1. This whole topic reminds me of the review for Din’s Curse: Demon War that mrbismarck linked:

    From a narrative point of view, it’s interesting for much the same reason that Minecraft was. Both it and Din’s Curse are games with little to nothing set in stone, plot-wise. There are no characters purpose-built for you to fall for, no set-pieces to take your breath away and no ending to provide closure, and yet the free-form design of the game provides something infinitely more alluring. You create your own stories, and explore your own landscape where anything can happen. [emphasis mine]

  2. I agree with Jef in regards to the core audience of MMO players not caring about story. I’m not sure who recent MMOs are trying to pander to. I personally am a lore nerd. I know more about Azeroth’s history than anyone who didn’t write it has any right to. I don’t think player generated story would satisfy lore nerds, though. Player generated stories automatically mean that they have no impact on the world, or are non-canon. For them to mean something, the player generated story would need to be long enough for the participant to care about the characters. That’s really hard in an MMO where there’s usually 20 minutes of combat for every 2 minutes of storytelling.

    City of Heroes actually does this already. You can write story arcs where you fill out quest logs and design the spaces the quests take place in. There are even a handful of these made by known authors and comic writers. Even so, I get the impression that this part of the game isn’t particularly popular, and when I did see it in use, it was to exploit the system to grind faster.

  3. zastrick said : Player generated stories automatically mean that they have no impact on the world, or are non-canon.

    The people who play Eve Online or Puzzle Pirates (among other games) would disagree with you on that point. In those games, there would hardly be any lore at all if it were not for the exploits of the players. Don’t think of the content generation tools of CoH or STO as the only way to skin that cat.

    It’s interesting that you say you don’t think that player-generated story would be satisfying to lore nerds and then claim that these stories have no impact on the world. Are you saying they’re unsatisfying because they have no effect on the world? If that’s the case, I don’t see how one can make a case for theme-park style MMOs with deep backstory where player exploits are a repeatable triviality in the grand scheme of the story.

  4. Final Fantasy XI is the only MMO that I really have ever played at length, but it had quite an impressive story that wasn’t player-generated. I think part of the reason why is that they weren’t afraid to load up a cutscene and have the player sit through it for the story. I know that’s an annoyance to some people, but they really did flesh out the story. There are plenty of interesting NPCs, and the plot focuses on your own character’s interactions with them. Even though you’re doing the quests and battles in a group, each player sees the cutscene and the quest text tailored to themselves, so it feels like the story centers around you personally. Sure, you knew that any NPC in a cutscene who also stands around town is going to live. But there are plenty of fleshed-out characters who only show up during cutscenes, and they can actually die if the plot requires it. With each expansion, Square Enix got better and better at telling the story, leading to cutscenes like this one from the most recent expansion. (That cutscene plays after a mission where you’re defending a town against several waves of attackers. It’s one of the longer ones, but it’s just so awesome. I got chills when I watched it the first time.)

    Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of virtually plotless fetch quests, and other things to do that weren’t related to the plot at all, but the base game and each expansion had its own set of “Missions.” These missions were the main chunk of the plot, where the majority of the cutscenes were. That way, players who disliked cutscenes/plot could just go grind for loot and ignore the story if they really wanted. Sure, people could look up strategies online for a mission fight, just like anything else, but that’s no different from an offline RPG. There’s always going to be some “optimal strategy,” for an RPG fight, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying when you do manage to win.

    The tradeoff for all of this was that it did make it a little harder for players to generate their own content or to roleplay in larger groups. For example, you couldn’t do player content or roleplaying reacting to the death of the Shadow Lord, because some players might not be to that point in the plot yet, so for them, the Shadow Lord was still alive. Player-generated content could really only be about things that the main mission lines didn’t really touch. Despite that limitation, I do think that FFXI does show that an MMO can actually do story as well as any other RPG can.

  5. Server ate my long comment, I’ll try to summarize.

    My interest in the MMO’s game lore is almost entirely separate from playing the game. To me it’s more like reading a page or two of a book every 20 mins rather than any delusion that I am participating in this world.

    I haven’t played Eve, but I’ve read some stories. The biggest being a story about a guy conning a group of people out of a large sum of money.

    My original concept of what he meant was allowing players to make quest npcs. If instead what he had in mind was more like a pen and paper game where a group of friends go on a personal quest, then I could see how that would be meaningful. Was my original interpretation wrong?

  6. (article) You see, the stories that go on in CCP’s New Eden (and make no mistake, the scams, scandals, and battles are stories, regardless of whether they fit neatly into your personal definition of roleplay) are actually going on.

    The part of me that still admits GNS is useful would point out this still isn’t really narrative, it’s more of a pure gamist’s idea of what narrative is.

    You can go to a tug-of-war tournament and come back with a story like, “it was nice out and Frank and I were on the same team and that asshole Joe left to go to the other team, and they had that guy who won the thing 3 years ago remember that? But he’d twisted his ankle recently so we won and they went in the mud yay!” That can be fun as hell and the tug-of-war tournament can be a successful event but it’s not capital-N narrative; it’s not the same basic thing as killing someone to keep the secret of Andraste’s ashes hidden from the world for another thousand years. There will be players who love the latter and don’t have any taste for the former.

    So I think the article gets a little carried away with gamism but the overall point is good. Narrative can be fucking boring. Yet the fact still remains that there are Narrativist delights that no amount of Gamism can tickle and they have their place in games. I think.

    (Simulationists also have an idea of what narrative is, too. Mrbismarck’s review is an example of a simulation game creating a narrative feeling.)

    The thing that makes EVE work, I think, is that a bunch of modern gamers being total cutthroat gamists also makes for a decent simulation of interstellar corporate anarchy. The fact is that a modern gamer just being himself online plays a pretty believable “soulless asshole with no life outside garnering winmoneypoints”, and if your setting is filled with those then you get a nice synthesis. Other settings have the problem where the [space] elves get together and say “LOL orcs r so fukd now”. I guess you could phrase it as G being at odds with N and S in that setting, and that might be part of why fantasy MMORPGS shun that kind of thing.

    (Narrativist idea of gaming: roll dice to see who tells the story. Narrativist idea of simulation: throwing in some Klingon words here and there. Simulationist idea of gaming: not telling the other guy he forgot a modifier on that roll on table 3.13.5. Gamist’s idea of simulation: wearing a cowboy hat to poker night.)

    Ahh, okay I’ll leave it at that before I sound even dumber.

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