Warning: This is going to be one of those rambling, stream-of-consciousness posts. A few different ideas have been thrown at my head recently, and they’re all twisting together in my brain, and I have to write my thoughts down to sort them out.
First, Ysharros wrote about wanting her actions to make a real difference in an MMO world: Persistence: ourstory
Then Ascii Dreams wrote about Permadeath (which also touches on emergent gameplay), which got me thinking about risk in MMOs.
In my comments on Ysharros’s post, I first wondered how developers could build a game in which every player can have a measurable impact on the world, and still remain fiscally solvent (the devs, not the players). But as I navel-gazed on Ysh’s dime, I started to wonder about what matters more: our actions having an impact on the MMO world, or our actions having an impact on us?
I decided that I, at least, don’t really care if my character’s actions change the MMO world as much as I care that my character’s actions leave me with rich memories of virtual adventures. I can remember adventures and exchanges from launch-era Ultima Online and EQ1 – things that happened 10+ years ago. But I remember very little from my time in Warhammer Online or Age of Conan, games I played in the last year. Nothing worth remembering happened in those games. I mean, I remember playing the games, of course, but I have no “Tales of Adventure” that I could share with you.
Again in the comments at Ysh’s, Tesh suggested that killing Onyxia when hundreds of other groups had already killed her is a weak substitute for telling your own unique stories, and yet one of my most recent “Tales of Adventure” comes from a similar (lower level!) encounter in WOW, and that was fighting General Drakkisath in the pre-Burning Crusades days. As a hunter, it was my job to ‘kite’ Drak away from the battle so that the rest of my comrades could take down his minions before fighing the General himself.
A zillion people had done this before me, and yet (in my mind at least) it remains one of my “Tales of Adventure.” And why is that?
I knew if I failed, Drak would return and wipe out my comrades.
For 99% of the things I do in MMOs these days, failure brings with it consequences so light as to really not matter. And that’s how I’ve wanted it. Wandering into the wrong area in UO and being ganked and stripped of everything I’d worked so hard to acquire was not fun. Dying in EQ and losing a level was not fun.
And yet those were the games where real memories and adventures were formed.
As MMO players, we argue against anything not-fun. We want insta-travel, hate death penalties, don’t want to grind, don’t want to have to spend hours at a time playing in order to accomplish anything. We want everything convenient and risk-free and for the most part, developers have obliged us.
And what we’re left with is games where we don’t have stories worth telling because nothing we do entails risk, and without an element of risk, a story isn’t worth telling. Without adversity, there can be no heroes.
I’m not arguing that grinding is adversity, or that having to run 10 minutes is, either. No, but these ‘features’ are deterrents. If we know that failing means having to grind for another hour (or even run for 10 minutes) to get back to where we were, then suddenly failing has real meaning, and from the real meaning comes emotional involvement.
I don’t know what the solution is, or if this is even a problem for very many people. I think back on my “Tales of Adventure” and I’d love to experience that kind of intensity in my gaming again, but I’m not willing to put the rest of my life in a box in order to obtain it, and that is surely what I was doing back then. UO almost cost me my job and my relationship. Kiting Drak only happened because I was unemployed. These days, when I can only squeeze in an hour to play an MMO in a given evening, I don’t *want* to have to spend it grinding or running around.
And yet, the games feel like games now, not alternate worlds of adventure. And damn, do I miss being a hero.