What Games Mean

By Jim Rossignol on April 14th, 2008 at 6:44 am.


Disney’s proto-MMO, Virtual Magic Kingdom, is closing down. The resulting coverage is remarkably difficult to read.

If nothing above moves you to feel that this human interest story is anything more than the closing of yet another online game, allow me to leave you with a direct quote of an entry from the online journal of an 11 year old VMK player has Spinal Muscular Atrophy which controls voluntary movements, such as crawling, walking, swallowing and breathing:

“My favorite web site, Virtual Magic Kingdom (VMK) is closing May 21st. I’m sad and MAD! I can’t live without my friends on VMK. PLEASE sign my guestbook like a petition to SAVE VMK for me and my friends. Pass my site on to everyone you know so they can help too. I love VMK cause I can WALK, TALK, EAT, DANCE, SHOP and play checkers all by myself.

PLEASE HELP ME!

Love,
Madison
p.s. VMK is GERM FREE too!
p.s.s. and no one stares at me there.”

[Via Raph Koster.]

Update – Thread’s now closed to deter further bad eggs. As a general rule – if you can’t say something nice about an eleven year old who’s upset, you probably shouldn’t say anything.

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44 Comments »

  1. Quinns says:

    Someone should put her onto Second Life. Then she’ll be able to walk, talk, eat, dance, shop, play checkers, fly and have bad polygonal sex all by herself.

  2. Irish Al says:

    Heartbreaking – but surely all her friends will be moving to another MMO ?

  3. Stromko says:

    Hooray, she’s no longer wasting her time with a complete hunk of shite. If Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean Online is any indication of the care they put into their online offerings, it’s a good thing VMK was cancelled before it could infect any more children with crapatitis.

    There’s no shortage of alternatives. SecondLife even has a behavior-restricted ‘teen’ grid that (probably) will protect young eyes from all the Gorean diaper-fur blood orgies. Though since no credit card info or identification is required to sign up for the main grid, the teen alternative is probably a ghost town.

  4. c0wb0ys7y13 says:

    That reminds me of a highly hit post I read on the old (pre launch) star wars galexies forums. It was a person with that some condition pleading to the devs to put a in game keyboard option in (since the normal windows one didnt work). I think thats a great example of how powerful games can be. Older folks see the concept of making friends online as superficial, but I think the younger generations see it as a great way to meet LOTS of friendly people. This game closing down is probably the equivalent of your parents moving away with you to another state.

    If you are interested in this story you should also check out:
    http://www.childsplaycharity.org/

  5. arqueturus says:

    What a bunch of heartless shites. Sometimes I despair.

  6. Alex McLarty says:

    “Someone should put her onto Second Life. Then she’ll be able to walk, talk, eat, dance, shop, play checkers, fly and have bad polygonal sex all by herself.”

    Oh my word. How true.

  7. Anthony Damiani says:

    Ow.
    Heartrending.
    I doubt it will have the slightest impact on Disney, but it’s really very sad– makes you think about all the virtual communities in all the other crappy little games out there, and how sometimes they can really become an an important part of peoples lives.

  8. Heliocentricity says:

    sad… but, i can only hope someone points the player in the direction of another game with the same features.

    there is empowerment to be had in may of these games, but to an 11 year old that may be hard to percieve.

  9. Irish Al says:

    > Someone should put her onto Second Life.

    Except in her case it’ll be ‘First Life’.

  10. drunkymonkey says:

    Did anyone read the first comment on Koster’s site about the news story?

    That was…heart-warming, is the only way I can really describe it.

    It’s funny, because I’d never heard of VMK before this news story, and now I’ll probably never forget it… Reading the comments from everyone is, like you say Jim, difficult to read.

    Oh, and I’d advise people sign the petition, no matter how basic you think the game is. It being basic doesn’t mean it doesn’t give joy to thousands of people every day.

    http://savevmk.com/phpPETITION/index.php

  11. Piratepete says:

    Al thats harsh mate.

  12. Jay says:

    *shrug* If it closed down due to money concerns then a petition is going to do bugger all

  13. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    Oh sweet Odin… This means that all those degenerate people who were playing that game are going to find their way in to REAL games…

  14. Irish Al says:

    @PiratePete

    If you meant me, I didn’t mean it to be harsh. I meant it in the sense that it’s wonderful that people can experience a life online that can take them away from what might be a hellish ‘real’ existence. Fate didn’t deal her much of a first life by the sounds of it.

  15. Tak says:

    Guys, don’t knock the game too hard. While I’m sure it has all the complexity of Go-Fish(maybe less, too) if you’ve ever worked with children, special needs or otherwise, you should know how they get attached. Double or triple that if you’re talking special needs children, as it has been my experience that when they find something they like they do *not* like to let go. Sign the petitions out there, drop an encouraging message or two. It won’t hurt.

    I don’t think it’s going to do a damn bit of good until this story comes up on 60 Minutes or Dateline (US info-TV-zine type shows, just in case someone doesn’t know) and some Disney PR person is forced to stumble and plead and explain how a multi million (billion?) dollar company isn’t going to spend a hundred thou or so a year to keep this thing up and running, but sometimes you do something just for someone else. In this case, yes, I’ve completely taken the sob story. After working with special needs kids (for a very short time, but it was enough) all they have to do is ask.

    That’s a hard life for kids, let them keep their pretend lives. The connections to other people they’ve made there are very much real connections.

    /soapbox off

    Sorry if I got ranty there. Just try on their shoes for a bit. You’ll probably find they’re way too big for you. I sure as hell did.

  16. Dinger says:

    More fodder for Jim’s thesis.
    Of course, Death happens to online communities. Not just the natural deaths of members, or the virtual deaths of their avatars, but death of the whole darn thing. I suppose they’re like stars that way. I wouldn’t worry about the kid: she’ll find a new world. But she’ll never recapture the feeling of that first community she belonged to.

  17. Alex says:

    If this whole debacle does one thing right, it is to show (yet again) that Disney does not think about the children, it primarily thinks about the money.

  18. terry says:

    I felt like this when the last pinball table in my area was removed ;’(

  19. Willem says:

    The first thing that popped into my mind was: scam.

    Am I a bad man, now?

    Anyway, I honestly don’t care what happens to the game and will sign nothing.

  20. Malibu Stacey says:

    @Zeno, Internetographer
    Not necessarily, there’s always Ragnarok Online which this VMK thing looks like it was badly cloned from & like other people have said, she might end up playing a half-decent game. I suggest EVE-Online =D

    Also how is this any different to something like a Theme Park closing down in the real world? There is always someone opposed to any change anywhere.

  21. James G says:

    @Malibu Stacey

    Theme parks don’t usually have a whole community associated with them, and they certainly aren’t somewhere you go to catch up with friends. I’ve got to know many people on online communities, and were they to disappear, I’d risk loosing touch with them. In some ways its more comparable to the loss of a youth centre, although even then at least people are still held together by geographical area. (Actually, I find it interesting how the Internet disrupts the usual geographical restrictions that limit friendship groups, and instead defines them by interest.)

  22. Tak says:

    @Malibu Stacey
    The upkeep costs for a real world theme park are astronomical compared to a simplistic MMO game like this. Development costs for new content would be a different story, but a subscription should cover it nicely (which, it seems, a good chunk of players are willing to pay).

  23. Leeks! says:

    I have to say, while I certainly felt my healthy-upper-middle-class-white-person guilt strings tugged at while reading that, I also felt like it was too heartbreaking to be entirely real. It was the ps and pps that did it, I think. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions (and I would feel like a total boob if I was wrong), but I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve read something like that on Something Awful.

    EDIT: Of course, there was a link I didn’t see at the bottom of the post that links to a CaringBridge page for young Madison, which now makes me feel like a big, mean, evil, soulless thing.

  24. otakupaul says:

    I think its sad her parents leave her to live in a computer world when theres a real world out there she can live in and be a part of. Seems like her parents are giving up in letting her just sit there and live in some gaming world, who gives a fuck if people stare? She could have real friends and play chequers with them. Its not guaranteed she will die and may grow to adulthood but what kind of life will she have stuck in a computer simulation?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinal_Muscular_Atrophy#Adults_with_SMA

    shame on her parents i say and good riddance to this game

  25. Michael says:

    Does anyone remember how a few years ago there was this web site made by a guy who had a cute rabbit? He posted pictures of the rabbit and all that. He also threatened to kill the rabbit if people don’t send enough money into his PayPal account by a certain date.

    Apparently he was so successful that he extended the date a few times to make more money.

    You know why that is? Because YOU MISPLACE YOUR DAMNED PITY!

    So… whether this game is good or bad its sole purpose is to make money for the company that created it. If it doesn’t make money the company will cancel it. I think we can all agree that it’s perfectly normal.

    And yes, of course people will be upset. Some of those people will happen to be poor, crippled children. Is it sad? Yes. Does it mean the people should urge the company to keep the game? No.

    We all get disappointed sometimes. Eves as children. If the little girl (with whom I very much sympathize) really can’t live without this game, then the problem is much deeper than the fact of the cancellation itself. Perhaps something should be done in real world, as opposed to keeping a virtual one going. Parents? Hello?

    Feel free to e-mail me and tell me what a heartless bastard I am.

  26. Michael says:

    I just saw the little girl’s site and it’s heartbreaking. Still, I maintain my point. I think more good will come from taking some time out of our busy schedules and writing her a real letter rather than keeping that game alive.

  27. The Fanciest Of Pants says:

    Yeah, ok. This judo-chopped me right in my big-softie glands.

    While I agree that Madison will likely move on to a different(hopefully more entertaining?)mmo in the future, this move pretty much does smack of disney putting down the happy-time puppy because they didnt want to pay the vet bill. I mean come now.. Disney? Not exactly light on the dollar-sign sacks full of filthy-filthy money are they? Making the thing pay for itself via pay-to-play(talk?) surely won’t put them in the red.

    When you encourage kids to get involved in a community group of some kind(online or not), and that community ends up working to some extent, it’s really got to be damaging to see that shut down while people are still enjoying it, in this case particularly when there’s special needs kids with little to no chance of a vibrant social life offline. This is doubly true for disney, you’d think they would be more careful with their reputation.

    Oh well, maybe the risk of jews playing it infuriated the hovering spectre of Disney himself, sending prophetic visions of his impending wrath to CEO Bob Iger.

    It’s pretty much just the kids I feel for here however, and while I question the capabality of an adult who dedicates themselves in some degree to a disney themed chat-mmo to find alternative social outlets, I’m sure they’ll manage.

    @Leeks!: I had a flicker of that myself, but if it had been a goon prank the kid would be a self-diagnosed aspergers case. They seem to love that term.

  28. Michael says:

    Write her a letter. The paper kind. Use a pen. Put stamps on an envelope (try to pick some interesting-looking ones). Mail it.

    A lot of you live in UK or Australia or Fill-in-the-blankia. Imagine how happy she’ll be to get a letter from a far away foreign country like that. Given a choice between opening and reading such a letter or playing an online game, do you think she would chose the game? Personally I doubt it.

  29. The Fanciest Of Pants says:

    Good call, really. I’m writing one right now.. to think this’ll be the first letter which isn’t attached to the interwebs in… god.. 3 years?

    I hope western australia sounds more exciting then it is.

  30. Chiablo says:

    Dear Madison,

    Just go play World of Warcraft like everyone else.

    Love,
    A Heartless Bastard

  31. luminosity says:

    I hope western australia sounds more exciting then it is.

    To be fair, that’s not hard. :)

    As far as the girl herself — as bad as it makes me feel, I’m going to say that it’s probably best for her that it gets shut down. Tying your identity so strongly to a single thing isn’t healthy, and won’t help you grow into the adult you could become. Do I love video games? Yes, I sure do. Could I live a happy life without them if I needed to? No problem.

  32. Tonya Mason says:

    First of all, you have to know Madison – and I do! She is NEVER left alone with the computer. Her mom/brother/dad/friends are actively engaged with her all the time. You have just to call her house to hear the joy and excitement going on there. A visit and you’ll know that even though Madi is housebound most of the time, she’s not missing any life at all. I am absolutely amazed at how heartless and judgemental people can be! Write to Disney, don’t write to Disney, it’s your choice but get some sensitivity and keep those crappy comments to yourself. Madison has been a Disney fan her entire life! She LOVES to visit the parks when she can but the trip is tough on her. Does Madison live in the “real world”? Heck yeah! More real than most of us can possibly imagine. She’s lost dear friends to the disease she has and fears her death like all of us are programmed to do. She and her family have raised well over $1 million to help cure Spinal Muscular Atrophy and have provided friendship and support to thousands of other kids suffering from the disease. Madison is always there to talk – on the phone or on Skype, she loves her family, her “real” friends, her cat, and most of all SHE LOVES LIFE! She’s an inspiration to me and to my family every day of our lives. Those of you with your judgemental and ignorant comments should absolutely be ashamed of yourselves. You are the ones who should “get a life!”

    Those of you who are supporting Madison in her quest to bring awareness to vmk, thank you!!!!

    Like the last post says, Madison does love her video games but can and will live a happy life with or without them. She knows more about it than anyone else I know!

  33. Michael says:

    Well, in light of what Tonya said, I take back my uninformed criticism of Madison’s parents and apologize to them and to her. I guess I was thrown off by the “can’t live without” part of her original blog.

    Also, while I don’t believe in success of Internet petitions, I can (and do) relate to someone who just wants to keep their favorite game going. I am not a fan of VMK myself, but I wish Madison luck and hope that even if she does not succeed, she can find another game to love.

    Once again, I am sorry for being judgmental and self-righteous earlier.

  34. Brokenbroll says:

    “who gives a fuck if people stare?”

    oktapul, as the brother of 4 younger siblings with various degrees of physical and mental disabilities, often time they are the ones who care. We can sit and talk all we want about not letting other people bother you by being rude or staring, but in the end its a “normal” person telling them that, a person who can’t really understand what its like.

    While agree with some of the words of caution expressed on this thread, about letting it consume a childs whole world, I have seen myself how a regulated use of simple games like this, can boost a special needs child’s sense of self esteem and accomplishment tremendously.

  35. Shanucore says:

    This reminds me, in some ways, of that beautiful Korean Animal Crossing cartoon that emerged (I think) last year.

  36. Rook says:

    I can’t watch that without crying. Sooooo sad.

  37. Slappeh says:

    Get her into Eve Online then she can blow up space rats all by herself, she wouldn’t be able to do that in real life even if she wasn’t, erm, disabled.

    Otherwise, tis sad and does show the power that games have. Nice to see Disney put this in their press release though, unfortunately whoever is funding the game will probs not give a crap about the kid.

  38. otakupaul says:

    There are people who suffer from horrific cosmetic/physical/genetic etc difficulties and they find the strength to go out into the world and dont hide, sure people stare at first but eventually what begins as something to be stared at, a result of ignorance, turns into understanding and compassion.

    Dont presume I dont know what im talking about, im not going to use my own experiences as a badge to prove i know better than people here because they are personal to me and the people in my life.

    When a child is afraid to go out or be stared at, playing video games this obsessively (whether its Disney or WoW or Eve) is just going to emphasise that fear and make things worse.
    Im not saying that what Madison has isnt sad but she doesnt need our pity she needs our encouragement and support and to know the world isnt so bad and full of good people who just need time to understand. It sounds to me that shes afraid of being stared at and she doesnt need to be.
    As a closing remark this is a girl who could actually achieve things and do things and have goals to aim for. An MMO can NEVER provide that because as soon as that serrver or game or character gets deleted there is nothing left to show for their hard work.
    Am i callous or without compassion? No. I just think she deserves more than our pity.

  39. RPS says:

    [In reference to unpleasant comments now deleted - personal attacks aren't a form of debate we accept here. Spiteful sarcasm ain't much better.]

  40. Sue O'Neill says:

    Goodness people! I’m finding it hard to believe that there are so many adults talking about a kids online community.

    Madison’s whole life does not revolve around VMK, but I know she enjoys it. She’s 11–of course she’s going to exaggerate and say she can’t live without it!

    I’m glad a few people have taken a look at Madison’s site and have learned what a special girl Madison is. She is full of life and fun and deserves to have a place where she can be a kid and have the friendships she has made.

    Many of the comments that have been written here, I imagine, have hurt her. They were totally inappropriate.
    Please THINK before you write something that you know an 11-year-old girl may see.

  41. Marjorie Landever says:

    I am sad to see that so many adults have forgotten what is feels like to believe, really believe, in magic, princesses, Disney fairy dust. Madison dares to dream, to believe, even despite her debilitating disease. That is awe-inspiring. And while I understand most of the comments have been written by those who do not know her, I cannot help but wonder why our world has become such a cold place, where in order to hear someone’s words, we have to know them personally. She is a little girl. A little girl. Do you not remember loving something as a child with all your heart and thinking your world would end without it? For Madison, VMK has meaning, purpose. It’s not up to anybody to judge that, dismiss that, belittle that. Everyday is a challenge for Madison. Do those who have commented know what it is like to live in her world? Have they seen her struggle? Have they seen her eyes sparkle? Madison is a child with a serious disease, but first, and most importantly, she is a child. A child. I question how so many have lost touch with what it is like to be a child, to believe. Perhaps those people need some Disney magic in their lives. Certainly they have a great deal to learn from Madi.

  42. Hope says:

    There is actually a very large community of adults playing VMK. VMK adapted a kid-safe dictionary, and did not allow anyone to give out any personal information. Other online games would allow children to read awful comments such as some of the ones here. Would people honestly say these things to an 11-year-old girl face to face? I think not. VMK was a safe place for kids and adults who loved Disney to join and make friends, and I can see why the players are upset. There is not another virtual online game out there like VMK.

  43. Scandalon says:

    Warren Spector should hire her on as a consultant on his mystery Disney project. :P