MMOs and You: Creating one million heroes of destiny
“Normally I don’t trust outsiders, but I have a good feeling about you.”
“You…you’re the one the prophecies fore told. You’re the one who’ll save this world.”
“Help me Crùshèr, you’re my only hope.”
Taken in the vacuum of a single player campaign, the trope of chosen heroes of destiny works, even if it is just lazy writing. There’s nobody else playing the game, nobody else completing the quests, and nobody else defeating the bosses. It’s just you, the chosen hero of destiny. When this plot device moves from a solo adventure to a massively multiplayer experience, the premise that you, the player, are the only person who can defeat evil and save the day falls apart.
logged in for the first time arrived at the local village, filled with hope and optimism. There seems to be a line forming in front of this important looking person, so why not follow suit and see what’s going on? Slowly but surely, the line moves. Before long, you can hear the conversations in front of you. “Go forward, fulfill your destiny, and save this world.” Finally, it’s your turn. The two of you talk, chat for a bit, and finally you’re told to “go forward, fulfill your destiny, and save this world.” You then head off, ready and willing to kill ten boars to help save the world.
Something about this scenario just isn’t adding up. Sadly, I’m not referring to the slaughter of boars in the name of defeating an ancient evil that has existed for millennia. How can I be a hero of destiny when I’m playing a game with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other people? What makes me more special than the next person? Even if I can step away from the immersion and understand this, how does it work for my character that is constantly being told he’s on this super special quest?
This isn’t a problem that’s exactly new to gaming. Ever since story has been incorporated into games, it’s been all about the one chosen hero to destroy evil and save the day. It’s been okay in the past because, again, it’s being used in a single player game. You won’t discover another player who is being told the same exact things in Ocarina of Time or Skyrim. You will, however, discover that in MMOs.
So what do we do about this problem? Could we just ignore the dialogue that suggests this line of thinking? We could, but then we’d be taking away from the narrative experience. Granted, there are MMO players that do this anyway, but they don’t account for the entire player base. I enjoyed the narrative aspects of Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’m enjoying it in Elder Scrolls Online too. What I don’t enjoy, however, is whenever I’m told that I’m a chosen hero of destiny, because I’m not and I wish these games would stop lying to me about it.
This brings us back to “what do we do about this problem?” World of Warcraft, believe it or not, has hinted at a possible solution: you’re part of the cog. Going way back to the Ahn’Qiraj opening, players were asked to gather items for their faction. It wasn’t just one person being asked to complete a task, but everybody. This is a trend that has continued: factions worked together during the Cataclysm, they worked together during the excursion to Pandaria. It was a team effort, not an individual one, which makes sense given that players are working together as a team constantly, whether its groups, guilds, or factions.
While this may ultimately mean that fetch quests to save the world become fetch quests to help your faction, it solves the issue of immersion breaking narrative as well as giving better reasoning to stereotypical MMO quests. Sure, you’re still looting boar hearts, but isn’t it more reasonable to believe that the potions they’re used in will help out your faction?
Jake Valentine isn't afraid to speak his mind, no matter how different his opinion may be. He does this often on Twitter, where you can follow him @hop3less. Just be prepared for lots of board games, Magic: the Gathering, sports, wrestling, and food.