As usual i intend to aim at the essence of videogaming activity: what the user's mind is fixed upon, what his goal is when he's playing. In the case of recent MMO's you gain levels and complete quests to get better and better equipment. Seeing your character get bigger, tougher, harder and more muscular is the current standard of any online game, something that in the absence of negates the existance of a massive online world.
Most MMO players, when they're reading and discussing a new MMO like BioWare's upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, they already know that the fulcrum of it is greed... and there's also other things they assume, otherwise how can they discuss what a smuggler is and does, not knowing anything about the game? Why would they? Obviously the important things are gear and power. What's in the middle is useless. Naturally it's a negative reason to play. In this case MMO's are obviously drugs. First they soothe your nerves, then they become addictive. How natural the comparison to drugs felt? Surprising, hm?. This is why i'm always glad when i read of politicians and psychologists condemning videogames and particularly MMO's... because they are right, MMO's are inarguably wrong.
But i see videogames as vessels of literature, philosophy, socialism so forth... anything in videogames that's seen as relaxation, as venting of frustration is an insult to me. I spent 1000 sterlins on POT?(meaning drug but also vase) Even more insulting if they're drugs. Is that all videogames can achieve? ?Physiology? Release of acid liquids? Interaction is the natural successor to literature, cinema, theatre and essayism, and i say it as a person who studied literatures and philosophy all his life.
After this long premise, let's get to the topic. Star Wars: the old Republic has the first chance to detox players, and if they fail, many should follow to do it right: IF done right, it can divert players from their obsessive fixated goal, as we said greed and, uhm, to enlarge your character with big plates of armor and huge, hard swords and woody rifles, and NPC's that keep telling you subliminally, after you complete a quest, how brilliant, sexy, gifted, handsome, confident powerful, succesful a person you are in "life"; sorry, i'm really indulging in the sarcastic disgust i have for you players who i hope right about now feel wounded; one could say SW:TOR subject is an excuse to lash at you unaware slaves of the WoW-mentality with these Sternian loopy-digressions. But i assure you it's a false assumption, i REALLY want to make a point, but it's constantly derouted by how sick i am of the MMO scenario. The two points i wanna make seem to be boxing each other.
Back to the point. SW:TOR doesn't want to be a so-called "sandbox" type of online game like Galaxies(why should it? They're completely different games except for the license, and license is just looks nowadays), and that's probably good... those simulations tend to forget the beauty of drama. In The Old Republic the character does a sequence of quests, and probably also gets equipment as he goes. But this doesn't necessarily(unless they screw up royal) make it the next attempt at a WoW-clone, like every single AAA title since 2004.
Ray Muzyka said that quests are never about collecting rats' testicles, they're focused in a narration: this is revolutionary. A normal WoW-clone player needs a quest that's sufficiently generic, vague, mindless, because what's important is the equipment at the end. Remember HEllgate:London, made by probably the inventor of the WoW drug-system? Quests are all about collecting kills and objects, that game is scandalous because the "story" in it shamelessly doesn't even try to justify WHY WOULD the character EVER care about doing those errands, the NPCs just see you and ask you to do things... and the tasks are left purposely repetitive and vague so that you may NEVER EVER loose sight of the real meta-goals, which are the one we cited above(gear, power, ever-growing).
Doesn't it sound like a porphiric addicted person, roaming the streets of nightly downtown Paris, doing no matter what to "feel happy" again? Ouch, see, i'm digressing again. Let's rush to the point, i'll write as a junkie plays: If the quest in TOR itself is ruled by narration, and because of its enlightened dispotism(see Communism), you MUSt follow it or you're in trouble, the player's obsessive object of his uncontrolled dribbling dreams is pulverized. What does story do in a game, especially in a MMO?
1) it finally kills meta-gaming. HAVING to follow story means, willing or not, you have to think as the character thinks.
2) Story being paramount now dominates gear&power. You will still enjoy bracing your new penis... i mean rifle... i mean penis, but loot and level-cap obsession will not tyrannize your mind anymore, the usurper of Otranto is being dethroned.
But the biggest achievement, one that i don't even know whether it will happen in TOR or not, is that story reconciles persistancy and virtuality, so a simulative day/night casual progression, with drama. I'll explain: when a player completes his story-line, he'll have to face a "finale". If you don't follow the story, if you make the wrong choices, you may end up as a complete scum, hated, hunted, chased by everyone. Your condition will be intolerable, tho it might have its charms(then again there's nothing in life that hasn't charms). naturally one would expect that you, as player, would have to deal with your virtual everyday life only up to the next expansion Bioware make, then you have a chance to improve your social condition... this also sort of explains what they mean as "Tor is Kotor 3, 4, 5, etc.", doesn't it? So the chain is: story creates consequences, consequences create life. And fear of consequences destroys greed and addiction to power, reminds you that you're in "this" world to help and socialize with people, fear re-establishes an order of things, control over the anarchy of your low instincts.
This possibility of a gameplay actually mixes a unique story with its pre-scripted drama with an on-going everyday life. It's as if you just acted in a play, and the ending act defines your normal daily life like in a terrifying tale of mystery that we might have seen somewhere, a curse of the player or some such. It's a revolutionary concept, it's a writer's dream, and it's one of the many proofs that decree the supremacy of interaction on cinema and literature...
To conclude, i don't know what Bioware will actually do with their MMO, some say they didn't divulge any information about it because they don't know themselves. Well, for god sake, I was inspired by it to write this, they may be inspired making it, will they read this.