Losing The Story: The CRPG Flaw.

There was another good reason to write stories that I forgot to mention before: It’s game punditry at its best and most illustrative. To look at each of my stories about gaming, they’re seem to me to be more exciting than the game itself. Yet, that does not make sense because the average Computer Role Playing Game is attempting to tell a story. Why is that? In answering this, we can see my gaming stories are also a form of punditry.

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I think the real reason why the story seems more exciting than the game is because game developers lose touch with the storytelling potential of a game. It happens in the same way players devolve from enjoying fantasy adventure to instead merely optimizing their character sheets to improve their chance at winning. They, affected player and developer both, have forgotten that RPGs are about telling a story first and a game second.

My gaming stories can illustrate a point. For example, in The Rat Trap, Bruxx can be found sitting about a tavern tilting back an ale. Suddenly, he’s ambushed by bounty hunters from Freeport, and a tricky battle of wits and agility results in a surprise ending. This could never happen in EverQuest 2, and the differences between the game and the story outline the weakness in this and perhaps every MMORPG when it comes to being a a storytelling device.

Bruxx would not be found tilting back an ale in the inns of EverQuest 2 because the functionality simply isn’t there. There’s no reason to carouse within the game. This is a relatively minor thing, but it should be pointed out that same games such as Star Wars Galaxies have simply added reasons to frequent places for the characters to unwind. In doing so, those games have supported this kind of storytelling.

Bruxx, an accomplished Swashbuckler, does have a number of mechanisms in EverQuest 2 to engage in a “tricky battle of wits and agility.” However, the execution is limited by technical aspects. There is no catapulting arresting Barbarians into tables in EverQuest 2. Some First Person Shooters, such as Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, have gone far in simulating this. However, all an RPG has to do is symbolize it, and that this has not been done in most MMORPGs can be found as a weakness in that kind of storytelling.

Perhaps the most severe limitation of the MMORPG as a storytelling device is exposed is when Bruxx was ambushed by bounty hunters from Freeport, the definitively evil city in which he was once a member and defected from. That never happens in EverQuest 2 because players would complain that their gameplay experience has been interrupted. However, if the players will not allow the developers go over that line, something major is lost.

I would argue that, without the possibility existing that you can be even minorly inconvenienced by something, it’s impossible to participate in a story. This is because fundamental required elements of a story go missing. Many elements are commonly found in CRPGs, such as: setting, plot, characters, point of view, and time. However, what of the most important elements: Conflict and Resolution? When everything in a virtual world exists as a non-conflict, in order to not inconvenience the player, then there is nothing to resolve. There is no true conflict in this story, and so there can also be no real resolution.

In catering to the players’ dislike of inconvenience, the storytelling potential has broken. Thus, without even realizing it, players who have insisted it’s simply not enjoyable to endure things such as “impeded trading services” (the local inn burns down because they were unable to slay a dragon) or “death penalties” (facing some consequence for being defeated in battle) have effectively goaded MMORPG developers into creating games that are unable to tell a story.

Just once, I would like to see a MMORPG ballsy enough to force players to deal with meaningful consequences for their actions or inaction. To these ends, I created a certain City of Heroes thread. It should be interesting to see how the playerbase responds. I’m predicting that most of them are too afraid of negative gameplay impact to permit anything of meaningful consequence to occur. Some people would say that this means games don’t need meaningful consequence, but I’m arguing the other side right now, which is that players have lost something extremely important and don’t realize it.

In the future, I’ll continue to write stories not only for the enjoyment of the reader and writer but also because stories demonstrate the fundamental flaws behind CRPGs without even trying. Is it punditry or entertainment? It’s both.

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