The short history of MMOs is not immune to providing plenty of room for players to become disillusioned. Like television, movies, and books, MMOs don't use 100% new content that developers invented out of thin air. I've been on many MMO forums and have seen players at different stages of disillusionment seemingly frothing at the mouth about being sick of elves in fantasy MMOs, and accusing one MMO of stealing a name or even a similar-sounding name from an MMO they would defend as "more original." The fact is that most concepts and ideas have already been done, and it can just be hard to deal with. Who doesn't get a little disillusioned when he grows up and finds out his dad or mom really isn't the smartest or strongest person in the world? If I haven't disappointed you enough then follow along as I spoil even more of your favorite MMOs -- but hopefully I can also show you that disillusionment isn't the end.
I remember when I fell in love with Mr. Tolkien's fictional opus. I couldn't stop reading about hobbits, elves, dwarves and humans on a magical adventure fighting trolls and orcs, talking to wise old trees and trying to defeat evil in the land of Middle-earth. It's one of the greatest Western fantasy epics of the modern world, but much of it wasn't actually created by Tolkien. Fairies, little people, dwarves, trolls, orcs, magic swords and a lot of other content from Lord of the Rings had been around for centuries before Tolkien was even born.
While WoW has some terrific writing and story content, it, too, contains many less-than-original ideas. Aside from their pop-culture references, Tauren aren't much more than minotaurs. Even the Draenei race isn't a new idea, but rather a creative use of existing ideas. For many years the squid has been seen as an almost alien creature of the deep, an icon of certain seafaring animist cultures, and scientists have long known it as both a large and intelligent species.
We see the same thing in television and movies in which old ideas are just given new clothes. The new A-Team movie is one of the latest Hollywood rehashes; Syfy channel's Battlestar Galactica is a remake of the old series by the same name; and Tin Man contains younger, cuter actors and actresses doing the same old thing with cooler garb and modern lingo. Even Avatar used a very formulaic and possibly overused story glitzed up with the latest in eye-exploding colors and imagery.
There are thousands of stories that have been around for hundreds of years, all filled with these same creatures, locations and ideas. Pretty much anything in any MMO you've ever played has some historical basis. Claiming lack of originality by nit-picking over similar names or ideas between two MMOs hardly seems fair to the authors who came up with those stories long before we even had computers. Simply choosing to accept being disillusioned over these facts isn't fair to yourself either.
A common phase following disillusionment is apathy. After many years of playing MMOs, we get to the stage where nothing seems new. It all seems to become worthless and we can easily give up, quit playing and not care anymore. If it isn't an obvious issue of simply growing out of gaming in general and moving onto other hobbies or pastimes, it becomes a matter of finding out how to push through apathy and find the joy in gaming. My opinion is that the answer lies in our imagination.
I find it interesting that many of the people who really love roleplaying or engaging deeply with an MMO are the ones who are intimately familiar with the history behind their favorite game's story-elements. They know that Blizzard didn't invent many of the races and names in WoW, and likewise for any other MMO. They're aware that TERA and other new MMOs coming soon aren't going to have totally new stuff, but they relish the new way that old stories of good and evil, love, loss, conflict and other elements can be told. They push through apathy over what easily could be seen as another MMO with just the same old elves, dragons, and magic swords.
This is where I think MMOs really show their true face as being more than a Mario Kart with 500,000 players, or even a more modest number like 50,000. These virtual worlds lend themselves well to world building and engaging our imaginations. They don't simply tell us stories about their unique worlds -- they provide tools which we can utilize with our imaginations. Those tools are tried and true concepts of elves and dragons that humankind has loved for thousands of years. In a weird and exciting way, the same thing that can cause disillusionment with MMOs is also the same thing that can help us get over disillusionment and find real fun in the gaming experience.
Before you start thinking this is all from the mind of a geek who doesn't get out of the house enough, keep in mind that most of these concepts and stories are taught in any literature class across the country. The writers, musicians, scientists, TV producers, philosophers and other dreamers of this world have given birth to ideas that these games borrow from. The incredible social nature of MMOs makes them more than games that are purely for consumption. These games have already provided avenues for books to be written and songs to be sung, and soon we'll see a television show produced in unison with an MMO.
There will always be one MMO we like over another, or even some MMOs that we collectively agree have poorer stories than others, but actually knowing a bit more about what makes those stories can help us help developers improve our current preferred games, and we can be more discerning about new games in the future.