Game Review: Kingdom of Loathing

-or- A history of The Kingdom of Loathing, through the eyes of a veteran casual.

The Kingdom of Loathing (KoL) is a browser-based MMORPG based in a world built from satire, parody, pop-culture and stick figure drawings. It has a healthy, dedicated fan base, of which I am a member. I don’t know many other people that play it, but the people I do know love it.

I also know some people that tried it and hated it. I don’t shun those people, but I wonder about their taste. I tend to get bored with games fairly quickly, but in October I’ll be celebrating my 9th anniversary in KoL, meaning they’ll send me something completely useless except as a displayable token of my veteran status. It will be a tiny latex mask. Only 7 people currently have a latex mask in their display case. Over 400 have the balsa wood socks I got last year. For some reason, I care about this.

I joined KoL at an interesting time in my life. I had just moved to China and I knew hardly anyone there. Most of the people I did know spoke poor English and knew little about western pop culture. I loved my life and immersed myself in my new world, but for a couple hours a couple of days a week, I used the internet to keep me attached to my own comfortable world.

Originally, I spent a lot of time on a website called NeoPets, because the flash games were moderately entertaining, a girl I cared about was on it constantly, and the only other expat I knew played on the site. I helped with a gaming guild on NeoPets and one of the members asked me if I played Kingdom Of Loathing. I said no, and they went to look for help elsewhere.

I went to look up Kingdom of Loathing. Upon starting, I had absolutely no clue what was going on except amazing jokes about relevant things were being flung at me through a poorly-drawn parody of a fantasy world. The game was in Beta, which meant it wasn’t done, but everyone knew that the boss at the end would be a Sorceress, who would also be naughty.

I played for a while, and then I ran out of adventures. Since I couldn’t play any more, I logged into the chat. From the moment I logged in, the community was amazing. People were helpful and polite. Impolite people were given the quick boot. I was immediately given instruction on how to deal with my daily consumption, and my inventory filled with goodies. My first ever meal consisted of spectral pickles and fuzzbumps, and for that I will always be thankful to The Ghost of the English Language.

The community wasn’t just helpful, they helped keep me anchored to the world I was separated from. Shortly after I joined, a chat channel was created for games, which became my new home. I had enjoyed making games inside another game when I beta tested There, and it was no different in KoL. I ran mostly trivia games.

I didn’t want for resources. Shortly before I started playing there was an event that’s now called Black Sunday. It was caused by someone using a meat vortex when they had exactly 0 meat – using the vortex caused them to have a maximum amount (over 1 billion). A lot of people did this, spent all their money buying everything they could from the mall, then did this again. It was fixed, but there was a lot of cash floating around.

A player named Contrickster paid me a million meat every week to sell weapons. I kept every weapon in KoL stocked (it wasn’t that difficult, back then) and made enough money to buy a Cheshire Bitten. It’s still my favorite familiar. The March Hare comes in a close second, just for sheer happy value. I also made quite a bit playing the games that would run on the KoL radio station. I was a regular listener to Train Wreck Radio, hosted by Amplitude and c00c00c00 (my Cocoabo is still named after her, for reasons I only barely remember that also involved some dolphin charity thing that recorded how many keystrokes we made daily), which meant I subsisted on a steady diet of spectral pickles and fuzzbumps until chow meins were released and I got my tiny plastic sword. I’m still kicking myself for not buying more familiars, but I had a lot of fun giving away piles of meat to all the new players that flooded in after Jick appeared on Screen Savers.

Needless to say, I “beat” the game fairly quickly, and for a long time I was stuck two-thirds of the way up a boss tower. Oddly, it didn’t bother me. I divided my time pretty equally between slaughtering the yetis that were flooding the icy peak and vacationing at the shore. Occasionally, Nightmare (Jick Shorebots Edit) will come up on my playlist and it makes me smile. While we all waited for the game to get finished, I tried to help The Church of Reset take over the world.

I spent a long time as an Accordion Thief. Changes began happening remarkably fast. Then the end-game was implemented. There was no reset, which ended up not mattering nearly as much as we thought it would, and the Naughty Sorceress was more difficult the higher your level, which meant it was really hard for those of us that liked vacationing. I eventually beat her, but I wasn’t even close to being the first.

Changes kept coming. Then the game broke. I lost my 5th ascension, but gained a piece of time turned physical. Changes kept coming, and I kept coming back. Occasionally I take a haitus. One was nearly a year long. But I always keep coming back.

And KoL always keeps surprising. I’ve survived a zombie plague, fought a Death Star made from skeletons I helped kill, witnessed the five elements start to make sense in a Magic: The Gathering sort of way, saw the Naughty Sorceress get further away from start but more easy to deal with, experienced an eight-year Crimbo narrative involving a penguin mafia and a white trash gift-giver, discovered hobos in my clan basement, protested the slaughter of the yetis that I spent my time slaughtering, and even made some connections with some awesome people.

I don’t really spend a lot of time in chat anymore. There’s a lot of new people in there and I can’t devote as much time to the community as I used to. I play the mall and make some money there, and I’ve donated because any recreational activity that can keep me entertained for most of a decade deserves a little financial support.

The game is definitely finished, insomuch as there is no end of things to do and no lack of goals to complete. It’s impossible to “complete,” but accessible enough to give it a go. Mostly, it’s fun, challenging and written in one of the most entertaining styles I’ve ever seen for a game.

You should go play it. Look me up. I’m Caplin, player #252629.

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