learned from playing Ultima Online.
1. We All Start With Nothing
With the exception of the wealthiest people in the country, most of us start our adult life with nothing. We may have a degree if we choose to go to college. But we have no real-world experience.
Even though many of us thought we did.
But it doesn’t take long to realize just how little you know and how far you still have left to travel on your journey. This is part of growing up and it’s something every new adult has to learn. We need to learn how to budget, how to get by in the adult/corporate world, how to move to a new place, how to make new friends, and how to live within our means.
Ultima Online was how I figured this out for myself. I started playing in 1997. I had no idea what I was doing.
Being that it was a sandbox game, I had no idea what kind of skills I needed because there was no class system. I was stuck on a 56k connection. I lived in a rural area at the time and DSL and cable internet were not even a thing yet.
I did the best I could with the knowledge I had, which wasn’t much. I tried to look up information, but because the game was so new, it was scarce and not always accurate. Most of what I knew I found out on my own. And this is how the real world works. You can ask questions, you can Google search all day long, but you if you really want to understand something, you need to experience it for yourself.
2. The Rich Get Richer
At this point in the game, there were few wealthy players. Most of the richest had found exploits or scams, such as the old dupe exploit. If memory serves, if you tried to cross a server line right at the time of an update, you would crash and log back in with your inventory doubled.
I had two friends in high school who did this constantly until they got caught. But by that time, they had already duped themselves into real riches. They were duping themselves into tons of rares and in-game gold, and then selling the accounts online. They were getting $1,000+ for these accounts. In 1997, at sixteen years old, that was a lot of money.
But even after UO got wise and put stops to most of the exploits and scams, the rich just getting richer. They had all of the knowledge, rares, and gold they would ever need. This gave them an advantage and they were able to accumulate even more wealth with ease. Most of them never helped new players and UO saw a lot of newer players quitting simply because they could not compete with the wealthiest players.
The incredibly large learning curve to figure the game out didn’t help much.
I saw this again when I started playing free servers. These servers survived off of donations. Real life wealthy people would donate thousands of dollars and receive donation-only gear or donation coins they could sell for in-game gold, once again giving themselves and large advantage.
Most of these players learned this lesson early on in their lives, probably from playing UO, and applied it to their real lives. They knew how important wealth was to achieving everything they wanted, so they got it, and then came full-circle by giving it back to the game that taught them this lesson.
3. Nothing Lasts Forever
UO eventually found itself a competitor: Everquest. And then a company called Blizzard took the best parts of both games and created a game most of you have never heard of. It is called World of Warcraft.
People who were tired of outdated visuals and getting pk’d at every turn left the older games and sandbox-style gaming forever.
The PvP community was appalled. They couldn’t understand why being an asshole to strangers was affecting their gaming experience. As technology changed and newer and better games came out, Electronic Arts could not keep up. I always found this to be unfortunate. No game has ever been able to put together a PvP mechanic that came anywhere close to as good as UO.
Granted, they made some bad decisions over the years that affected gameplay in a negative way.
But those first few years of UO were magical. I’ll honestly never forget them as long as I live. And more than anything, I learned to enjoy the things that make me happy while they’re around, because nothing lasts forever.
I wish I had paid more attention when I was a kid. I could have applied so much to my life as I entered adulthood and I wouldn’t have had to learn them all over again.
Sure, it was a game. But it was a game that mattered to me. It was a game that hasn’t been duplicated because of how hard it was to play. It was a game that all of us can learn from.
You just have to open your eyes and know what to look for.
I don’t play UO anymore. After playing free servers for almost a decade, I finally retired this past summer. #NORAGRETS