So, on Friday @petterm of Don't Fear the Mutant, talking on Twitter, began what turned to out to be a somewhat lively conversation about the role of the player characters (PCs) in an MMORPG. Many other Tweeps/Bloggers chimed in. It ended up being more about something a little closer to my heart as a player.
Petter opened with this volley, "If you're going to do a lot of heavy storytelling, please look at Blizzard's phasing. Looking at you, Rift, but certainly SWTOR."
This led to a brief discussion between Petter, myself, plus @pasmith if Dragonchasers and @Siberwulf of Going Rancid, about the pros and cons of Blizzard's method of "phasing" to give the impression that a PC has made an impact in the World of Warcraft. I say "impression" because, of course, the phasing only affects each character individually. Overall, the world has not changed at all. In many ways this is OK, and I agree with Petter that Blizz implements the phasing very well. Petter eventually said, "I find it much more immersive than instancing." To which I replied in part, "I guess I kinda like the really old nothing-ever-changes. Because it's a little like the real world." Others began to chime in about my sentiment, indicating it was not unique or original.
@RagnarTornquist saying that The Secret World will treat the PC like "one of many." @TishToshTesh of Tish Tosh Tesh said "I believe that MMOs should be about the player's story in a vital virtual world that's indifferent to them." Petter answered Tesh, "I'm not 100% certain I understand what you mean, but I agree."
While I cannot speak for Tesh, I agree with him and this is my attempt to clarify, in a way that may be impossible on Twitter.
When I started playing World of Warcraft in June of 2006, I had no illusions about my importance--or lack thereof--in the course of the game. I had started a Dwarf Hunter, Oakheart, and there was a big wide World out there to explore. There were fun little quests to complete in Coldridge Valley. Then, when I was ready, I was instructed to report to Kharanos, the first real town in my journey. The run to Kharanos was fraught with danger, OK really only some troggs, plus I passed a Dwarven Mortar Team that did the same thing over and over again, practicing their "craft" of destruction. I would later learn that this was one of many in-game references to the Warcraft RTS series. (Of course, the entire game is but ja, anyway. . .) In Kharanos, there was more stuff to do, none of it major: collect some boar ribs to get a recipe, kill some Wendigos, and recover stolen goods, that sort of thing. Through this and other experiences on other toons, I developed a feel for the World. I was an adventurer helping the locals out where I could. The world went largely unchanged by my passing, and I was OK with that. Azeroth did not revolve around me.
Hero of Another Story.
Then, with Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard introduced Phasing. Note: I like the storytelling possibilities of phasing, and Blizzard does it very well. But no longer is my character a small fish in a big pond, now I am the center of the story. Things happen, because I am there; and stay that way, at least for my current PC.
HERE THAR BE SPOILERS (skip to below Captain Kirk):
My DGF and I recently went through Westfall, which introduced a bit of phasing in the course of our questing there. With the death of Edwin VanCleef, the leader of the Defias Brotherhood, things seem to be changing somewhat for the area, especially around Sentinel Hill. The homeless problem seems to have increased, though (and a thoroughly modern First World problem by the way, not realistic in this context IMHO.) Through some clever phasing, we witnessed the rise of the Defias under the leadership of VanCleef's daughter, Vanessa. Meanwhile, I visited Sentinel Hill on my Main, the level-80 Rowanblaze and Sentinel Hill is unaffected. No sign of the Defias, or the beleaguered state of the regional capital, which is surely the lore.
Perhaps, the most egregious example of the PC being too important to the story is the opening questline of the Goblins. Amuntoth of Manifest Pixel highlights this in a recent post. The PC (everyone who plays a Goblin) is an up-and-coming citizen of Kezan, about to be promoted to the position(rank?) of Trade Prince, rivaling the tool who currently holds that position of authority over the Goblins. (Mind you, this is not the neutral Goblin faction of the Steamwheedle Cartel, but the rival Bilgewater Cartel.) The Cataclysm accompanying Deathwing's prison break destroys the island and the player repeatedly saves the entire passel of survivors, only to be double-crossed by Gallywix in a series of betrayals of the entire remnant of Goblins. The PC even personally rescues Thrall from the Alliance. Yet Thrall still--inexplicably--appoints the bastard Gallywix to be Trade Prince of the Cartel as part of the Horde. By rights, it should be the PC who gets that honor, but that makes no sense in the lore. Of course, neither does the current situation. All this could have played out differently if the Goblin PC were a nobody instead of the rival of the faction leader who therefore has a personal vendetta against the PC.
Does that help, Petter? :)