Old School RuneScape (OSRS) by Jagex is a blast from the past for my age group that grew up playing RuneScape 2 in their youth. In the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game players develop their skills, complete quests, and interact with other players. OSRS, released in 2013, is still popular, supported by community plugins and official new content. Ironman is a mode that was introduced soon after the release of OSRS, and it provided a new way to play: upon creation, new characters could become Ironmen which meant that they could not trade or interact with other players’ items in any way. This self-sufficiency was welcomed with open arms as an alternative way to play, a challenge run of sorts. There have been different Ironman modes before, but the latest iteration released on October 6, 2021, is Group Ironman. Players create a team of two to five players, with trading only allowed between these members. This long-awaited mode may seem contradictory to the original Ironman idea, but has interesting effects on how the game is played.
Our group of three people started right when the mode launched. In two weeks, each of us has clocked in over 100 hours, playing more or less daily. As the game does not provide us with a clear objective and goes on indefinitely, we simply increase our character skills to keep up with other groups. Our team has stayed in the top ten percent in the Group Ironman leaderboards, which ranks groups according to their combined skill levels. That is no small feat for a group that has a bunch of real-life obligations. To give us an advantage in the long run, we have certain roles that we try to stick to: I am the miner and smith, one is the woodcutter and one is the fisher and cook. Specializing makes a team’s life easier: better skills give a player access to important resources which they can then share with the group. For example, I needed a rune axe to make my woodcutting faster, but the tool was only available in an exclusive guild that would take me days to reach. One of us had access to the guild, so I simply put my gold in the shared bank which my friend then used to get me the axe. Coordinating and sharing resources feels rewarding, especially when my own expertise earned through hard work (of clicking my mouse) is required.
Group Ironman has a lot of meaning outside the game as well. We hang around on Discord most evenings, with the weekends’ sessions continuing into the early mornings. Communication is important in a mode that benefits so much from co-operation. However, what is interesting is that we hardly talk about the game while we are playing it. We banter and share stories from real life while absent-mindedly clicking through skill levels in the game. This would not be possible with all kinds of games. A competitive shooter requires the team’s attention all the time, as listening to sound cues such as footsteps and communicating tactics is crucial. Compared to that, OSRS is a very relaxing experience that makes great allowances for the player. Socializing is one of these, but we also watch streams and videos and play other games on a second monitor. Does this mean that RuneScape is too boring to be focused on with full attention? For me, probably. But that is its charm. I do not always want serious or immersive game experiences, but rather something that gives me breathing room.
I feel that the new game mode encourages co-operation more than OSRS has ever done. A very slight change to limiting players can create interesting dynamics among players. The motto of Group Ironman, “stand alone together”, describes what the mode is about: an economically isolated group has to work together to keep up with competing teams in the leaderboards. This is a creative concept and it is wonderful to see Jagex’s official support. To me, the Ironman modes seem like cost-efficient strokes of genius and I dearly hope that other MMO developers take note of what is happening in good old RuneScape.
Game: Old School RuneScape (Jagex, 2013)
Featured image from Jagex’s Old School RuneScape Twitter account: https://twitter.com/oldschoolrs/status/1421554078505750533