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I Love Old School RuneScape, I think

You can play a game for 1,000 hours, but that doesn’t mean you enjoy it. We’ve all seen that meme of someone giving a negative Steam review with over 5,000 hours on record. But let’s be honest, that’s just not an absurd concept anymore.

I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into Fallout 4, and I may have enjoyed about five of them. The rest was just the promise of enjoyment, with that bloody ‘kill, loot, return’ gameplay loop tricking my stupid brain into thinking it was having fun. And I’ve seen what you’ve all said about Skyrim – and how you’ve come crawling back to it yet again. Pathetic, the lot of us.

But Old School RuneScape? I have no idea. It’s usually easy to spot one of these timesink games: they consume your life, and then you moan about it 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 bringing me back to it. Finding out it was on mobile was a mistake. My family hasn’t heard from me in days.

RuneScape was one of the trailblazers: a game purely focussed on engagement, which doesn’t necessarily have to go hand-in-hand with enjoyment. That’s not to say the two are mutually exclusive, it just means that there are ways to keep you playing when you’re not having fun.

RuneScape also happens to be one of the most effective at what it does. I’ve been watching the fan documentary, RuneScape Historical Timeline 1998 – 2020, about the development (it really has consumed all aspects of my life) and the developers were shocked to see players max out stats in months, rather than years. The top tier accounts were online for more than ten hours a day, every day. And coming back in 2021, I can see why. If you love the fantasy genre, then the atmospheric music lulls you in. Everything is so basic that your mind fills in the blanks. I reckon this was why we were hooked as kids, it’s the perfect playground to have your own adventure.

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

RuneScape’s lead designer, Dave Osborne, alluded to this when I asked him about the continued success around its 20th anniversary. “There are no classes to pick from, no walled servers to segregate players, and no content that is locked off from a certain player type,” he told me in an earlier interview. “Everyone in RuneScape can play everything in its world. Everyone understands your achievement because they’re probably gunning for it too.”

And that’s it: when you first arrive in Lumbridge, all the high-level players could be you one day. It’s intoxicating.

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

A whole lot of games fight to take over your life, but RuneScape is the most honest about it. The appeal isn’t the quests and lore. When people talk about the win-state, they talk about getting all their stats to level 99. No one considers getting all the settlements in Fallout 4 to be the end goal – it’s about the story, the journey. But here, the numbers are all it is. They’re all it has to be.

RuneScape can be whatever you want it to be. It’s fit itself into my life just as it did when I was seven, but in a totally different way. If you were hooked back in the 2000s, I really recommend checking out Old School – just be prepared for a lot of conflicting emotions.

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