"But first, can you get me nine wolf pelts?"
Lore is, at least theoretically, an important part of most MMORPGs. It's the story, after all, that tells me who I am, what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it. Without the lore that marks me as a chosen warrior delivering salvation to a plagued land or an embattled sorcerer fighting both physical and internal demons, I'm just another generic "RPG abilities" checklist with some pretty colors tossed on top.
There are two primary reasons that I've never met an MMO with lore I couldn't ignore.
I am impatient and shallow
From a story perspective, I game in what is likely the most unrewarding manner possible. My goal is always to reach the next level, the next skill upgrade or the next mission, the end. I play to finish, quickly. And while I've argued that we should stop to enjoy the little things in games, I'm often the guy who charges from opening to conclusion without so much as a breath to read dialogue.
See those ogres over there? I killed about 50 of them for their beads. Why? Some dude asked me to. At least, I think he did. I only saw the part of the quest that said, "Greetings, Mage!" I'm pretty sure there was something about killing Ogres, though, and something about the "greater good." Probably. Does it really matter?
That's the part of this problem that's my fault. Here's the part that's not.
MMO stories are dumb, unoriginal, and told in clunky ways
Stop me if you've heard this one: Two or three warring factions are thrust into a new era of conflict after a global trauma reveals previously unknown sources of power or danger. If you haven't, welcome to Massively.com and I hope that whatever MMO you've chosen as your first video game ever turns out wonderfully.
"Nothing makes lore seem less interesting than immediately steering away from it for the sake of filling a few hours of gameplay."
So what's a developer to do? How do you please the impatient gamer who's "seen it all" and keep your story in the forefront of his mind?
Show, don't tell
For some reason, video game developers have this insane idea that games should be similar to movies. That's where the quicktime event trend came from and why many of our favorite MMOs are laden with boring, uninteractive cutscenes dropped in to make the experience seem more "epic." But video games aren't movies. I don't want to watch a video game; I want to play it. I want to see my actions in the world in real-time, and I want to know how those actions move the story forward without taking a five-minute break every time I complete a quest chain.
I know it's not easy to write an MMO. And it's not easy to build a world that's packed to the brim with elements that push a story forward. Sometimes, developers just have to corner me and drop an exposition bomb on my face. That's fine when no other options are available. But if a developer can create an intriguing, compelling universe that reveals its story to me as I explore and grow -- in lieu of smashing me over the head with text or cutscenes -- that's a story I'd be happy to experience.
Imagine how fun an MMO's story would be if you didn't have to stop playing the MMO to move it forward.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!