When Everybody Is a Hero…
Here’s a little quote for those of you that don’t read Tish, Tosh, Tesh as religiously as they should:
“I believe that MMOs should be about the player’s story in a vital virtual world that’s indifferent to them.” – Tesh
Traditionally, computer games make the player into an all-powerful hero that saves the princess, the world, or at least himself in a spectacular way. MMORPGs tend to copy this in their quest design, praising players for slaying the evil overlord or curing a sick child even though millions of other players have completed the same quest before them. (Not a new issue at all. I’ve even mentioned it before.) Nowadays, World of Warcraft tries to alleviate this problem a little bit by using its phasing technology to make it appear to players as if they had actual impact on the world. They don’t though, and this is a major hurdle in the way of actually interesting storytelling in MMORPGs.
Tesh’s quote above proposes a rather different solution – don’t even try to give players heavy impact on the world. Make them tell their own stories by playing the game (also something I’ve written about before) and just provide them with a world to do that in.
One issue with this approach is of course that many players play games to escape from their real lives in which they don’t have as much impact as they’d like. I can’t say whether “Oh thank you hero for saving our village.” speeches actually help with such escapism, but it is definitely something in mind when remodelling the player characters from heroes to ordinary citizens.
Another issue is that one can’t just take a world like that in WoW, take out the hero references and be done with it. Fighting the Lich King makes very little sense if you take out the story line of a heroic group of players fighting their way through hordes of undead to save Azeroth from total domination. If you take all the quests out ow WoW that refer to dealing with a certain problem, retrieving a certain item, or killing a certain person/monster you won’t be left with much in the way of quests at all.
A game following Tesh’s idea would have to be built from the ground up to support it and would fall heavily into the sandbox category of games. In order for players to live through their own stories in the game, there need to be possibilities for players’ stories to actually be different from each other. Traditional DIKU-style MMOs simply don’t offer enough variety for something like that to be possible.