“Where some see coincidence, I see consequence. Where others see chance, I see cost.”
– The Merovingian in “Matrix Revolutions”
I’m a serial killer.
In the past 16 years, I’ve amassed a body count that would make Dexter Morgan feel like an amateur. Usually, I did it because the dice told me I should. Sometimes I kept trophies – news articles, transcripts of the kill, those sorts of things.
Some victims I liked; some I didn’t. I don’t remember all their names. I don’t remember all their faces. I don’t remember all their last words.
Some, I recall, were good sports about it. Others, not so much. But this much I remember: They always had it coming.
Since its inception in 1998, OtherSpace has been all about the chain reactions of cause and effect; action and reaction; choice and consequence. The ultimate consequence was the death of a player’s character.
Unlike World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls Online, and Wildstar, OtherSpace isn’t so forgiving as to restore your character to life from the virtual graveyard. Or, at least, it didn’t use to be.
“And how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?”
– Captain James T. Kirk in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
Every character’s story follows an arc, just like the game itself. Generally, though, OtherSpace functions with one real-life day equating to one in-game day. So, unless you’re playing a character from some alien race with the lifespan of a fruit fly, it’s unlikely that your character will die of old age and natural causes.
Still, it’s like Ernest Hemingway wrote in “Death in the Afternoon:” “All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.”
On OtherSpace, an early death serves a purpose. It could be that a player is bowing out of the game and wants a heroic sendoff. It could be that it gives a scene more emotional impact when the team suffers a loss. Or it could be that a character has been idle for months and the lead writer on this collaborative project decides it’s time to move on and come up with a tragic end to explain the absence.
Always, it’s the result of choice and consequence. Cross a ruthless crime lord? Take the chance that they’ll hunt you down for revenge. Break ranks from your squad on a deadly planet? Risk a swift, sudden demise on your own. Make enemies through your actions? Be ready for them to capitalize on a moment of vulnerability.
Tomin Kora, the center of power for Lord Fagin and eventually Boss Cabrerra, proved an effective “Darwin trap” for OtherSpace. Somehow, it drew foolhardy rogues from across the galaxy to the one planet that didn’t allow for luck cards and other refereed methods of escaping the brutal consequences of unwise actions.
Clyde Bruckman: “You know, there are worse ways to go, but I can’t think of a more undignified way than autoerotic asphyxiation.”
Fox Mulder: “Why are you telling me that?”
Clyde Bruckman: “Look, forget I mentioned it. It’s none of my business.”
– “The X-Files”
Peter Kuan, an employee of Boss Cabrerra on Tomin Kora, got blown apart by Colin Neidermeyer’s flechette pistol for breaking equipment in the Last Orders Tavern.
Neidermeyer dropped Saiidyr from a tall building on Tomin Kora with a distance-triggered explosive collar around the prisoner’s neck.
The noted actress Yanix Yanoe hanged herself in the shower of an apartment on Tomin Kora after a tragic love affair that ended with her AWOL military boyfriend imprisoned in a crate aboard a Vanguard vessel.
Authorities found Shadowstrike dead on Quaquan – single gunshot wound to his upper left temple and lots of alcohol in his blood.
The fugitives aboard the Pulsar Skate – Cubana, Binar, Stephen, and King Milo – didn’t come back from the dead after their ship, which had been stolen from Lord Fagin the Pirate King, tumbled into a black hole.
Trueguard Silverstep took a permanent dirt nap after separating from an invasion force on Nocturn, killed by Kamir “mind daggers.”
Stripefur Dreamchaser, a Vanguard general, got the Rosalind Shays “L.A. Law” treatment and fell down an elevator shaft aboard the Sanctuary colony vessel.
A Martian Legions centurion, Silvano Frost, got drunk on vodka and jabbed a fork into the power source of a datapad.
Akino, a Specialist, died from a lack of the critical medicine known as Metazone.
Wobolo died because a malformed tail fluke slowed his escape from a collapsing underwater cavern on G’ahnlo.
Marcus Harris died at the hand of John Christian Falkenberg in the closing moments of the Moebius Effect crisis. I didn’t pull the trigger, but I served as referee. This was one of those “past coming back to haunt” incidents.
Tixxon, a Timonae thug, was shot and throat-slashed by Knuckles the Zangali on Tomin Kora.
Lord Boromov met his end when a Nall warrior named Hurk of Hatch Vril decapitated him on live holovision.
Ankechi Pierre Dominique died trying to escape from a cell aboard Sanctuary.
Nathan Parias, after crossing a Tomin Kora crime boss, died from an injection of toxic G’ahnli love spunk.
Yulkamin plucked out his own fur over several weeks and then choked himself to death with a big wad. He left a message on his mattress, scrawled in his own blood: “Eat at Joe’s.”
“This is a good death. There is no shame in this, a man’s death. A man who has done great works.”
– The Operative in “Serenity”
Some deaths on OtherSpace involve noble sacrifices, such as the demise of General Trak’gar during the rebellion against the Zarist sympathizers on Kamsho or Jeff Ryan’s last stand against the rampaging Phyrrian war fleet.
Mika Tachyon gave her life – and her ship – to thwart a Nall attack on the Galaxy Galleria space mall. Jeff Allen died buying time for people trying to escape from mutant freaks in the ruins of Washington, D.C.
Every once in a while, whether it’s a chance roll of the dice or a moment of creative providence and singular determination to end a character’s story on their own terms, a player happens on a moment where they can sear the final actions of a beloved character into the minds of their peers on OtherSpace.
Be careful, though, when it comes to purposeful player sacrifice. What seems like a cool scene today could yield buyer’s remorse tomorrow after you’ve dismissed such an iconic character from the ongoing saga. If you’ve got a choice and the dice aren’t hateful, it’s worth considering taking a serious injury and finding storytelling hooks in recovering and fighting another day.
“I fear something terrible has happened.”
– Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars: A New Hope”
Speaking of remorse, it’s time to consider the bloodiest single day in OtherSpace history.
In June 2001, the player behind Bartholomew Ritter – ruler of a world called La Terre – decided to blow up the planet rather than face conquest by the Lem’ing invaders.
It was a perfect storm of paranoia, arrogance, and stubbornness. For months, Ritter grumbled about how the staff was out to get him – after giving him a planet upon which to build a new society, rich with volatile polydenum. I had run a story arc that culminated in an effort by the madman Gustav Eiger to detonate La Terre’s polydenum stockpiles and destroy the planet – and he was thwarted. As the Lem’ing advanced, Ritter announced that he had similarly wired explosives into the veins of polydenum and linked those detonators to a red button in his office on the surface of the planet.
Now, never mind that Ritter had never properly established the existence of this doomsday device prior to the day of the invasion. No dice rolls for mining, electronics, demolitions. I could’ve called him on it. But he would’ve latched onto my doing so as proof positive that I wanted to railroad his world and control his roleplaying direction.
I probably could’ve suffered through that sort of nonsense if he’d been alone in the act of turning La Terre into space opera’s answer to Jonestown. If it had just been him, I’d have shut him down, ended the scene, and maybe given him a timeout from the MUSH for all our sakes.
But he wasn’t alone in the office when he had his hand on the button. Ritter had collaboration from at least three other players with characters who seemed eager to drink his Kool-Aid.
So, with him lying and everyone else swearing to it, I went along with the conceit that they had rigged the planet to blow. I didn’t really think he’d go through with it. I don’t think he expected me to let him go through with it.
I did. He did.
Dozens of characters – actual characters belonging to other players – died in that instant because of his choice, the choices of his friends, and my choice to tag along for their apocalypse.
Many events in the history of OtherSpace demonstrate how player choice – and referee choice – can make a real impact on the mythos and psyche of our virtual world. The destruction of La Terre stands alone in its keen demonstration of how catastrophic such choices can be. Their scars are deep and long lasting.
“Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”
– The Dread Pirate Roberts in “The Princess Bride”
Over time, I confess, I grew squeamish about killing off characters. Death wasn’t as much fun after the wholesale slaughter on La Terre.
I came up with ideas like a tool called +cricketfactor, which a player could use to effectively ask a referee whether their course of action is liable to get them killed, and luck cards, which allowed a player to stockpile virtual get-out-of-the-grave-free coupons.
I stopped writing people out of the story, freeing them to pop back in once in a blue moon, make a brief cameo, and then vanish again.
Ultimately, these practices have the effect of marginalizing consequences and reducing the significance of player choice. It may create a “safer” environment, a play yard with lots of padding on the sharp corners. But the evolving story always seemed more vital, more interesting, when reckless actions wrought unflinching consequences.
On June 28, 2014, OtherSpace begins anew with the first full-fledged reboot in its history. No +cricketfactor. No luck cards. Just you, me, your choices, and maybe some dice.
It’s probably time to add to my trophy collection.