"I Don't Play 'X,' So It Must Be Dead"

One of my favorite comments, that might as well be painted on a portable tombstone, is “Game X is dead.” Any game you can think of has been dubbed deceased by an internet-certified coroner: World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Black Desert Online, and on and on through the endless wave of titles across time. It’s equivalent to somebody saying “Shakespeare is overrated.” Sure, you can utter the phrase—you can even type it in all caps to show you're passionate—and boy do some people not know about lowercase letters. Doesn’t mean it’s true. And just because you don’t play X doesn’t mean it’s dead.

What does it mean for a game to be dead? It’s a question no one bothers asking because the answer might say they can no longer shitpost on r/MMORPG. Well, we need a starting point. And mine, is to say that anything in the MMOs.com graveyard is buried—but not too buried that a necromancer like Suba Games can’t hold a satanic ritual to resurrect it for nefarious scheming. We’re safe saying graveyard games are dead. If you don’t like it, scroll down to the comments.

Graveyard servers have a caked layer of dust, the code is lost on some angsty ex-employees hard drive, and there’s a private server community somewhere making money thanks to that insatiable appetite for nostalgia. That’s a dead game with little need for debate. We’re in agreement that they’re dead right? At least officially. Who knows, maybe they’ll surprise us on Steam one of these days—seems like every corpse eventually does.

Let’s get down to the definitional meat of what counts as a “dead game.” We’re going to take our big steak knife—made by Logic Pyramid Scheme Inc.—and cut right to the heart of the matter.

Can a game be dead but still have players? Let’s look at Age of Conan; it’s an apt example. Funcom announced that the game’s servers will stay up but there will be no new updates. Cruise control is turned on until the game runs completely out of gas. You can click the fat Install button and hop on in, just don’t expect to see the word “Update.”

If I can play the game, it’s not dead. Maybe it’s in senescence: at a memory care center reminiscing about sneaking off to the club and smoking funny cigarettes. But the game’s still got a few years left before someone recites Do not go gentle into that good night over a six-foot hole. Sure, you can call it dying. But dying is not the same as dead. If you want to be an edgy teen you can say all games start dying the day they’re released, but I’m trying to have a serious conversation here, not recreate the high-school years I try to forget with indulgence. I prefer to listen to an inspirational speech from Alan Watts and say all games are living; that is, until they’re dead.

What did we learn from those five or six lines (I ain’t counting)? A game can have no updates, but if it still has players then it’s not dead. Okay. Let’s take this mind game to another level.

Is it enough to say a game with no players is dead? Imagine there’s not a single person playing Thanatos: The Dragon Chaser (there isn’t cause I was at the funeral for this one but let’s pretend for a minute that it's breathing), but the servers are still online. Is it dead?

No one wants to share a bed with Thanatos, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still trying its luck on the speed-dating circuit: you might be all alone but you’re still alive. Plus, if we assume I’m wrong—which I never am; this is part of the thought experiment—then all it takes is a single-player to save Thanatos’ soul from being christened dead by /u/X†XEdgyRedditorX†X. Each and everyone of us would have the power of life and death over games with no players, and Steam has a lot of those. Doesn’t seem right to me.

If the server lights are still blinking, even if they’re located in a hoarder’s basement somewhere in Detroit, then the game’s alive. I’ll admit you can be alive, and have a terminal illness. Plenty of games are sick and doctors don’t have a cure. Not that Dr. Mario care about a game that never had much of a playerbase to begin with.

Did we learn anything today? I don’t think so. As far as I can tell, the people who like pointing and laughing at games with their best Nelson impersonation are busy sounding out the headline. Maybe I learned something. If we’re going to call a game dead, it better have a few maggots, maybe some dirt, or ash in a jar above Richard Garriott’s headboard. Calling a game “dead” ought to mean something, instead of being part of the colloquial pissing contest for commentators to assert their ego on the digital playground.

When I say a game is dead, I guarantee it’s dead as dead.

“Whoah, whoah. Suba Games, please stop licking your lips.”

From Mega Man II to Ape Escape, I've been playing games for as long as I can remember. I've spent months killing porings in Ragnarok Online and more recently lived a second life in Eve Online. I usually play as gUMBY, gUMBLEoni, or gUMBLes in-game.