(Due to circumstances that will remain an enigma, this will be my last post on this space for a while. Moving forward, any posts I make will have to be ad-hoc as opposed to the 2-3 a week I’ve kept up for the past 5 months. What that will mean, only time will tell.)
We’ve successfully brought single-player aspects into MMOs, and with them has come the single-player mentality. It’s why I think Pokemon Go is the future of MMOs– not because it’s a technical marvel or a new frontier in storytelling or raids or whatever, but because it’s building on the original promise of the MMO: get out there and meet new people in this game, who will be your friends and allies on a great big adventure that YOU set the goals of.
– Tamrielo, Playing the Modern MMO (Digital Initiative)
I almost cheered at this post when I saw it a while back – until I reread that paragraph above. ‘That you set the goals of’?
My immediate reaction: what sort of multiplayer are we talking about here?
To most folks, I think, multiplayer in an MMO is about conquering challenges together in the world – challenges that everyone has a stake in conquering, be it dungeons, or group quests, or heart-crushing horrors like Guild Wars 2‘s infernal jumping puzzles. Counting one party member’s adventure among these is new to me.
Not new to veterans of Tyria, of course, since GW2’s Personal Story allows ‘guesting’. But said guests might as well be expendable NPCs for all the notice the story takes of their presence, and that’s always felt like less of an adventure to me than it could be.
MMOs all handle this aspect of the ‘adventure’ differently. Some, like GW2, cater to groups – this works where there is exclusive (race/class-specific) content, so everyone gets a shot at what they’re missing out on. Others, like The Lord of the Rings Online and The Elder Scrolls Online, do it the classic way, where the main story is something all players experience, on a global level, and with no distinction made between individual participants.
On one hand, the latter creates an environment where players have the freedom to tackle story content without any obligation to group up. Not something, I feel, that should be advocated, and yet it is – because on the other, this is also where the reviled solo-only quests come in, and no amount of rationalizing will do away with the fact that, you know, they’re solo-only.
Not only do they interrupt the all-important collaboration, they can be enormously frustrating to less skilled players who need that collaboration to survive the game’s mechanical challenges in the first place. I find myself recalling a friend, a casual who played a Lore-master in LoTRO’s Rise of Isengard days, and how he nearly dumped the game upon hitting the brick wall that was Saruman’s ambush of the Rohirrim in the Ring of Isengard. None of us could lend a hand – because it was his show. It was a textbook example of game mechanics interfering with the story experience.
The other issue is, again, that none of these approaches truly account for the presence of other players. In the context of the adventure itself, we’re still the protagonists, saving the world all by ourselves, and our friends are just extras. While functional, I can’t help feeling the emptiness of it.
If the idea is emergent gameplay, telling our own stories through spontaneous collaboration, the premise of one man leading the charge (leaving aside the joke of solo-only) works. But if we’re going to bring in the single-player side of the story (pun intended) at all, perhaps we ought to go all the way.
Like Zubon at Kill Ten Rats wrote, certain things in a game should not receive positive reinforcement. I don’t doubt there are many who consider MMO soloing one.