The MMO Geek: MMO’s and Writing History
I may be making the most obvious statement in the world when I say that developing an MMO requires a bit of presence from the community. Every MMO ever made most likely has at least one major fan site writing about it, and most have multiple, spanning many languages and sometimes many topics, depending on the scope. There are websites that focus on crafting, sites that focus on guides, sites that focus on pets, on fan fiction, on artwork, and the list goes on and on. Some sites choose to cover multiple games, while many big blog sites will cover a single game in great depth.
I want to focus on one particular sort of niche within these fan sites that I find particularly fascinating, and that is the creation of fan-made pieces of fan fiction.
Games themselves have established lore that ranges from “just enough to get by” to “fully developed history.” Games such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic have stories that are so established that we as players know pretty much how things have unfolded in the past. They have characters with back stories that are sometimes longer than fully written novels and they have locations steeped in history and dripping with potential for future content. Other games, such as the recently released Defiance, have a good deal of information, but much of it is unknown to the players at this time. We know the basics of how the humans came to interact with the other various species, but we have limited knowledge about the background of the other species.
I find this interesting, because both offer a level of input from the user when it comes to creating content. In a game like WoW, a person is someone limited; chances are your Orc Warrior was never Warchief. He probably did not take part in the original invasion from Draenor (unless something wonky happened) and he probably will never ascend to the rank of Warchief in the future. This is because WoW has established who their Warchief is and how the lore has played out in the past with dates and characters. You as the user are only given the ability to develop canon for your character. This can be cleverly done, weaving your story in with recent events or recently passed events, but chances are you won’t be experiencing or affecting what happened long ago in any major way.
In Defiance, you have much more freedom in declaring what your character has experienced. Perhaps they were a mayor of some long-destroyed town, and they played a major role in the history of that species’ movement to Earth. While I’m sure the developers have some sort of story fleshed out for major players and events, they are far less along in the game’s storyline and as such have afforded you the opportunity to beef your character up a bit more when roleplaying or writing fiction.
Now I’m not saying either approach is right or wrong. Both offer their merits and their shortcomings. But I do think it is interesting that in a game like EVE, where players are constantly affecting the huge sandbox world in so many significant ways, players are basically able to write history as they see fit. Things a player writes on one of those fan fiction sites may have an impact on what takes place in-game, because the line between roleplay and true events is more blurred in that game. History is what they make it, and user content is almost just as important as content the developers put in game.
I really think this is the future of MMO’s; user content has become more and more prevalent as games have come into existence of the past few years, and I think we will only see that influence grow. What do you think? Do you like it when developers flesh out a story for you to follow and characters for you to root for, or would you rather be given a clean slate and told to make history yourself?