Is something a bust even if it made money? Is something a failure because it's embarrassing?
Close your eyes, remember 2007. Facebook was unstoppable. Second Life was a thing everyone knew was weird but more importantly everyone knew about it. Phil Harrison, at that time president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, was very excited to reveal Home, a doorstop between a social network and a safer Second Life, to beef up the potential for the adolescent PlayStation 3.
A platform mostly forgotten about until this week, albeit because the service was going dark. "Due to a shifting landscape, PlayStation Home will cease publishing new content... prior to the platform's closure on March 31, 2015," a community manager announced in September.
Home opened its doors in 2008. In it you could dress up your avatar and your waterside apartment, though unlike The Sims, Home asked for real money in exchange for virtual junk. You could hang out in hubs, meet strangers and play games, many serving as themed billboards for software, movies and Sony products.
Over time a decent amount of content has built up, though it's hard to tell if it was from effort or inevitability after seven years. The service was turning a profit, but not a huge one, which would explain why Sony rarely mentioned the entire world was still up. It's kind of the Shirley Temple of my PlayStation 3; I had no idea it was still alive.
I decided to check in on Home, see if the virtual empire was going to fall catastrophically like Rome or at least wrap up as nicely as Tabula Rasa did in 2009. Turns out I should have been keeping Sodom's end in mind.
The last time I logged in, soon after I picked up a PlayStation 3, it was all tame. A pleasant courtyard hub with a big water fountain and quadcopters you could fly around. After two consecutive users quit chess mid-game on me, I felt like I got all I needed and deleted the program for more hard drive room.
When I logged in last night, I was party crashing. In the main hub, now a future plaza, more prospective Dubai than classic Venetian, were dozens of dancing avatars. I saw a man in a suit and wizard hat breakdancing while his pet koala hopped circles. Balancing on top of a circus ball was a man wearing only a ninja mask and a clown speedo. Along the sides, people began to spawn golden thrones to make a court out of the dance floor.
With perfect timing, the moment I noticed a wallflower goth wearing red and black stockings some mall teen scream-o music blared unannounced. Raver pants. Anime hair. Jagged crystal wings (called 'Speedwings' and have their own shop section). I may have left Home in 2008, but Home brought 2008 to 2015.
Second Life is the place known for virtual degenerate behaviour, and Sony had done its part to prevent Home from developing the same rep, but just like reproductive protocols in Jurassic Park, "life finds a way."
A woman in a bikini ran towards me, stopped, stood pensively for a few moments, and began to fart. I didn't know you could fart in Home, but she bent over, cocked her butt my way and ripped out nearly a dozen differently sized clouds of green vapour before scampering off and vanishing. In one room I stumbled into a small conversation about foot fetishes, two avatars reminiscing about the last time they jacked off on their respective partner's toes.
Surprisingly in club 7x, an area reserved for PlayStation Plus members that offers non-playable waitresses in lingerie holding platters of money and a 'flirting' mini-game, I only found two guys talking about the differences between Austin and Houston.
7x wasn't very busy. Few niche rooms were. I struggled to find racing partners in the yokai hell themed room, where a giant spider would chase you down an obstacle course. The Bomberman room had one angel-winged loner dodging explosions in the arena. Not a soul to be seen in the Disgaea room. It was last call at the packed Star Wars cantina, where a glowing purple skeleton asked a similarly hued neon raver if she wanted to take this back to his place.
Despite being based on a 2008 release, people were lined up (waiting in lines is one of Home's most famous features) for one more go in Siren: Blood Curse's haunted house. An avatar dressed in tattered Victorian wares and mummified skin fit right in with the lobby decorations until she spawned and mounted a flaming horse that made her taller than the ceiling.
There wasn't too much talk about Home's coming end. For many it was business as usual, asking if anyone was up for some Grand Theft Auto V. Some wondered if it was an April Fool's riff, despite being announced months ago. Some were hopeful, even positive, Home would reemerge on PlayStation 4. Others were just thankful for the time they got, a tone more pleasant than some online White House petitions.
"was nice to see u gain before psh closes," said one man with moth wings to another.
"I'm sad. Wah," cried a bikini anime girl with hair that reached her heels. "b4 it gets shut off I wanna say I had fun nd I hope we get to chill again."
"can the inmates run the asylum tonight?" asked a skanking man with a keg for a head.
"I'll miss ya'll and all the good memories we shared on here <3" said a shirtless man in a gas mask.
Stores closed off. Video screens shut down. Home started to look like a mall wrapping up for the day. I parted from the bustle, finding a sombre room. Nightsky, campfires, big tree, full moon. I might have entered mid-conversation, a Puerto Rican player spoke about his dreams of becoming a gunsmith, another user responded by saying she was born a submissive.
They also spoke about their favourite movies, their summer plans. They talked about sticking with each other until the end, when this whole universe goes silent, a place on PlayStation you could meet and grind global strangers without having to shoot at them. Someone set off fireworks.
"I'm going to miss this so much," said a girl in daisy dukes and head phones, "however no home means less distractions."
It came a few minutes late, but the end arrived. No big explosion, no fade to black, no voice of god. A network error screen, M-10 [D3505]. As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were no longer talking about foot cum.