A Psychogeography of Virtual Middle-Earth (1)

There are other Middle-Earths, other Eriadors, Rhovanions, Morias. Some of them are named as such, others have another name, another context, and belong to other games. But no other world is quite like this.

Ered Luin

Ered Luin
Image via LOTRO-Wiki.com.

Ered Luin. The Blue Mountains. The place you can’t forget.

It’s the virtual rendition of a landscape in the temperate zone; deciduous and coniferous trees: apple, cherry, maple, rowan, oak, pine, fir, spruce, and grass and ferns. The ground is covered with leaves or pine needles. The forests and hills and mountains resemble landscapes you are used to in the real world. Sometimes you can almost smell the scent trees and forest in the images on the screen. You run these in full high definition. It’s almost like being there.

Kheledhûl Docks

Kheledûl Docks
Image via LOTRO-Wiki.com.

This is where you sneak in with the first person you meet and befriend in the game. You go there to find and release a prisoner from his scheming captors. You must progress far along the gray stone masonry of the docks to even find out where the prisoner is, and you are spotted by the captors’ spying crows at least once.

“Frickin’ birds!” your friend shouts in group chat, but he doesn’t leave. To succeed requires the both of you.

Together you start again from the beginning, at the gate, slowly defeat every guard and the friends they bring again, and work your way to the boat where the prisoner is held.

But there you must fight several waves of enemies and the fight is meant for six players, not two. Thus, although you will later see that this fight is ridiculously simple, it is more than your below-level-10 characters can handle, and you are soon defeated. A few seconds before that happens, a wheel of circles flashes on your screen, then you are transported out to the nearest spawn point.

“What was that?” your friend asks.

“I have no idea,” you say. But you could check the manual that came with the game.

“Was it something we did?” your friend asks.

“I don’t think so,” you say, although you are not sure. “Maybe we’ll see it again?”

“I hope so,” your friend says. “Because we’ll be playing together for a long time.”

But just a few weeks later he is gone from the game, as it took up too much time. Or maybe he just started a new character you don’t know about.

The Vale of Thrain

Vale of Thrain
Image via LOTRO-Wiki.com.

Here the ground is speckled with white, pixels of snow dusting the trees and road in the narrow valley. Between the wide pines, foxes and rabbits dart, their breath mist upon the air.

The game is a new and open world, unfamiliar geography where everything seems possible. You don’t know what sights this world has to offer, but you can’t wait to find out.

On the road from Falathlorn to the Vale of Thrain to Thorin’s Hall a melancholic track plays in the background. It sounds like the loss of the magic that once existed in the world, this one as well as the real. You ride up and down the valley to take in the beauty of the snow-dusted forest, the early winter you like so much, while you listen to the sober music.

This particular landscape and its music will haunt you for years.

Berit Ellingsen’s novel Not Dark Yet will be published by Two Dollar Radio in November 2015. Berit is the author of the short story collection Beneath the Liquid Skin (firthFORTH Books) and the novel Une Ville Vide (PublieMonde), with work in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, SmokeLong Quarterly, Unstuck, Litro, and other places. Berit’s stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the British Science Fiction Association Award. The author divides time between Norway and Svalbard in the Arctic, and is a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union.

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