We should have expected it. When all remaining employees at Valve stopped answering their phones on that fateful day in November 2022, we should have known something was wrong. There had been signs for months. Gabe Newell had retreated from public life a whole 6 months previously. According to his steadily thinning entourage of advisers and programmers, he was perfectly fine. In reality, he was one of the first to go. By the time the world learned about the rash of missing persons at the videogames giant, it was too late. Steam had vanished from everyone’s desktop.
We all remember the first few hours, as we turned to Twitter and Facebook with our irritation, blasting our complaints into the void and sending death threats to people who would never respond. When one egg tweeted “Hey, @steam_games, I am going to throw your dog off a cliff! Fix your servers!” he received only an error message in return. “This user,” it said, “does not exist.”
The staff of Valve were likewise nowhere to be found. A worried househusband, whose spouse worked for the developer as a senior concept artist, drove to the company’s headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, only to discover that the building too was gone. He got into his car and drove home, muttering about download times. “tell them 2 fix steam,” he texted his wife. “I want 2 play bejewelled ffs”. He crashed his car into a ravine because he was texting and driving. He was the first casualty of the Collapse.
For the rest of us, the end came slowly. Annoyance turned to fury, fury became sadness, sadness morphed into confusion, confusion transmogrified into shock and then turned back into confusion again, then confusion was run over by denial in a truck, denial went home and made a sandwich and the sandwich had a filling of lettuce and hysteria, hysteria went to sleep and woke up as ambivalence – it was the beginning of the end for PC gaming. But yes also the whole world.
Today, we know better. Now that electricity has returned, all videogames are printed on scale-plated USB sticks, and manufactured by children with tiny hands in a factory somewhere in the Smoke Zone. Never again (god willing) shall hordes of sleepless students prowl the countryside, searching for GOG coders and Uplay executives to torture and eat. The myth that consuming the heart of a digital distribution worker will bring back your Steam account has been thoroughly debunked.
But other threats still linger. The Half-Lifers still stalk the abandoned streets of New York City, Rome, London, Seattle, Paris and, yes, Washington Bellevue – armed with some of the last firearms, spreading their poisonous religion to all poor souls who listen. “Half-Life 3 is confirmed!” shout the megaphones, “join us and receive salvation!” We survivors who know better stay quiet as they pass, hiding in abandoned coffee shops and hairdressers. Everyone has very long hair now, everyone is furious in the morning for, like, the first hour of the day.
Some day the world may return to “normal”, if anyone is alive to remember what that feels like. But right now we will have to satisfy ourselves by playing the LCD games of the Smoke Zone. Some speak of a tribe in Sweden who, in their isolated desperation, turned to Origin, but those are just rumours, right? We, who stare at our dusty laptops, screens flickering during the power outages, who fix our eyes on the place on the desktop where the Steam icon once sat – we won’t become such monsters…
This article was originally written in October for the RPS Supporter Program.