MMORPGs are virtual theater based on single-player games

| Monday, April 15, 2013
Syl hates stories (author note: I might be distorting her words for dramatic impact).

The problem with MMO storytelling is that developers treat MMOs like single-player games where other people happen to be around.  Every word puts me in the center of the action, makes me the fulcrum, makes me the hero who changes everything.  That's not a problem!  The problem is that the words are entirely disconnected from the reality.  A million other people have saved, are currently saving, or are about to save the world from the exact same threat.

I've come to a revalation about MMORPGs: They're fake worlds.  I don't just mean that they're fake worlds in the sense that they're simulations on a computer, but that even within those worlds we're all faking it.  It's been obvious all along, and yet we failed to see it: we're not the heroes.  Stick with me on this journey and I will blow your mind.

Pick your virtual world.  I'll use Azeroth because everyone has been there (except losers, losers).  It has definitely been threatened.  Dragons, Old Gods, demons, and gnomes have threatened to tear it apart.  We've stepped in to save it.  Or have we?

No!  There were other heroes.  They got there first.  They came before us and killed the dragons, Old Gods, demons, and gnomes.  Some other people saved the world.

We're just people pretending.  Not pretending at our computers, but pretending in the game as well.  How else can you resurrect at will?  How else can enemies respawn?  Why do enemies follow the same script?  The only content that is unscripted is PvP, which takes place in small spaces, isolated, with no impact on the world.

We're actors.  We dress up and go off to fight a fight that has been staged and scripted.  The outcome is pre-determined.  If we seem to fail, what happens?  We start over and we do it again until we've gotten it right.  When we pull the director yells "action!" and when we wipe he yells "cut!", then he gets on vent, pretending to be the guild leader, and yells at us.  Finally we get the scene right and the footage is saved.

A long time ago someone saved the world.  More recently, someone made a movie about it, using us.

The real question is: Do our characters know?


Ephemeron said...

I've always preferred the explanation that is quite close to yours, but with a slight difference:

Our characters are literally 'epic heroes': that is, heroes of an epic, an account of a bygone age story that is eternally told and retold by their descendants in the future. As it often happens with oral history, the tale changes with each retelling. Every time a guild kills a raid boss or a player finishes a quest, it's a yet another variation of the respective story.

For instance, in some versions of Thunder King's story, he was laid to final rest by an army of 25 champions, yet in other ones, they numbered only 10. And I'm sure that one day, someone will tell a story of a lone deathknight bringing the tyrant down singlehandedly. Likewise, when the story of the Savior of Stoneplow is told, the protagonist may be a tauren, a human, a blood elf or even a gnome, depending on the teller's whims.

Klepsacovic said...

That's a pretty awesome way to look at it. It reminds me a bit of the bit of Bastion I played, with the overall story perhaps being the same, but the particular narration will change with us.

Maybe it's not so bad, not being the heroes. We're storytellers and actors. Maybe we didn't start the story, but without us, it dies just as much as if it had never been made in the first place.

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