All video games are fantastic outlets for feeding escapist desires. They allow us to visit different worlds, become different characters, and partake in epic tales of adventure. One thing that most video games lack is the ability to mold and craft and personalize the experience. This is where MMOs really separate themselves from the herd. MMOs allow users to create as well as consume. They are a one-stop shop for all your imagination-dietary needs.
Your imagination is just like a living entity. It needs to feed to survive. You need to stimulate it with new ideas and experiences or it will begin to atrophy and wither away. And no one wants to live without their imagination, how boring would that life be? But what’s amazing about your imagination is that it has the ability to create as well as consume. Reading a book written by someone else is an excellent example of consumption to stimulate the imagination. Writing a book yourself is a great example of creation. We can’t consume unless someone creates, and I propose that the strongest imaginations create as well as consume.
You can be the creator as well as the consumer, like a chef who makes his own meals. When you cook for yourself, you will tend to spice things exactly as you like them, put in flavors you desire, and textures that you crave. The same things can be said for creating in the video game world.
MMO’s are fantastic for imagination in the area of creation. Even the most basic of MMO players will be creating right from the get-go. What kind of character will I make? What race and class? What sex? What name? What will they look like. Very rare is the player who simply takes a default name and appearance! They find themselves creating a persona with which to interact with the world.
But the creativity doesn’t stop there. While there may be a linear path of content to experience, you often have choices and decisions to make within that path, or side quests you can do as well. Not every run through to max-level will be exactly the same, you’re in control of creating your own version of the story every time you sit behind the keyboard.
And then there is user generated content. City of Heroes had it with Mission Architect and the Cryptic games have the Foundry to play with. Players making content for other players, a truer expression of create/consume doesn’t exist. It puts what was normally only in the hands of the developers into the hands of the end user. Create a story, give it it’s very own twists and turns, and then watch as other people play through it.
One thing I’d like to point out that your imagination likely starves for creation if you find yourself only consuming. If you don’t feel like giving it an outlet in your MMO, there are several other avenues you can go down as well.
Writing is the most common avenue. Even if you write 10,000 words that only you read, you still have created something and that something should be enough to scratch a creative itch you may not even realize you had. This alone can kick you out of a gaming slump where nothing seems appealing any more. Having a hard time mustering up the motivation to log into World of Warcraft anymore? Why not sit down and write, in your own words, a background for your character. If you don’t fancy yourself that creative (don’t worry, many don’t) you could simply write a short story of how your character completed one of the more memorable quests. This may be enough to get you to log in, to further the adventures of a character you have connected a little more to.
I myself find writing to be a great outlet recently. I know I get to create all day long at work, and when I come home I am usually one to consume content in whatever game I happen to be into this week, but sometimes I just have ideas that I need to get out. Ideas that don’t belong in the stories I write for work.
Do you feed your imagination with a steady diet of creating as well as consuming? Do you doodle, or paint, or write? Do you feel the same as I do, that the act of creating helps in its own way the act of consuming? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Matt Miller / Matt Miller is a 23 year veteran of the computer game industry and columnist for MMORPG.com. He was Lead Designer for City of Heroes over five years, and has "seen it all" when it comes to MMOs (but still learns something new every day). You can always reach him on twitter @MMODesigner.