What’s In A Story?

Dragon Age: OriginsWhile eagerly awaiting the next beta phase of Rift to start up, I got to thinking about what attracted me to certain games in particular. A main staple of my gaming during my younger years – such a stretch to try and remember back that far – consisted of RPG classics like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and one of my all-time favorite games, Planescape: Torment. For me, there had to be a creative world that I could immerse myself in. When I wasn’t plowing through fantasy novels, I would likely be enjoying a “Choose Your Own Adventure” on steroids that is an RPG video game. Their biggest attraction was a well thought out and engaging storyline. I would weigh the moral dilemmas faced by my characters, sometimes opting to esteem a more virtuous role than I would actually take, or sometimes tantalized all too much by a sinister offer. The point is, without a storyline that would keep me enthralled and not cringing at the thought of seeing it again a few times, I likely wouldn’t have played those games. In those worlds, I could make decisions for my characters that would ultimately not only affect their lives further down the road, but probably the lives of many more that I would come across.

These days, however, I don’t always make time to replay a good RPG like I used to, eager to discover every possible consequence to every conceivable action. While I have been impressed by the captivating stories of some new RPGs (finishing Dragon Age: Origins felt like a sad farewell to friends), I can just never make it past the first twenty minutes or so of a replay anymore. Instead, I find my attention more drawn to MMOs. Upon entering that “scene”, I quickly became wrapped up in the nearly limitless possibilities of character builds, gear acquisition, and the prestige of achievement and the subsequent entitlement to bragging rights.

Lord of the Rings Online

Now, based off my past focus on story in RPGs, you might expect me to be someone who reads all of the quest text and gets really into the lore; I’m not. A well-developed world now comes secondary to choice: How many choices for classes are there? Even among those classes, is there still room for some diversity? Will I have some choice as to what I can spend my time doing when I reach the inevitable end-game phase? These have now become my main concerns when evaluating whether or not I want to fork out a monthly subscription to a game.

This doesn’t mean I completely blow off all of the hard work that is put into the creative aspect of an MMO. I kind of skim quest text – I get the general idea (admittedly, most of the time it is because I can’t find whatever specifically named monster I need to kill). I get the gist of what the main story line is trying to tell me. When there is downtime, I might be found actually reading through the lore for a little more background on the world I’m investing time and money into. But, it no longer drives my decision to play this genre of game. Maybe it is because there is always a range of games to dive into when I need my immersive-world fix. Possibly my preferences have changed, and it is no longer that important to me because of just that – I don’t value it as much. At any rate, I am perfectly happy now to devote most of my gaming to being more-or-less ignorant of a world’s richly devised history, and only peppering my time with the occasional single player RPG.

What about you? Have your preferences changed over time? Was there one type of game that got you hooked, but now can’t even compete with a completely different type? Let us know!

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  • I’ve done about 4000 quests in World of Warcraft and read about 20 quest texts.

    But the second something in game related to the story happens my face is pressed against the screen.

    I just don’t have the time, If I watch a Final Fantasy cutscene I don’t look at the story, I just look at the shiny graphics. I skip conversations in Mass Effect 2.

    I guess it comes down to the fact I have subtitles on. I can read pretty fast so once I’ve read it, I skip that line of dialogue.

  • Great first article, Ian.

    Never played any MMO’s. They look dumb.

    Let the fanboys commence.. 🙂

  • Ian Henry (henry91)

    Hah! Hey, I will be the first to admit that I play MMOs because I am way too bad at FPSs to be anything other than frustrated. I need all the auto-targeting, auto-attacking handicaps I can get!

    As far as what you were saying, Adam, I agree. Depending on what you are hoping to get out of the game, there just isn’t time enough to spend every second poring over the quest text. I can only imagine the sadness of the writers, upon hearing that, who pour their hearts and souls into it…