Name: Ian Muskal
Character Name: Mastermind
Shard: Napa Valley
When parental divorce separated Ian Muskal from his older brother, the pair feared that the distance might pull them apartment. With cell phones uncommon and expensive, Ultima Online proved to be the perfect solution to keeping the brothers connected, and allowing them to stay involved in one another’s lives.
Some of Ian Muskal’s happiest childhood memories involve being six years old, sitting in his New Jersey living room, and watching his brother, Mike, play rounds of Super Mario Bros. or Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! on the NES. Sometimes Muskal’s older brother would even boot up an old ColecoVision or Atari game for some simple thrills.
What Muskal didn’t know at the time, was that the following year, he’d be separated from his brother when his parents divorced. While Mike would stay in New Jersey with their father, Muskal and his sister would move across the bay to Delaware with their mother.
It was the late ’90s, and with cell phones not yet in everyone’s pocket, and long distance calls taboo, Muskal feared losing contact with his brother.
But where phone lines were expensive, the internet was affordable and becoming widely available. Mike saw the emerging technology as a tool for communication, but also a way to enjoy video games. In fact, he’d recently stumbled onto a title that combined both into a singular platform.
While mothers and video games are often comparable to oil and water, Muskal’s mom had fostered a love of games, and she’d enjoyed her own fair share of digital adventuring through the years. When Muskal’s mother first heard about Ultima Online in 2001 from her eldest son, she saw the game’s potential in helping to bridge the physical distance between the family members.
“My brother and my mom would often just hang out in their houses and chat, rather than make long distance calls,” Muskal said. “My mom was a big Legend of Zelda and Lagoon fan. We actually got our Nintendo 64 because she wanted to play the new Zelda. It was a win-win for us.”
Within two months, Muskal talked his mother into getting an account of his own. He wanted to purchase a house and forge his own identity in Britannia, which he did via his new character, “Mastermind.”
But whereas his brother and mother used UO to socialize, when Muskal and Mike played together, adventure could be found around every corner.
Read more of Ian Muskal’s story in Braving Britannia: Tales of Melancholy, Malice, and Peril in Ultima Online!