[ Retro Scan of the Week ] WorldsAway

December 14th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldAway Graphical Multiuser Online Chat World on CompuServe First Advertisement - 1996“There’s More to Life On-Line”

Just a few months ago, the 20th anniversary of the launch of WorldsAway, a pioneering graphical online world, came and went without any major notice (it launched in September 1995). But I remembered the milestone, and I wrote a recent This Old Tech column over on PCWorld.com about my memories of the service, which I stuck with in some form or another until 2001.

WorldsAway was simply magical when it launched. It promised to put you, as a user, into a graphical world that you could share with other online users (the term “Avatar” as an online representation of your physical self came from the creators of this lineage of online worlds). It delivered on that goal with a charming atmosphere — where you could change between whimsical heads with ease — and a vibrant community that I still look back on fondly to this day.

Honestly, I miss being part of that WorldsAway community. My involvement there came at a time when I was fairly lonely and isolated with my hobbies — my high school years — during a time when few “average” people used any online service whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong; I did fairly well at school, and I wasn’t a freak with no friends — but the real-life friends I did have did not share my love for the online world. Online, of course, I could find others like me, and on WorldsAway, we all celebrated that commonality together in a vibrant, playful world.

Did anybody else use WorldsAway in the 1990s? I’d love to hear from you.

P.S. I was an avid reader and subscriber of CompuServe Magazine in the 1990s, which is where I found and drooled over this ad back in the day.

[ From CompuServe Magazine, March 1996, p.4 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you use any graphical online chat worlds in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

14 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] WorldsAway”

  1. Rowan Lipkovits Says:

    Very interesting Old Tech column, but I can see no scan here!

  2. Matt Says:

    I was on compuserve at the time this came out. I remember trying it out but my setup, Mac LCII with 2400 baud modem, was too slow to run it effectively. Definitely a concept ahead of its time. It’s hard to get absorbed into a virtual world when you’re kicked out every time mom wants to make a phone call.

  3. Yuuki Says:

    Hi Benj! Greetings from Indonesia
    The closest thing we got here for online worlds are MMORPGs like ragnarok online, gunbound, and other mmorpgs from south korea,they are very popular here. I spend a lot of time there, finding online friends to join quest and others. As for graphical online chat worlds, well i cant find anything like that here. Standard chat programs are popular though like YM,ICQ.
    Anyway,love this site and nice to meet you (online)

    Ps. I wonder if there are other readers from Asia here

  4. Benj Edwards Says:

    I’m still seeing the scan ok, Rowan. Is anyone else having trouble seeing it?


  5. Arlandi Says:

    I can see the scan just fine, Benj.

    Way back then (1994-95ish), i don’t use any graphical online chat. because the modem speed i use were too slow (2400 baud), and phone rates were very expensive.
    the first graphical online chat client i used was Yahoo! Messenger, at 1999. but BBS were gone at that year.

    Hi Yuuki, i’m also from Indonesia!

  6. V Says:

    I’ve read that the term avatar for an online representation came from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash (which is a wonderful book, by the way).

  7. Jim Says:

    I definitely did use a graphical online chat, but I’m not sure which one it was. It may have been WorldsAway. It was a pretty mind blowing experience to walk around in a “virtual world.” In retrospect, I’ve often wondered exactly what service I had logged into.

    I was running dial-up on my CompuAdd 386 and I was a CompuServe user, so the timing was right. I would also go on to be a long time *Prodigy user, so perhaps it was part of that service… But I don’t think so.

    I recall some amount of avatar customization and having my own “house.” Specifically, I recall that there was a single shared doorway that would lead each user to their instance of their own home. I _think_ you could share a key with other users that would allow them to enter your home through this shared doorway.

    Beyond that, I recall spent a lot of time in a virtual saloon reading chat bubbles. The conversation was often pretty funny and, if I recall correctly, there was almost always someone standing around in their underwear. Could this have been WorldsAway?

  8. Moondog Says:

    @V: Benj is correct regarding the use of the term “Avatar.” I remember reading it back in ’86 in a RUN magazine article about Lusafilm’s Habitat on Q-Link


  9. V Says:

    Thanks, Moondog, my mistake! I thought I had read that Stephenson came up with the term, but quickly Googling it now, pretty much all the top results mention that it came from Habitat and was popularized in Snow Crash.

  10. Andrew Says:

    Jim: It sounds like WorldsAway, except for the part about people standing around in their underwear. That part sounds like Ultima Online. WorldsAway “bodies” could be painted, but clothes could not be changed. Head swapping was the primary customization.

    The shared doorways would have been an elevator to each users apartment. You could add additional owners or allow guests to enter when you were there. There was a old west-themed saloon.

  11. Picnic Says:

    I remember Worlds Away fondly. I had a lot of fun as a wise-cracking character named Picnic with flame-coloured hair and a Mexican wrestler mask. Then I met an Avatar with an Afro head named Marcius. After months of chatting about life and buying online canaries (?) we decided to meet up, for a laugh. We’re about to celebrate our RW 23rd wedding anniversary. After WA I never used an online game again; I guess it was a time and place. You’re right there was something magical about it.

  12. Picnic Says:

    To clarify – I was on WA from around 1995-96.

  13. Duckolyte Craig Says:

    quack quack

  14. Benj Edwards Says:

    Hi Duckolyte Craig! I forgot all about the Duckolytes, but it just came rushing back. Anybody remember Wert P Gumby?

    And check out this interesting list of Avatar names. I’m not on it for some reason, but it has many I recognize:


    Update: I just found an archive of Wert’s GeoCities website!


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