Do MMORPGs stop you writing your own character’s story?

With the flap over Mass Effect 3’s ending, and SWTOR seeking to define itself by its narrative, the focus is firmly back on story in gaming at the moment.

Today two different bloggers are musing on the role of story in MMOs, and whether it’s possible to have a unique story in a world where almost everyone will be experiencing some version of the same narrative.

First up, Zoso of Killed in a Smiling Accident discusses the Schrodinger’s Cat nature of NPCs in SWTOR, where it’s possible to have both killed and saved multiple sympathetic, voiced characters, multiple times

“In a single player game this might crop up again later; perhaps you’d bump in the Captain on another planet and he’d be grateful that you spared him, while down the other leg of the trousers of time another player would meet the First Officer who’d taken over after his Captain had been demoted in a mysterious lightsabre-based industrial accident. In the shared universe of a MMOG both things happened, Schrödinger’s Captain is both alive and dead depending on who you talk to. Chat with someone who’s done the flashpoint a few times and it’s even more confusing:

“Oh, you’ve done the Black Talon, did you spare the Captain or kill him?”

“The first time, we spared him. Second time, we killed him. Third time I wanted to spare him, but got outvoted. Fourth and fifth times we were after the loot from the Republic group that spawns in if you spare him, then sixth through ninth was speed runs for social points so we killed him.”

As always, Zoso delivers a sequence of interesting, thought-provoking points, from the way Mass Effect 3 puts the lie to the claim that “no-one plays games for story” to the extent to which SWTOR fails to engage or feel personal for many people precisely because of this multiple universe situation.

Meanwhile, Pewter of Decoding Dragons has been musing on Guild Wars 2’s customisation, in a series of small musings on elements of MMORPG personalisation

“Even in Warcraft, which is starting to look relatively uncustomisable, there are hundreds of thousands of artefacts from the lives of individual characters out there. Fan fiction, fan art, twitter accounts, blog posts, moments shared on vent about the time when that warlock did that thing that one time. The personal story in Guild Wars 2 is unique to each individual character, but the players will create their own artefacts and ways to share the immense diversity of experience that ArenaNet has enabled. Just look at the discussions about FemShep – there are thousands of FemSheps out there, and yet I see so many discussions about ‘my FemShep’. The possessive.

Pewter covers a whole gamut of topics here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this post spawn a number of responses and more in-depth explorations. I found the quote above particularly interesting – the way that we bond with a game character, even the same game character that thousands of other people have bonded with, is one thing that separates games from any other medium. We may enjoy watching Chuck, but he’s still the same Chuck other people are watching. By contrast, Shepard is “my” Shepard.

And finally, roleplaying in MMOs is one of the most immersive ways to create a unique experience in a non-unique world. [Edit – Jana and Saxxy of I Like Pancakes wrote this guide. Apologies for the misattribution.] has written a fantastic, comprehensive and lengthy guide to getting started with (MMORPG) roleplaying. If you want to know how such things work in a world without a DM or if you fancy trying something new in your MMOs, I higly recommend it –

“After considering the character physically, it’s time to consider the character mentally. Creating a bit of a backstory is important because it guides you as to how to act in RP. I like to create a “defining moment”: a story about the character’s past that resonates with the character and defines what drives them. For Jana, that moment is her failed relationship with Jeremiah. She sought and continues to seek some form of reconciliation, allowing her to love without being driven to hurt or be hurt. For Saxsy, that moment is her leaving Auberdine to travel to Eldre’thalas. She is driven by justifying her decision to become a mage, defending it against her family, and maintaining a joyous attitude in the face of it all. ”

Do you find yourself disconcerted by the thousands of other players running around with similar stories to “yours”?