Man! I have got to get more posts on here. My readership has probably dried up. I was reading a post from Spinks the other day about Namaste and their new system of NPC "motivation" called StoryBricks that seems pretty innovative from a game development perspective. Spinks' words inspired me to write a post, because I have been thinking about realism/immersion in MMOs. This post may be a bit scattered as it represents the convergences of two lines of thought I've had over a few months actually.
Now, did their lives affect mine? Possibly remotely. Maybe some of them manufactured things I used. Maybe some of them drove alongside me on the 101 Freeway. But they didn't ever really affect me, though I lived only a few miles away. Heck, even most of the people who lived in my hometown of 120,000 only affected me peripherally, if at all. Why is that? A humorous analysis of a theory called the Monkeysphere can be found on Cracked. The TL:DR version is that we humans only have the capacity to develop reciprocal relationships with--to care about--a maximum of about 150 other Homo sapiens. Wait, that number may include our friends from Felis catus and Canis lupus familiaris, as well. Hmm. I wonder if it includes fictitious characters, too. That would explain why I cried when Spock sacrificed himself to save the ship.
You know that nice cashier at the store? You remember her because you are in there every week. She won't remember you at all from the hundreds of people she serves, unless you come in just about every day, and talk to her a bit. But you still won't be friends. To your life, it doesn't matter if she takes your money for that loaf of bread, or someone else does. It doesn't matter if she is a single mother with three kids, or a college student with a lousy boyfriend. You're just a customer and she's just a shopkeeper.
"What has this to do with my MMOs?" you may be saying, Dear Reader. Referring back to Spinks' article, I don't care if the NPC shopkeepers wander around and "have lives" independent of my game playing. Actually, I'd prefer that they be there when I need to sell my junk or buy some mana juice, not off making digital dinner for their virtual children. I don't need much interaction with them. The interface with them needs to be simple and efficient.
This is not to say we can't form friendships and even fall in love through online games. I know people who have, and I myself consider many people friends whom I have only ever met online.
It may seem cold, but the reality of our lives is that most of the people around us are merely peripheral shadows, barely registering. We interact personally with a few people at work or school, our friends and family. Strangers may as well be “window decorations” for all we care. Most NPCs serve the same function in our games.
I have decided to discuss the other line of thought in another post. Part two coming tomorrow . . . I promise.