We definitely had a major Runescape boom in my elementary school in Canada around 2003-05, the main appeal being that it was an expansive MMO that was free, which is the magic word for 9 year-olds who can’t get access to their parent’s credit cards. (My best friend and I eventually got subscriptions after playing for one million hours and asking our parents once per hour.) Pretty sure our three All Time Most Discussed Topics would be Pokemon, Runescape, and Yu-Gi-Oh.
Don’t remember how we all heard about it; must have been someone’s older brother. My older brother’s friends would always make fun of me because they played WoW, which to them was the grown up version of Runescape.
The funniest part was that my elementary school merged with a smaller school in grade 4, and everyone from the other school played Maple Story, while we played Runescape. It was a weird culture clash moment.