Monday, 31 October 2011

A bit of a whinge about Multiplayer Stories

Most games today claim to want to make the player feel “heroic”. It’s an admirable intent; for a lot of people gaming is a form of escape, a way to be someone they are not – and most of us aren’t axe-wielding defenders of the planet, so it’s nice to be one for a short while. And it works... for single player games. For the most part, in single player games, the whole world must revolve around the player but I would question the applicability of this concept in a massively multiplayer context.

In a single player game the whole world can be controlled by the developer to expand and contract around the player. If they succeed in saving the town then the local crier can sing his praises and the populace can hold a parade in his honor: “Huzzah for Ballbag123, the saviour of Little Fartling!” you can be the hero because the world is built for you to be the hero.

In a multiplayer setting the world is built so that we can all be heroes, I get that. But when everyone is a hero, no one is. None of your actions can have a true permanent affect on the game world as doing so would take that content away from another player. So, we are all supposed to suspect disbelief when the “Great Dragon of Morcock” who you had valiantly slain all but 10 minutes ago pops up again and starts hurling fireballs: “Hey guys, you know that dying thing I did? That was a joke. LOL”.

Guild Wars 2’s (is that correct use of the apostrophe? My grammar-nazi senses are tingling but they may be off as it’s a Monday morning) personal story is seeking to solve a little bit of this problem by creating personalised story which acts almost as a single player campaign built into a multiplayer context. Essentially, it’s a dynamically evolving personal storyline which you can either play on your own, or drag your friends along as well.

I do think, however, that this is a bit of a plaster (that’s a “band aid” to you guys across the pond) over the actual problem. Shoehorning a single player story into a multiplayer game doesn’t solve the problem of how to tell a compelling story in a multiplayer context. Hopefully, the dynamic events system will go some way to patch this particular hole.


  1. I do not play video games to create a hero character or feel like one. I am perfectly content playing a commoner and assisting a hero NPC and going through the story through their acts. Story and the world setting trumps everything.

    In multi-player games, what no game has fully attempted it yet, is a virtual world setting where combat related activities are not the main emphasis or the only fun way of progression. Thanks to nohbodyshome, I don't have to use my own words, I could just borrow them from a comment on

    #3 @

    Elder Scrolls games to it to an extent but a lot more can be done.

  2. The apostrophe is the least of our worries!  The suspicion of disbelief, instead of suspending it, could pose quite a dilemma.

    However, I couldn't agree more with the premise of your post, but what to do about it?  I know I would have no problem with signing up to be one of the nameless, faceless horde in an MMO that treats us as just one of the "grunts" but then, I kind of already did that in the US Navy, and I suspect that many of the "free spirits" that comprise the majority of MMO player populations would have quite a bit of difficulty with the concept of not being the center of the narrative.

    You're definitely correct in identifying the problem, but it's going to take something really creative to stand in for a solution.



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