Wait, gaming?! You betcha!
Beyond the artistry of the developers, MMORPGs offer outlets for player creativity in a variety of ways. I am not ashamed to admit that the primary reason I delve into MMORPGs is not for the gameplay but to explore and experience the creative expression of others (and to express some of my own as well). In fact, finding and sharing that very creativity by championing and highlighting player-generated content is precisely what Some Assembly Required is about.
Between (or in lieu of) the hacking, the slashing, and the plundering, players seize proffered tools in myriad virtual realms to build works of art, pen masterpieces, construct edifices, compose melodies, and take the stage, all within the pixeled confines of a virtual world. Unfortunately, not all games have adequate tools for such creative expression. While inspired players can make do if they must, having supporting features exponentially enhances a game (and positively affects retention). Thankfully, some games provide a few standard-setting features that -- in my opinion -- should be included in every game on the market. Here are six of those must-have features.
Take, for example, works of art. In my travels through various games, I have seen players take bits and pieces and form them into intricate sculptures. I have marveled at recreations of ships and spaceships, even reconstructions of solar systems. I have seen items placed in such a way as to create paintings and mosaics. Given enough freedom -- and generous item limits -- players have masterfully recreated different items (stoves and toilets, anyone?). What looks like some random piece of material to one person may be an intricate part of some creation to another. All of this creativity, and that isn't even including the beauty of simply decorating a home with originality and flair!
A great housing system can also give the artist the chance to develop some amazing architecture. I have seen actual castles fashioned from raw materials. I have wandered through beautiful gardens, lost myself in intricate mazes, admired detailed theaters with grand stages, toured impressive dungeons, visited breathtaking museums, and patronized countless taverns. I have witnessed creativity with which materials are manipulated to create whole villages or back alleyways. Truly the possibilities are endless.
Although there are games out there that give such freedom to players, I have to hand Sony Online Entertainment the crown; with EverQuest II, Vanguard, and the now-deceased Star Wars Galaxies (RIP), SOE has set the standard for giving players the tools to flex their creativity in a housing system. Xsyon adds an unique layer to building, allowing players to manipulate the terrain to create obstacle courses, build mountains out of molehills, dig moats for fortresses, and fashion swimming pools. The world itself is a canvas.
Beyond just providing visual art, housing also sets the stage for performance art. I will be honest -- the first time I stepped into a MMORPG, I felt I was cast as an extra in a very intricate and dynamic living film. Roleplay, whether on a small or large scale, is very much an expression of creativity. The story arcs that played out around me were intriguing and quite addicting. Robust housing systems let players construct places (much like movie sets) to further a story, creating an atmosphere conducive to the theatrical flourishes of roleplayers.
Basically, a crafter (Sage) makes an empty book, and any player can then add her own words to it. These books can be traded, sold, displayed, or what have you. In these books, I have read original poetry and stories from fellow players. Guilds use these to secure an in-game accounting of their histories and their charters. I have seen them used as menus in RP establishments and as a resource for customers who may not understand what different stats mean on items for sale. I have used these book to leave clues in dungeons to help further an adventure.
And let's just be totally honest here... any writer knows that there is a definite rush to seeing your work in print, published for the enjoyment of others -- even if the others are just a small circle of friends. This feature truly gives that opportunity to have your words heard. And on the plus side, there's no chance of rejection slips!
Like in life, we often want appearance to match personality. Artistically, our bodies are our most accessible canvases; how we look in life is our first and most noticeable way to express personal creativity. Who we are and what we want to project to others is demonstrated in how we alter our appearance, both clothing and looks. Because of this, appearance slots are simply mandatory. This also helps with the performance aspect, as looking the part is just as important as having a script and a stage.
Of course, ways to express creativity are as numerous as there are people to be creative. And just because we choose to enjoy gaming doesn't mean we shouldn't have the opportunity to be expressive. Alongside clay and paint and a dance floor, pixels are just another medium! But just like our in the nefarious "real world," creativity in games is best expressed when there are supporting tools. Thankfully, some ingenious individuals have developed and implemented some of these tools, but it's only the beginning. For full expression, these tools should be everywhere! That way, whether you yourself are artistic and want to explore creativity in the medium of the virtual realm or you are an aficionado who prefers to enjoy and admire the fruits of others' labor, you will be rewarded no matter where you happen to play.
Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!