Many times, in this space, I have made the assertion that a good storyline can make for a successful game. Understanding the background into which a player carves his niche is an important part of engaging the player and keeping him interested in the virtual world that developers provide. One of the key lessons learned from the failed games of the past is that "The Story Matters" (See Exhibit A: Earth and Beyond)
Most game companies at least pay lip service to the idea of spending time and effort on storyline development, but for the most part, the actual story is defined by the player himself. Most games will provide a loose framework and the player will fit his or her character into the story as best they can. That is a large part of the appeal of Role Playing Games in general. You get to be the hero, but in a game world with tens of thousands of players, not everyone gets to be the knight-in-shining-armor. Not everyone gets to kill the biggest and baddest of creatures in the realm. Sometimes, a player's goals are more modest. Sometimes, players will make up their own storyline and set unique goals for themselves that may result in the admiration, amusement, or outright mockery of others. (Like, perhaps, trying to reach every Horde flight path at level 5) What about the folks who decide to "tread a different path" than the story developers may have intended?
For instance, there are guilds of players in World of Warcraft who focus on PvP. Now you may be asking yourself if that is a big deal, but sometimes these guilds play on PvE servers. Now ask yourself "Why would a guild that prides itself on PvP hang out on a PvE server?" The answer, ultimately, is that it is what makes them happy, so who are we to judge? Note: The guild mentioned in this example has since moved on to the Warhammer Online Beta which is probably more in line with their tastes in gaming. I'm just using them as an example.
There are also people who are heavily into character role playing, but choose not to hang out on dedicated RP servers. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but it an example of players breaking out of the nice and neat pigeonholes that the game has provided for them. For every group of folks who branch off and do things a little differently, there seems to be an even larger group of folks criticizing them, or even mocking them. None of this activity was designed by the developers, but rather by the players themselves.
Then there are these guys... If you have never heard of Flowers of Happiness, you might have heard of their most famous bard. If you've never heard of him, then go read about him... right now. I'll wait. I should warn you though that angry PvP players sometimes use "salty" language. There are a lot of angry PvPers in this story. It would seem to me that the people who are having the most fun are the ones who lighten up and stop taking the game (or themselves) so seriously.
Ultimately, the rewards you get from an MMORPG go far beyond the virtual items and congratulatory quest text written by a software developer with a penchant for bad science fiction and way too much caffeine. The dirty little secret is that you are responsible for your own feelings of reward and satisfaction and the game is nothing more than an environment for you to put yourself in the center of a story, it doesn't necessarily have to be the story that the developers intended. At the end of the day, nobody will care that you were the first player on your server to obtain the "+5 Cloak of Whoopass" except you. What everyone takes away from a game is whether or not they had a good time playing it. Having fun doesn't always follow a script.
Whether you derive pleasure from being the very first person to kill a particular monster or you like to die so many times that you can arrange your corpses into pleasing geometric shapes or maybe even like to experience the thrill of running among monsters 60-65 levels higher than you just to get that one flight path that you won't ever get to use because you'll never level that character up high enough to need it, fun is where you find it. Folks may never remember who killed Onyxia first but they'll remember Leeroy Jenkins. You can bet that Blizzard didn't imagine anything like Leeroy, or the reaction from the player community.
That's all we have for this week. Our mild snafu with our email address has been taken care of, and firstname.lastname@example.org is working once again. You can also stop by our tipline and submit a question to our diligent, yet anonymous, staff of researchers who provide me with just enough information to take credit for their work and claim the brilliance which is rightfully mine. Criticism, of course, they forward to me unfiltered and uncensored.