Angry Robot

Rickrolled by God

Or, The end of the Game Neverending.

By the morning of the second day it seemed like the world would last forever. It had ended before, of course, but now that it had started over we wanted it to stay.

What do you when the world starts over? You explore. You’ve got a map – it shows a bunch of connected hubs, most labeled only with question marks. You move around so that their names are revealed: San Poshio, Soso, Bentown. You poke around in each area, their identities rich despite the paucity of information: a quick description, a little icon. Often, jokes. Sometimes you find items within and collect them, wondering what they do.

An image of the interface circa 2003, from the GNE Museum (click for big):

You remember that you can make things. As you do so, your ‘make’ skill improves and you can make even more things. You can see that all things require ingredients before they can be made, and you click on the ingredient to discover where it might be sold or where it grows.

I have blue paper already, magically. Paper is the currency of this world, and blue paper is very valuable. It tells me it grows underwater. Well, I better find ‘underwater’ then and get my hands on some more. Time to move on.

As you move your energy depletes – it can be replenished by consuming food and drink.

You consumed 5 burgers.

You also have mood and karma. You could pick up some snapdragons, say, and chose ‘contemplate’ from the item menu. This would raise your mood. And items can raise your karma too:

You dropped 1 funk.
energy +10 The funk gives you life! (everyone present)
mood +10 Someone dropped the funk and it disappeared in a puff of smoke. The funk makes you happy! (everyone present)
karma +5 Everybody loves the funk-dropper!

Yes, there are others present. Often you see them just passing through as fast as they can click to the next area. But other times you see them gathering, giving each other items. You can hear everything everyone says in your chat window, and people tend to be helpful. After all, they are happy the world exists.

The world is designed to make people happy. It’s designed to cultivate play. In the words of Stewart Butterfield:

The secret is, even though it’s called Game Neverending, it’s not really a game at all. It’s a social space designed to facilitate and enable play. The game-elements are there to provide both the constraints and the building blocks of interaction – since the thing you’ll notice about the kind of play I’m talking about above is that it is the kind of thing that goes on between people. Ludicorp was started because we imagine all kinds of social computing applications that we’d love to use and participate in, and no one else seems to be building them.

Well, they went on and built Flickr, which indeed embodies the principles Stewart’s talking about. Flickr took off, and the Game Neverending was shelved, back in aught-four, living on only as the file extension for some of Flickr’s pages: .gne. But the principles of social play infuse Flickr, and have made their way into almost every “Web 2.0” site ever since.

I played it back then, and always wished they’d bring it back. Equal parts text adventure, MMO and web surfing session, with a sense of humour right out of a Douglas Adams novel, there’s been little else like it since. And the previous and current incarnation of GNE was nothing compared to some of the developers’ goals for it: player item creation, map expansion, even governments. If only it would come back and flower into what it could be.

But nothing lasts forever.


On my travels I passed many a vacant house – remains of the last time the world existed, their occupants long moved on. People in the chat are saying that you can still buy them and that they’re a good place to dump your items. I stumble upon a real estate agency and check the listings – there are a few I could afford. After I collect a lot more blue paper.

I’m way remote on the map now. Through woods to ‘fire fields’. I find the underwater area and locate the stash of blue paper, one of many that appears as ‘God’ makes one of his periodic, automated announcements.

GOD: I have hidden another sheet of blue paper in a hub. Can you find it?

I’m not sure if I got my house on the first night, or the second day, but get it I did, eventually. By that time I had explored the entire map, made some contacts, made a whole lot of stuff. With the emphasis on making things, and little benefit in actually holding onto it, you wind up leaving little deposits of stuff everywhere for people to stumble upon. 50 donuts, say. Who could turn that down?

Getting the house was satisfying – even if it was only really a little icon and the words ‘living room’, ‘office’ and ‘entertainment room’. It was an idea in a game made of ideas – but it was mine.

And yet word came in the quickly-scrolling chat log that the world would end.

Some were upset, offering to pool money and buy the server to keep the world going. Others saw the beauty in the fleeting experience. Majick was just trying to get enough money to buy his house he had owned the last time around.

GOD: When you walk through a storm…

God was singing Sinatra. The countdown had begun.

Some, including myself, always the lurker, went to the Civic Center (the starting point of the game) and divested themselves of their belongings – you can’t take it with you, after all.

You dropped 1 inconceivably powerful breath mint.

I saw this go by in the chat log, and saved it:

It was indeed lovely. And for at least 3 or 4 of us, a very welcome respite from grief over recent deaths of people close to us (and no I am not kidding). Thank you, truly and deeply. This was a better tonic than almost anything else I could have imagined.

Many decided to meet in a secretive back room area. Avogadro announced he would spend “my last few moments at home with my fourteen cats and all the fish they need until GNE begins again.” Another lit out for the desert.

Then God posted this.

Me? I confess, I was experiencing this at work, and had to leave to engage in revenue-positive activities. When I returned, my browser window displayed the message The GNE is sleeping. With the little animated GIF of the infinity sign humming away.

It was a message of hope, perhaps, that God might deign to some day wake his creation, and thereby restore a singular game experience, a game-not-game, a thing of beauty in abstraction.

If He does, maybe I can get my house back.

UPDATE: There’s a video of the end here, and more stuff at the end of waxy’s post.

One comment on "Rickrolled by God"

  1. smbm says:

    damn…i’m glad i didn’t sign up again…maybe?

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