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Why MMOs Shouldn’t Tell Stories

Ah, the story of our favourite MMO. That’s why we play, right? To learn what happens to our favourite heroes, villains, and…

Wait, what? No?

MMOs appear to have disappeared down a “story” rabbit-hole as of 2013. From the increasing linearity of much of WoW to Guild Wars 2′s “All Trahearne, all the time” plotline, game developers appear to be convinced that what we want is to play alongside a classic fantasy epic.

As you may have guessed by now, I’m not really of that opinion. And neither, it turns out, is Syl, who writes a fantastic piece at her new site, MMO Gypsy, pointing out just why the “big plot” push of the last few years just doesn’t seem satisfying to many people:

“I honestly think the constant demand for increased “story telling” in MMORPGs is mislead. The so-called fourth pillar of game design is overrated for this genre in particular, for should not the player drive the narrative rather than being driven by it? And it would be a good thing to remember how great stories are really created and why more and more story-driven quests and events in MMOs are in fact counter-productive to the immersive experience. Worlds are immersive when they engage us and make us partake – not listen to.

Great writing is the art of not saying things. It’s the skill of knowing which things to write and which to leave out. The greatest of authors understand that it won’t do to spell out all the details, secrets and twists about a story; this is not how interesting characters or plot are created. I believe typically most writers spend the first half of their journey learning to flesh out, formulate and construct interesting, complex plot-lines. After that, they spend the other half of the time removing information and un-saying too many words. I can confirm this for my own writing journey, that it’s a struggle of learning what not to say, rather than what to say and mustering that “courage for silence” which tangentially, is also a central theme in the education of teachers (which happens to be my professional background). Didactics 101 will teach you that for greatest learning effect, impact and longevity, your audience needs to make as many steps of the journey on their own as possible. They must try unearth and unravel the story (or learning subject) by themselves. The teacher should only ever be the prompter, the one asking questions and if required the fallback plan.”

Read the rest of Why Storytelling In MMORPGs Is Overrated

arrow1 Response

  1. NetherLands
    5 mos ago

    One could say that MMORPG’s just follow the evolution of PnP RPG’s.

    During the 70′s and much of the 80′s, fantasy RPG publishers would bring you product that removed much of the drudge work of world building and module-making but what stories you decided to run in it was up to you/the result of the interaction of the characters with the setting.

    [ This was mimiced in the first stage of MMORPG's, the virtual worlds where you basically bought access to the setting but the other players formed the cotnent (ether directly/PvP/sandbox or by forcing you to group up) ]

    Gradually modules started to shift, and plot-hammering became more common, culmunating if you will in the 90′s with the whole ‘role playing, not roll playing’ craze that almost removed dungeon crawls, had GM’s rolling players’ dice for them ‘for the story’, and which ended up with many people shifting to CCG’s and such.

    [This is the stage we now have entered with too many MMORPG's]

    Then in this century the focus shifted again, and you see the return of dungeon crawls/setting from their ‘dirty word’ corner, but also rules themselves become more of a choice and focus (splatbooks really take over, OGL etc.).

    How this will pan out in MMORPG’s I don’t yet know, but besides the return of the sandbox and players being the content, you also see more and more games allowing player-generated content and personally I expect this to expand more and more as this would to a degree reduce maintainance costs of MMORPG’s as well sink the hooks deeper into players as they become more involved wether by time or by wallet.

    But I might just be rambling here ;) I do however completely agree that ideally for me a MMORPG is a setting where I can weave my own character stories, instead of the linear stuff we get now.

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