How I accidentally became a Runescape coal baron

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Despite his weeks of loyalty, JomboJames was soon left behind by the swarm of children willing to bring my coal straight to the furnace at Al Kharid – an under-used smelting location which had now become my second home. After just three days at maximum capacity, my smithing skill hit level 40 and it was time to begin working with gold. I'd been preparing for this for a while – I had plenty of precious ore in the bank ready to be forged into gold necklaces, one of Runescape's best money-making trinkets.

Aside from the remarkably high profit margins, the best thing about working with gold was the simplicity. No additional ores or reagents were required to make a gold bar – a refreshing contrast to the logistical nightmares I'd had when mass-smelting steel. I wouldn't need coal again until mithril opened up at smithing level 50 – but I'd planned ahead for this by keeping at least 100 chunks squirrelled away in the bank.

For the time being, I'd have to close the sweatshop down. Messaging as many suppliers as I could remember, my brief memo informed them that I didn't need any more coal, and that they should stop constantly mining it unless they wanted it for themselves. Some understood, but most didn't. Many had already mined a large quantity before I'd had a chance to tell them, which I bought out of a growing sense of guilt.

Many of these people again didn't understand that this was a one-off final gesture, and took it as a sign that their long-term contract had been renewed. One child in particular flew off on a remarkable tangent when I told him that I didn't want his 20 pieces of coal, returning four days later with 200 pieces instead, as if that might somehow be more appealing.

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I didn't realise I had a serious problem on my hands until my item bank ran out of storage space, filled to the brim with coal mined by children who should have been doing their homework, but instead thought they were making a profit from the friendly man called Magicpants, who traded them gold on street corners like it was sweeties.

Enough was enough, and the money wasn't worth it. Travelling back to the mining patch where I had first started mining coal myself, I hoped to find solace from the ghost of nostalgia. Instead, I was greeted with an impromptu company meeting.

One by one the miners dropped their tools and came over to seek their fortunes. “COLAMAN” “COAL” “MAGICPANS!!” I wanted to apologise. I wanted to explain that they'd been stupid, and that I'd been unfairly manipulative of that for personal gain. I didn't say anything. They'd understood so little of what I had said so far that I decided actions might speak louder than words. Surrounded by the heartbreaking reality of the pixel-poverty I'd built an empire on, I slowly removed every piece of my mithril armour – dropping them to the ground as a token apology for the collective wrongs of my evil regime. For a moment, I felt like Bob Geldof – which was obviously quite distressing. Logging off from the Runescape server, I left the college computer room and decided to join my friends at the pub.

Returning today, ten years later, I'm surprised I still remember my password. The first place to find atonement is likely my friends list, but it doesn't look like anyone I know has been online for a very long time. A lot can happen in a decade, and it's frighteningly likely that some of these children now have a couple of their own.

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Travelling through the centre of Varrock, I'm overwhelmed by just how much the game has changed since I left it in 2001. My turquoise beard is now a dull brown goatee, and my pink trousers have ceased to exist – and not even in a sexy way.

Amazingly, one of my previous contacts is still playing – a man called Grak who used to be a boy called ||Joseph||. I think he used to know my brother. I ask if I'd paid him to mine coal for me ten years ago, but he doesn't remember.

I'd like to give something back to the community I once abused, but it's unclear what I can do to help. Ten years of change have evolved Runescape into what looks like a proper MMO, and I don't really understand what's going on. My attempts to buy a clear conscience are met with the shrug of an eroded economy. Illegal currency sellers offer millions of gold for the price of a fancy sandwich, and my enquiries as to whether or not my fortune of 55K is “a lot of money” are met with a simple answer: “No.”

I used to be a Runescape mogul, but now I don't know what to do. JomboJames probably won't log on ever again, so the only option at this point would be to convince Jagex to give me his personal account details so that I could track him down and apologise in person. Maybe I could pop over to his house and give his kids a bag of coal.