Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Telling Stories

Spinks posted an article yesterday dealing with player rewards vs character rewards. While interesting in itself, it caused me to think about something only remotely connected - the ability to tell stories about our game experience. Back when I was running the Magic – The Gathering tournament circuit, (Not very successfully, mind you. I only won cash once.) the time between rounds was usually spent in groups with people telling stories of how they defeated their opponents – or how they were (unfairly!) defeated themselves. Talks about MMOs rarely seem to go that way.

This topic is not directly connected to an in-game story, though that can play a role. The story and lore of Magic didn’t matter to any of us players, yet we still had many stories to tell. In order to tell a story, you need memorable events that others might be interested in or that are at least not common knowledge. Your average MMO simply doesn’t create many of those memorable events and especially few that wouldn’t be experienced in just the same way by other players.

Rorix Bladewing (image: copyright: Wizards of the Coast)

Sure, I could talk to a friend about how we spent another night wiping on Anub’Arak hard mode and, if she’s familiar with the fight, talk about what tactics we tried and what problems came up. What I can’t do is tell a story about how Anub’Arak suddenly burrowed until only his spikes where visible and started running after me, how I heroically ran away and just in time managed to lure him into a frozen area on the ground which stopped him. If she’s seen the fight once, she knows that the Anub’Arak always does this.  Even if she is completely oblivious to it, I can tell her that story once but there’s nothing to tell about the following twenty attempts. This, to me, is a huge sign of the scam that raid content really is. If it was actually interesting instead of repetitive, boring, and purely focused on practice and loot, there would be stories to tell. There aren’t, hence it isn’t interesting.

Player vs. player content is inherently more interesting in this regard, as players are actually capable of creating interesting situations that you haven’t seen before. This is part of what made Magic – The Gathering games such magnificent subjects of stories. Another part was the inherent randomness of a card game – you could always tell the story of how the incredibly lucky topdeck1 cost you a surely won game in the last possible turn or something similar.

Finally, the amount of options a player has in a game of Magic is far greater than what players can do in any MMO I know. Not only do the cards in hand plus the cards in play create a huge amount of possible actions, the cards a player draws are also entirely dependent on which cards the player chose to bring to the game. One of my most-told Magic stories of all time concerns an opponent that pre-empted “technology” by beating me with a generally terrible card that no one ever expected to be played. In MMO’s this doesn’t happen. Give us a higher complexity and less scripted encounters and we might actually be able to tell stories about your game. Wouldn’t that be fun?

1 A topdeck is, according to the Urban Dictionary, “the act of drawing a particular (usually game-winning or at least loss-avoiding) card through pure chance.” Essentially if a player manages to draw just the card she needs from the top of her deck (hence the name), as opposed to having it in hand already, she is topdecking.

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