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57. Storytelling in Massively Multiplayer Games

57. Storytelling in Massively Multiplayer Games

Let’s turn our attention back to video games again.

I’ve mentioned the reasons why storytelling is hard in games, how they have become a platform ripe for storytelling and what needs to change in order for them to be a better vehicle for stories – now let’s look at the emerging genre of Massively Multiplayer Games. These are persistent worlds, where you create a character and progress through an overarching storyline. More importantly, since there are other real, human beings in the world with you, stories can emerge that the authors of these worlds never expected.

Seems like a great platform for telling interesting stories, well, maybe not.

There’s an unnavigable divide between the world of MMORPGs and the art of good storytelling. Not writing, mind you — the gang at Blizzard know their way around a word processor — but rather, the actual sharing of a story. It’s not a genre that supports the relaying of intricate plotlines. Most players are in it for the grind, for social status or notoriety. The option to enable “text skipping” doesn’t exactly lend itself to plot development. Even if the mass interest was there, all of the game’s players are receiving the same storyline. No choice, no branching, no consequences.

This article from Joystiq explains a bit about why it’s hard to tell stories in MMOs, and it goes on to show one, “Star Wars: The Old Republic” that is taking a different take on the genre,

. . . each of the game’s classes will have its own personal story arc that lasts throughout its entire lifespan. Beneath this umbrella is an epic class-specific story as well as a few serialized mini-arcs which include a ton of tied-together quests and instanced dungeons. Daniel Erickson, The Old Republic’s lead writer, explained that the game’s quests are so linked to a player’s personal story that no one quest will be embarked upon by two different classes.

Or, in other words, two characters from two different classes won’t receive any of the same quests. The replay value here is going to be mind-boggling.

In short, they are giving characters the tools to build their own personal stories, unique to them, in an effort to develop stronger overarching stories. If every character can travel down a slightly different path, then you can disrupt the soul-sucking grind that usually marks games of this genre.

It’s ambitious but if it is successful, it could open up a new era of story-driven persistent worlds. Take a look.

I couldn’t use that video as the capstone. I’m talking about MMOs and the only responsible path I could take is to introduce you to the The Guild. It’s a web series (now going into its third season) created by Felicia Day (Buffy / Dr. Horrible) about the stories that can develop when you spend a little too much time in front of your MMO.

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