by, 04-08-2008 at 12:46 AM (7538 Views)
A few hours ago I read the news that Disney has decided to close the Virtual Magic Kingdom game, a FREE! (and that word will become important later) online multiplayer game created around the time of Disneyland's 50th Anniversary and "designed for 8-14 year olds."
Thinking this must be a late April Fool's joke, I quickly checked the VMK home page and yes, there it was, the official word right from Yavn's mouth. (Yavn is the screen name for one of the VMK producers, a nice guy I've had the pleasure of meeting in real life a few times)
My next stop was the VMKForums Web site, a fan site devoted to all things VMK. Sure enough, the site was in an uproar about the announcements, with the members planning everything from "dress your character in all black" protests to a massive phone and e-mail blitz begging Disney to change their corporate mind.
For a split second, I considered adding my voice to the fray by making my own phone call when the Disney Internet Group offices open tomorrow, but then that little censor in my head overrode any such childish impulse. I suddenly had visions of exactly what such a phone call would sound like...
"Hello, Disney Internet Group? I'm calling to protest the announced closure of Virtual Magic Kingdom."
"No, I'm not calling for my kids - I don't even have kids."
"Yes, I realize it's a child's game, but don't you know adults play too?"
and so on, and so on, and so on.
Seriously - how embarassing to have to try to explain why an adult cares about the fate of a child's video game!
But then the part of me that is actually somewhat upset by this started fighting back. Exactly how is playing VMK any more mock-worthy than spending hours battling crazed rabbids as my husband and friends do with their Wiis, or forming guilds to battle evil wizards as a colleague does on World of Warcraft?
Why is being a hockey or baseball fan somehow more "real" if you're not the one on the ice or running the bases?
And why exactly do I feel defensive about this anyway? Heck, I've spent a good chunk of my life being mocked by "Muggles" for my obsession with all things Disney, but that hasn't prompted me to hide my 5' Sorcerer Mickey plush or stop wearing my extensive collection of Disney Reyn Spooner shirts. Yet even among some of my Disney friends, trying to explain VMK - and admitting that I actually *gasp* play! - is enough to start them down the road to an intervention.
Sure it's a little odd chatting online with another player when you're not sure if the person behind the avatar is 7, 27 or 70, but that's why VMK doesn't let you give out personal information. Don't ask, don't tell. I frequently complain to my husband that "the nine-year-olds" are beating me at the VMK Fireworks or Pirates of the Caribbean game, but I know that a great number of the players are adults.
There's also the whole "professional detachment" thing. It is unseemly to come off as a geeky fan girl when asking for interviews with the people responsible for Disney's online initiatives - even if the first question I now want to ask them is "why, WHY did you do this!?!?" (And on the off chance the person I recently requested an interview with is reading this, I promise not to lead with that question.)
But this is ridiculous. I'm a grown, college-educated adult! I own businesses, create jobs, pay taxes! And I'm not the only adult who spends entirely too many hours hanging out on a virtual Main Street. I guess it's time to come clean, air my dirty secret, stand before my fellow Disney fans and say:
"My name is Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, I'm a responsible adult, and I like VMK."
By way of explaination, Yavn said "VMK was created and launched as part of a promotion to celebrate Disneyland's 50th Anniversary. The game/promotion has ran well beyond the original time it was intended to," and encouraged players to check out Disney's other games like "Pirates of the Caribbean Online, Disney's ToonTown Online, Club Penguin and the upcoming Fairies and Cars online virtual worlds."
What's do all of these things have that VMK doesn't? A registration fee. Sure, there are free, low-feature versions of some of these games, but each of the existing games comes with the option of paying for enhanced access and features. VMK was really just a "proof of concept" for these newer games, and since it isn't generating any cash flow for the company, has probably served its purpose.
What does VMK have that those other games don't? In my opinion, heart. I tried Pirates online during the Beta phase. Not only did the game's graphics make me dizzy and slightly ill, I couldn't figure out if there was EVER anything to do but fight or be fought. Toontown Online is just a little... too... placid?
VMK is built to look like a Disney theme park - you can wander through New Orleans Square, ride the Peter Pan attraction, hop aboard the Monorail. None of the other games offer anything like that atmosphere, a way for people to step "foot" onto Main Street when they are hundreds and thousands of miles away. That has always been the most compelling part of the game to me, and the thing I most wish to see preserved.
I've also been impressed by the sheer amount of creativity that players have demonstrated in the game. VMKers don't just hang out and chat, they build things - personal rooms, rides, quests and games. You would not believe what some of these players can do with just the pixels they are given - and VMK players aren't even allowed to create their own items like some other games allow.
VMK isn't just a game, it's a community of people, and it's truly unfortunate to see that community go away. There are people who met during the "Beta" phase three years ago who are still good online friends today - and don't even know how to contact each outside of VMK due to the "no personal information" policy. I imagine we'll see a lot of players quietly try to circumvent those policies in an effort to stay in touch with their friends.
Several of the "nine-year-olds" on the VMK fan site I mentioned have offered to pay for the game if only Disney would consider allowing it to stick around. I would cheerfully, gladly do the same - so long as there was a reasonable expectation that the Kingdom could be moved onto more powerful servers to solve the lag issues inherent in the current game. I'd even welcome a "new and improved" VMK, where everyone starts fresh in a shiny new Kingdom if that's what Disney felt was the business model they needed to persue.
Whatever happens, I wish I could be there for the final day of VMK. (Instead I'll be on the Disney Magic sailing towards California) I imagine it will be like the last night of the ISP who's name I have long since forgotten, with thousands of people logged on at 9:59:59 PDT to see if they really pull the plug.
Farewell, VMK. It's been fun.
I'm sorry that we never got to do the VMK Virtual MouseAdventure I had planned - that would have been great.
But Yavn - if they do change their mind... you know where to find me.