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Scratchbox

Completely random ideas and thoughts about MMO games, design, theory, and the industry itself.

Author: Coldren

Tell Me A Story

Posted by Coldren Friday January 30 2009 at 2:32PM
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The art of storytelling is one that is vastly underscored in modern society, particularly in America from my point of view. I can’t speak for other cultures, as I am not a world-weary traveler, but certainly in the good ole US of A, it seems to me that a good story teller is hard to come by.


With the evolution of the printed press leading up to the current digital age, the art has degraded from one of nuance, context, and finesse, to bite-sized snippets of supposedly factual statements linked together in an easily digestible form for the voracious masses to consume, and almost ultimately forget, with little effort to make this knowledge memorable. The depth, differentiation, and culture which used to be so important to a story’s legacy has given way to brevity, homogenization, and sterilization so as not to offend our highly evolved and delicate political sensibilities, and to ensure it can be digested within the limited time frames our “busy” life-styles can support.

Long gone are the days of elders gathering children around the camp fire, regaling them with a tale of an ancestor’s great battles, achievements, or simply their own heritage with the tone and inflection that would inspire, frighten, and awe them, creating a memorable experience so that the knowledge bequeathed to them might be passed down from generation to generation. Weather the stories were factual or fictional, for thousands of years this was mankind’s primary source of knowledge.

In its stead, we now have television, movies, Google, Wikipedia, comic books, and the occasional archaic volume of printed text which fewer and fewer individuals can be bothered to trouble themselves with. Fast-paced mediums for a fast-paced world

Now there are many perfectly valid arguments one could make at the behest of these “new technologies”, and they would not be wrong. Certainly, there are many advantages to the rapid and structured rendition of knowledge, and there are certainly advantages to sterility in the name of accuracy. But am I alone in thinking that the more we sacrifice at the altar of accelerated learning, the less memorable and more insignificant it all seems?

I find the more I play modern games, MMO and single player, the more I pine for a memorable story. This is not to say that there is an absence of good stories to be told, but it always as if the method in which they are structured and delivered seems to lend itself to being easily forgettable.

With MMO’s in particular, maybe it’s because the players are more or less relegated to spectators – There participation is inconsequential, their influence absent. You could state that virtual persistent worlds (i.e., Sandbox MMO’s) allow for players to influence the world far more than theme parks (Linear MMO’s such as World of Warcraft), but to date, does anyone really feel they can make a significant contribution to their virtual world?

If you were to ask me where the future of the modern MMO lies, it’s in storytelling. The first MMO to really give its players a persistent world where their impact is tangible will tap into a thus far unappreciated and relatively ignored market. When it gives each player the ability to tell their own story, and another the ability to be a part of it, static, development-directed content will be far less necessary in the right conditions.

What’s a good story worth? To paraphrase a quote from the end of The Kingdom of Heaven: “Nothing…Everything.”

dcostello writes:

 ...Um are blogs part of the "destruction" of storytelling?

  Why do you end in a paradox?  It's frivolous...

  Lastly,  there are plenty of lore-focused MMORPGS out there, even if they are just generic games with titles attached to them.  You have to look at this situation with practicality in mind.  It's not practical to make an mmorpg that's exponentially better than current games if the "hit or miss," chance for failure doesn't justify the financial risk...

Fri Jan 30 2009 10:13PM Report
Coldren writes:

I fail to see in my post where I claimed anything was "Destroying" it. Merely that other things are taking its place, and those who can truly tell a riviting story are more and more scarce.

I thought the ending was a wonderfully ironic way to end it. I suppose I could see how that could be missed.  Plus, it reinforces my first point. Kingdom of Heaven is a wonderful story, with wonderful dialog. It's not  "destroyed", just not as common.

As for MMO's, let me ask you a question: How many MMO's allow a player to create a quest that others can accept? A very simple mechanic, but something so small that a player could control is resoundingly abscent. There was a WoW add-on that at one point attempted it. UO is the closest thing to an MMO where a player can truly make their own story for others to share, for those willing to particpate in it.  UO has far more creative tools than anything out there. Smart players can do impressive things.

This is all just random thought, mind you. I

Sat Jan 31 2009 10:02PM Report

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