It’s the little differences that you first notice.
It's the farming run that you pause midway, wondering whether you really need yet another level; the daily trip to the red sandstone mines, where you question the purpose of earning more gold pieces; or the goal of purchasing a set of Virtus Robes, which you know you will hardly use apart from the briefest of escapades to a friend’s PoH.
Time passes, and slowly but surely you realise you have lost the drive to obtain levels in the quest for that elusive 2496. Where once upon a time you might have derided yourself for being inefficient, you now casually play numerous games of Conquest in a row.
The joy of massacring hordes of Dagannoths has been lost now that 138 combat is no longer a dream, but a reality, and you know that all the xp past 99 is for naught; no more will those fireworks spring upon you unannounced.
Walking through the Varrock Dungeon (a place you haven’t entered any time in recent memory), you are enthralled by the old and the familiar. “Scorpions looked nothing like that, back in the day,” you remark, pausing as you attempt to recall when exactly their graphics were updated. The lone dead tree by the moss giants looks exactly as you remember it; its shoddy, simplistic fashion leaving you to quietly ruminate on the gradual disappearance of RuneScape’s rustic charm.
A while more and you reach a bittersweet realisation: You’ve done all you’ve ever wanted to do in the game. You never really wanted to achieve 99s in all your skills, nor did you aspire to become the next S U O M I. You were perfectly content to work towards a combat level of 138, an achievement which still remains the clearest epitome of what it means to be elite, or so you thought.
Now that you no longer even have that, a strange calm settles over you. You pack your things and sell what you don’t need: that set of Bandos which you worked so hard to get, and the Dragonfire Shield you were planning to hold onto until post-EoC. It is an oddly emotional process. “It’s just pixels,” they say, but we all buy into the illusion that these things are somehow real and substantial enough for us to channel our time and effort into obtaining them.
You bid a few close friends goodbye, and one even gives you the 60m you need to buy that Santa hat you never really cared for, nor wanted. You call it the end of your RuneScape “career”, an ironic term you note, especially since RuneScape feels more like a job than a game at times.
Not that it matters anymore, for it is but dust in the wind and tomorrow, when you wake, you will have grown a little more.
[Epilogue: The author is a 7-year RuneScape player, having begun his adventure on 29 September 2005. He recently achieved 99 Defence and is no longer active on RuneScape.]