June 16, 2015

Meridian 59: An excerpt from DEATH BY VIDEO GAME


288458-m59Barloque is the capital of Meridian 59, the first computer game that allowed people from around the world to gather and quest together via the Internet. At the peak of its popularity, soon after the game’s release, in 1996, tens of thousands of players lived among its crudely rendered scenes filled with pixellated trees, shifting lava and tired mountains. They’d battle over resources, form and break alliances, loot and terrorize one another, and assume new identities for hours at a time. As with any place where humans gather, friendships and rivalries blossomed. Two players who met in Barloque were married: a relationship seeded in fantasy, consummated in reality.

Meridian 59 was the first ‘massively multiplayer online game’ (MMOG), a style of game that allows people from around the world to live and quest together in a shared virtual space via the Internet.

The idea for the game came from two brothers, Andrew and Chris Kirmse, who developed Meridian 59 in the windowless basement of their parents’ house, in Virginia. The game’s title refers to its setting, the fifty-ninth provincial colony of an ancient empire.

More than twenty-five thousand people joined the game’s public beta version, and the pair sold the game to the now defunct 3DO Company for five million dollars in stock. Meridian 59 created the template that subsequent online worlds followed, but it enjoyed only a fraction of their success. The 3DO Company encountered financial difficulties in 2001, and sold the game’s rights to two of the company’s developers. They maintained the game as a commercial venture until 2009, but it was always a niche title.

Today, two decades after Meridian 59’s launch, Barloque’s streets are quiet, its cobblestones buffed and rounded by little more than a digital breeze.

Read the rest in Death By Video Game—available for purchase here, at your neighborhood independent bookstore, at Barnes & Noble, or at Amazon.

Simon Parkin is a journalist whose writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, the Guardian, ESPN, and a number of other publications. DEATH BY VIDEO GAME is his first book.