I've been looking at the differences between MMO's and the different books and movies that inspire the content from which they are created and I've come to a fairly dark conclusion.
We are all Orcs.
The basic story features a protagonist, an antagonist, and a particular situation that causes the two to clash. In the best stories, the ones that inspire us and make us wish that we too could live in such worlds and take parts in such conflicts, either the protagonist, the antagonist or both are spawned from rather humble beginnings and through some strange and wonderful, or likewise horrible, twist of fate find themselves thrust into a strange new world full of incredibly unique situations of which they (the protagonist or antagonist) are key in effecting. This is the hook that makes us keep watching/reading as the story, no matter how incredible, unfolds.
The key element of the basic protagonist/antagonist of any story then is that he or she is special. Even among other special beings the protagonist/antagonist of any good story, the hero, still has that little something extra that sets them apart from the rest of the pack. A something that, as the story unfolds, will not only carry them from their humble beginnings to a place of belonging but beyond that still into the category of "Hero". This is the theory of wonderment. It is the gratification ultimately earned and deserved by the reader/viewer of any book that makes the time spent reading/watching, time that the reader/watcher will never get back, worth while.
It has already been stated on this blog, and in many other places, that MMO's lack the theory of wonderment. Obstacles such as "balancing", "the gestalt formation", and the overall greed of the player base vs the overall laziness of the producers have made the word "wonderment" almost unattainable in most aspects of the games we play because, well, after all that balancing is done, after we learn that a good group needs a Tank, a Healer, and DPS at it's base, and after we all figure out which one of these things is going to bring us as close to being a key player in any configuration, we all end up just being Orcs. Random soldiers of random battles can neither advance us individually beyond the preset caps that have been put in place to keep us gaffled nor advance our worlds in any way special or memorable beyond what the next group that comes along can do.
Luke Skywalker was not just a Jedi. He was the Jedi that was fortold who would bring balance to the force. Bilbo Baggins was not just a hobit, he was the first hobit willing to leave his comfortable surroundings in the shire and venture out into the world to DO something that would effect it. Even though Frodo's story was all encompassing and infinately more involved, it was Bilbo who we most identified with because to him these things were all brand new. There could have been no Frodo without Bilbo and so Bilbo carries the mark of the hero, the theory of wonderment.
MMO's have to find this theory again. Put away the out-dated and commecial concepts that this is replayability suicide. A Clue - Most people aren't lingering that long anyway. Your best weapons for emmersion then are the weapons that are usually spent prior to the opening of the game i.e. player/development interaction in the context of role-play and world changing events. Sure, a lot of these elements still exist but, in my opinion, they are far too few and far too long in between to really amount to an interactive world with a properly functioning theory of wonderment.
I look to the future for something different. Something or some way to seperate us from the orcs. The Awakening of the Sleeper, was a good concept but I think there is still WAY more to be done in this area. You always here them asking in OOC. "Will there be events?". "What is the best weapon in the game?", "Which is the best character?". To me, the answer to these questions should not be plural, meaning that they should not represent the same thing to all members of the game, they should be publicized, planned and plotted content meant to provide players with the sense of wonderment that they all came to recieve. Sure, in a system like this "there can be only one". But isn't that what it's really all about? Isn't that why we cheat? Hack? and Exploit the game? Done properly, I think that a good event system could increase the player base of any game exponetially. Some of the best games out there to play already know this. I still look for more however. More in the way of world shaping, more in the way of the ultimate power or the possibility of pinnacle of player performance. We all rage against the levelling machine, the raiding machine, the perfomance machine, and in the end we all end up the same. Orcs.
We don't need another hero, we need a legend.
Be it occasionally sponsered, seasonally programmed, or one-time hard coded, events are the way to go. It can be facilitated in a variety of ways. Give stories to some of these huge patches, start rumors about incredible weapons or items of power and then assign these items a finite number. Already, in games that I have played, there have been nerfed items that have been left in the game after the nerfing that have provided the player base will all kinds of wonderment and differentiation. I'm just saying, lets do more of this on purpose. The reason we leave, the reason we roam, is because eventually, sooner or later after all the raiding is done and all the content has been consumed, we all become orcs. In order for future games to differentiate themselves from the pack then, in my understanding, developers must harness that which is happening by mistake and give it a name, create that which causes change and name it the same, support that which promotes alliegience and call it that thrice, and an excalibur or glaive, or even R2-D2 would be nice.
Heh, time for me to stop for now.