MMO’s have never been the greatest medium for telling stories. Games in general have never seemed to take it that seriously with combat, and the mechanics surrounding it being the focus and then the story being re-purposed to fit. As such, the actual story elements that bind it together are usually quite week and very reliant on tropes in order to fill in the gaps that are often left out. It’s easy to use them as they require less information for the players to understand but they really aren’t optimal for a good story and only serve to discredit any sense of coherency with the world.
I’ve written about my issues with the Hero complex mmo’s seem to have, regardless of the conflicting nature of a multiplayer space. That will always remain a part I tend to hate but there are a couple more issues I’ve had in my recent gaming that I’d also like to add to the list.
Good and Bad
With the 2 faction nature of our mmo’s it seems a very overused theme is to create a certain dichotomy to them with one being the righteous and the other being evil. Now we can usually make these distinctions in the real world with certain organisations and groups there is a lot more nuance to it.
A wealth of experiences and goals that make these sides what they are mean it usually isn’t so black and white. Whether they appear good or bad at first glance doesn’t show the inherent morality and the reasons behind actions. I do see some of this in our worlds, various interests that are neither right or wrong that naturally conflict… they still feel a little artificial, rift for example, but this conflict of ideals leaves more room for interesting stories that explore these differences.
Having a good and evil approach just seems lazy in comparison. There is very rarely something or someone who is so rigid to these ideals, such actions just for the sake of being good or evil make little sense within a diverse world. There is very little personal gain from being purely evil, killing, torturing, murdering for the sheer thrill and such themes are rather off-putting to me. I like a decent militaristic faction, the passionate, or one seeking dominion over others as they’re actions make sense… just because is not a valid reason in the face of those.
Even the purely good, never do no harm type of faction makes no sense either. People make allowances very often for their own gain and to help others that might harm at the same time. Also there are often corrupt forces of varying degrees in most organisations and these influences and actions themselves are guided by many different factors. But no, we get poor downtrodden hippie races huddling for warmth from the big bads, or those blessed by the gods and protecting the week type. It’s just rather ridiculous and when your story elements like this start resembling cartoon super villains and heroes it’s time to re-evaluate… unless of course you’re DC Universe.
When you go this route I also think you tend to miss out on the type of stories that can challenge your players current ideals; ingrained stereotypes and biases that form our popular culture which need to be challenged. Chindividual recently had a post regarding racism in games and how it can promote reflection and I think games can and have done some good in this world with teaching people about a range of injustices that might not think about because of these elements.
Yep, this one comes from my recent playtime in Star Trek Online as I’ve finally reached a part that was full of time based conundrums. A wealth of quests that involve time travel and altering the past and stopping those that attempt to alter the timeline. There were some before, and I kind of like that one but when I’m being assaulted with such complex time based themes I lose control.
Some of these were rather interesting. it had you exploring changed timelines that involve the destruction of Strafleet and subjugation of its people. Many encounters with the ships and characters of older series that appeal to that basic nerd sense of Nostalgia but, after a while it starts to be too much.
I want to be involved with the current world and it’s characters. I want to be a part of that and while, I guess time travel deals with this by default your left playing six rules of separation to put the pieces together in order to create a cohesive vision. I would much rather they develop their own things rather than take the lazy route of reviving old themes because they can’t come up with any interesting new ones of their own.
I don’t know what it is about these time travel themes as well, but when I begin hearing terms like the predestination paradox my brain gets all fuzzy and I promptly go on levelling auto pilot. I stop caring about the story, I randomly oooo and aah at the required set pieces but that is the extent of my interest. Writing this now I’m trying to remember the quests I was doing just a few hours ago and for the life of me I can’t. I remember the ambassador fetch quest involving trade law and spiced wine but the other space… all a blur.
I have so many other issues with MMO stories and these are but a few. It’s a medium I enjoy and the story and themes that make them bind the experience together to form something more than a series of combat events. However, as a foundation of mmo’s, of creating an engaging an immersive experience it’s so often forgotten or worse, butchered because it makes it easier or to sell more cash shop trinkets.
Now I’m not advocating some sort of fourth pillar for mmo’s. I don’t think we have ever needed such huge amounts of voiced cutscenes as a way of telling a story and engaging players but there does need to be more effort in this area in the lore and with how the world is designed.