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MMOs and Story Development.

MMORPGs aim to incorporate elements of mythic literature and modern mass communication. Mortality is a key defining aspect of human experience. Drama uses mortality to add emotional impact. The lack of mortality in MMO's undermines story development.

Barry Reddy, Blogger

November 22, 2009

3 Min Read

The struggle to create a good online RPG grapples with a couple of conceptual
problems.  The appeal of a good story setting, and fun game-play are key element in what draws players.  

There is a clear need to have an enjoyable playing dynamic within the interface and social mechanics of the game, balanced against an interesting and immersive storyline. The game needs to be interesting, evocative and fun to play. 

There are differing levels of interest game players have for one side or the other of the story/game-play balance.  Some players are happy to pursue levels and loot, others are frustrated by the levelling treadmill and inflated NPC/loot aspect of the game world.

Providing a fun and challenging environment without taking the game or oneself too seriously is a complaint of the other portion of the playing population.  Who scoff at the idea of RP'ing in game, as silly affectation.

Some players are keenly interested in the story setting of an Online MMORPG, but are frustrated by the levelling treadmill, and the crass disinterest other players may have in engaging and maintaining the fantasy setting.

MMORPGs incorporate elements of mythic literature, both futuristic and medieval, and the thrill of modern mass communication. The actual combination of the elements is part of the perennial human fixation with drama and story telling.

Drama or storytelling as entertainment, plays out in different mediums, musical, lyrical, and visual. Drama is also social consciousness, where ideas of good and evil, order and chaos play out.  

Drama in both its classical and modern context represents attempts by people, both individuals and groups to communicate some idea to the larger social body, both for edification and entertainment.

In a very primitive sense, drama is the universal human language, describing scenes of adventure, comedy or tragedy as the experience to be communicated usual a palette of words, music, and imagery to tell a story.

Drama has certain constraints, that are inherent to its effectiveness. Since mortality is one of the key defining aspects to human experience, it follows that most drama uses mortality as a fulcrum to add impact, and catapult the story into the audience.

Death creates intensity, and is something we all face in various ways great and small throughout our lives. Characters both villanous and heroic must suffer and die in order for a plot to be told, or even a point to be made.

The idea of character itself is based on the finite nature of ‘personal identity’. The whole human equation plays out against the rule of mortality. In both economics and morality, the ‘value’ of a thing, all have to do with it’s brief and finite nature. 

The experience of playing paper and dice RPGs was enhanced by the permanent nature many of its games took.  In these games, when your character dies, you roll a new character. For some a nuisance, for others the ‘point’ of the game. 

In many cases the finite nature the RPG campaigns and characters took on made them memorable, and for those who played RPG's for fun and entertainment, characters and adventures were often worthy of telling stories about.

MMO's currently operate with a suspension of mortality, and this poses problems for the story development, since mortality is a defining feature of story-telling, a finite timeline, a risk of loss of character, or setting, these drive a story.

Putting a story on a respawn timer is guaranteed to obliterate interest in that story.

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