In 2003 I started playing the internet-based video game Final Fantasy XI as a cat-like character I named Laancer. I would continue to play this game fairly regularly until 2007. That’s four years fully immersed in a fictional world called Vana’diel, hugely popular at this time and full of thousands of fellow players.

I didn’t play this game alone. Online games are fundamentally dependent on teamwork between players. Specifically, the types of teams whose members devote an unreasonable amount of time to the game: four, five, six hours and more a day. Without this network of fellow players, it’s impossible to make any progress in the game. I had a life: I was a full-time college student with a job and less and less willingness to devote hours to playing, by this time, an only marginally satisfying video game. On Halloween of 2007, I quit Final Fantasy XI.

Over the years that followed I found myself thinking and talking about the game like I would an ex that I wasn’t completely over. I’d jokingly mention the fact to friends that I’d played an immersive online game for four years with a self-conscious laugh. I found myself going to the game’s official website to see if it even still existed, not that I cared.

Then, one day, I saw what I’d been waiting for: “SERVER SHUTDOWN 2016,” in big letters at the top of the website. An online game can’t last forever. There’s a history of these games living, dying and being shut down - total deletion of entire worlds, thousands of characters, a place and time and history, gone.

Suddenly, it was clear - Yes, I must see this place one last time before it dies forever! I knew there weren’t many people playing this game anymore, and certainly nobody that I’d ever played with, but as I logged in for the first time in eight years I was shocked at the emptiness of the world, the game. I remember cities being so jammed with players my computer lagged as I ran through the crowds of them. Now, everywhere was empty. In its most popular years, each of the game’s servers could host 5000 or more players at peak play time, and now I’m shocked when I see more than 400 players at any time.

I was legitimately saddened at how abandoned this world was. It was a sadness I was not expecting. I hadn’t realized just how attached to Vana’diel I was, even through the years when I barely thought about it. Seeing Laancer again was both thrilling and tragic - here she was, after so many years, and soon I’d have to say goodbye to her, again, this time forever.

I’ve been active on this game for five months. In that time its servers have begun to shut down. The end won’t be sudden - it will be gradual, with several phases. Instead of fretting about what will be lost, I’ve focused on what is still there: a huge, beautiful world, one that takes days, if not weeks, to explore completely. And in that world is Laancer. Once the game is gone, I can’t take her with me. She’ll disappear, too.

Julianne Aguilar, 2016