Q-C couple attempts to rally support for online game

Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2012, 2:30 pm
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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com
One never knows where the battle of good vs. evil might strike next.

History and the Bible are rife with such stories, and heroes remain in rich demand.

Yet a city with thousands of super heroes wonders if it will be able to win a fight to save the town, which is scheduled to disappear in November.

But the super heroes have united to launch a rescue campaign.''We are heroes. This is what we do,'' is the rallying cry.

The war is being fought on a social-media field known by an MMORPG -- an acronym for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.

The arena may be best known for its ''World of Warcraft,'' according to gamers Aaron and Lylah Lagerstam of Silvis, who have been loyal ''City of Heroes'' contestants for about eight years.

More than 5,000 of the players, known online only by their super-hero alter egos, met online in September to overflow a server's capacity with their saving cries, Mr. Lagerstam said.

''It's a phenomenal social network,'' he said. ''How many are Quad-Citians aren't known, because personal information doesn't get shared.''

Players, who design their own super-hero characters, roles and powers, were told Aug. 31, by game developer and publisher NCsoft, founded in South Korea in 1997, that "City of Heroes'' would end Nov. 30.

The company also announced the immediate shutdown of its U.S.-based ''Paragon Studio,'' where the game's been produced, and the dismissal of all studio staff, Mr. Lagerstam said.

''Since then, all we've been trying to do is rally support and show a company that relies so heavily on social media for its existence how powerful social media users can be,'' he said. ''The announcement was followed by a large outcry from the player base, and it's like we created a task force to save our city. It's a mission of ours.''

Since they are heroes, they have been trying to stage a clean campaign, an effort that NCsoft officials praised as ''overwhelmingly constructive and positive,'' Mr. Lagerstam said.

''We want to work with NCsoft to explore whatever options are available to keep the game running and our community that we've worked so hard to build together,'' campaign leader Tony Vazquez wrote in emails to participants.

Mr. Vazquez didn't respond to attempts to contact him.

At NCsoft's request, ''City of Hero'' proponents have developed a coh-titan.com website to avoid overfilling email accounts of company executives, for gamers to share information and comments, Mr. Lagerstam said.

Some people may find concern for a video game so odd, he said.

Or as Mr. Vazquez wrote: ''As avid gamers, I'm sure you're familiar with the stereotype of gamers as a bunch of dorks hanging out in their parents' basements wasting their lives away. To some people, spending so much time and effort to save a game, getting so worked up about it and acting like it's the end of the world must seem incredibly silly.''

People may fail to consider how ''any hobby that you have poured 8 1/2 years of your creativity into will mean a lot to you,'' he wrote. ''It's not 'just a game,' it is the world in which our imaginations live.

''Whether your passion is cooking, baseball, travel, cars, mountain climbing, the stock market, gardening, model railroading or any of the millions of other hobbies that people lovingly obsess about, to have someone suddenly flip a switch and tell you 'you cannot have this any more except as fond memories,' is a gut-wrenching experience that anyone can imagine and hopefully relate to.''

''City of Heroes'' also has charitable, business and moral sides to it, Mrs. Lagerstam said.

It raised about $29,000 for a program similar to Toys for Tots. When it was learned that 80 people were laid off at Paragon Studio, players raised about $1,000 to treat them to lunch, she said.

Business-wise, an online ''Paragon Market'' has sold about $10 million worth of merchandise, Mrs. Lagerstam said.

Mr. Lagerstam figures he spends an hour or two a day playing the game, including while holding his 3-month old son, Damon, ''who loves to watch the colorful flashing lights.''

It's also easy to see the moral side of the game, he said.''It's like a 'Morality for Dummies' sort of thing.''

''What are the ethics of a super hero? What is it that a super hero would value?'' he said. ''Right and wrong become very real issues to a super hero.

''Questions in morality abound, but the super hero must maintain themselves in a moral code that allows them to pierce the veil of indecision or uncertainty,'' Mr. Lagerstam said. ''Fairness is equally important. A super hero is one who will not fall prey to pettiness or underhandedness. It is very hard to be a morally questionable super hero.''

A belief in goodness and a sense of optimism also are central to a super-hero's being, he added.

''I believe there is good here and in the people who play this game,'' Mr. Lagerstam said. ''Our game has become a haven for a super-hero ethic ... and when you find good, you should strive to protect it.''

Despite an NCsoft email earlier this month saying the company has ''exhausted all options including the selling of the studio and the rights to the 'City of Heroes' intellectual property,'' Mr. Vazquez indicated he plans to continue negotiating with company leaders and reach out to NCsoft investors to save the game.

''We've been saving ParagonCity for 8 1/2 years,'' he wrote. ''It's time do it one more time.''


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