Sunday, August 10, 2014

MORPG as Collaboration

So the question becomes, Why all this focus on Story, what it is, and what makes it good?

As I mentioned before, I am coming to realize that experiencing a good story is one of the primary reasons why I enjoy MMOs.  I’m not in it to challenge other players to a pick-up game.  I’m not here to have something repetitive and mindless to pass the time.  I don’t need this hobby as a way to meet people and socialize.  Yes, all of those things are possible and valuable but that isn't what draws me.

I’m primarily here to experience a story in a way that no other medium offers: the chance to see that story from the inside as a prime mover and instigator, as a protagonist and hero.  This is a way for me to share all the things that the hero feels, like perseverance, danger, determination, elation.  A game that puts you in the center of the action is doing something that no other media can accomplish.

When you take things a step further, and create an environment where I can experience this with my friends, it creates an almost perfect social experience. It’s like going to the movies with your friends, but a step further in intensity.

Let’s step away from MORPGs and look at theater.  Yes, stage performances with actors, and bright lights and sets.  Theater performances are a collaboration between the author, the director, the actors, the costumer, the set designer, etc., etc., all working together to create a performance unlike anything any of them imagined individually.  The actors bring their own creative contribution to the work and work with the director to capture what an author, possibly long departed, offered as a starting point; a performance that the author only hinted at.

In this same way, a narrative MORPG offers the same opportunity to the player. The developers craft their game in the same way as the playwright and director.  Eventually, though, the devs have to release their game, and the players become the actors, bringing their own interpretation to the script.  Yes, they are given roles to play, and they don’t change the major acts of the play, but they do bring their own creative spirit to the role they’ve been given.

The more latitude they are given to make a response, the more the game allows the players to be collaborators in the final experience.  It does matter whether the fight was a long and desperate one, or whether the group sailed through with ease.  It matters that the tank let one of the elite mobs get away from her and it made a beeline straight for the healer and at the very last minute the hunter interrupted it with scattershot, allowing the mage's polymorph to land, all of this happening within the space of about 3 seconds;  and at the same time the other 5 mobs have to be dealt with before the patrol comes back.

When the mechanics of the game take away that possibility, the scope for player collaboration in the story is diminished.  If every experience is identical to the last, that very frontline level of storytelling is lost.

This is my tenth offering in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

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