Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Putting the RP back into the MMO

Yah, yah, I haven't written much lately. Doesn't mean I'm not playing hard. Tynaqua is now 80; I've started leveling Hellgrima (she's at 73 now). Fortknight is getting pretty geared from heroics. Life is good.

For some weird reason, perhaps attributable to a bit of withdrawal from Geo Martin's book series, I went looking for Kindle2 versions of Warcraft lore novels. I think these are graphic novels, maybe not. Found many. Decided to start easy (and cheaply) and downloaded Rise of the Horde. Figured I'd learn more about Thrall and the history of the Orcs and Horde, etc. etc.

I've only read about 20% of the book, but already I find myself getting real pleasure from connecting the backstory with the game. It feels weird and, let me dare to say this, it makes the locations and events in the game seem considerably more 'real' to me as a player in their midst. This makes play more enjoyable for me. BGO (blinding glimpse of the obvious), I suppose, but not for the POWER of context, rather for the PLEASURE of it, that is, the pleasure of "knowing things," of being an Azerothian citizen-insider who knows what's going on.

Then I got to wondering about MMO play generally. I mean, hey, wasn't this stuff called MMORPG? It was back when I first got into it in 2005. I mean, it was supposed to be like taking D&D tabletop games online. Where did the RPG go? Is it just too hard to integrate story with play mechanics sufficiently well to satisfy a variety of player types?

I tried LOTRO (Lord of the Rings online), and it was beautiful visually, and had the same level of satifaction as playing with paper dolls. WoW's own Burning Crusade really sucked in large part, imho, because it made so little sense; it was just 'stuff to do.' But I have to say that Wrath of the Lich King has been a considerable improvement, mostly due to the cut scenes and phased play. (Although, good god, Arthas is showing up way too often on tasks that seem rather beneath him, eh? This is a snap of a rooftop fight in which Arthas, the Lich King, drops in to mock the failure of his minion. Shouldn't he be busy elsewhere?

Now it's highly possible I have no fucking idea what I'm talking about. Before WoW my RPG experiences were all in ye olde timey MOO/MUD/MUSH/MUCK worlds, which were often worlds that could be modified by competent players (OOP programmable, or rather, tweakable). And in those worlds, all was text, so story (or more often, "premise") and item/object descriptions were very important. Actions were rather limited.

My 15 year old daughter plays RPGs in online communities where there is NO real game mechanic, just interactive, collaborative, storytelling RP. These communities preset their culture and offer a sort of starter lore, and thereby create some boundaries and constraints on player imagination. But within that bounded space players wield a significant amount of freedom to create narratives, characters, events, and settings. She also plays Warcraft, so she knows both sorts of networked world making and play, and based on time spent, I would she prefers to play on the "RP boards." Yes, RP boards...these communities rely on browser-based forums and webpages (e.g., Yahoo groups or MS groups) to hold their worlds and stories.

I'll probably think about this more as I read and play more. Just wanted to jot this note before I lost the initial thoughts.