I played a quest in Archeage yesterday that really stuck with me. I ran across a traveling minstrel at a crossroads. To the east was the faction’s capital city, to the south was a small port town. As the quest went, he was on business towards the city, but wanted me to deliver a message to the port town. He’d been through that town years back, loved a girl while he was there, but hadn’t been in the area since then. He wanted to deliver his best wishes to her, and asked for my help in doing so.
It’s a simple delivery quest. Walk over to the girl in the port town, talk to her to deliver the message. Simple. What stuck with me was her reaction, her quest complete text. She has to struggle to remember the minstrel’s name, then recalls it and wistfully recalls some good times, commenting that her now-husband and the minstrel had gotten into some fights, and the minstrel always won. She ends with a loving comment about her husband and a thank-you for delivering the minstrel’s message. Bam, done.
The formula is incredibly basic. Talk to one NPC, run somewhere, talk to another NPC. It’s the story that kept me paying attention. There wasn’t anything to resolve, it was an errand to run and was presented as such. In return, I got a little slice-of-life snapshot into the virtual lives of some NPCs. They’ll forget me as soon as I leave the area and I may or may not forget them, but this is okay. It’s a very simple, human interaction that makes me feel like the world is bigger than just me. For someone who’s done a lot of research into the differences between Eastern and Western narrative styles, it cleaves much closer to the former than the latter. I feel good about having performed a small task, and the world does not unduly react to the small task I’ve performed.
As a bit of perspective, this is what that same quest might look like in another MMO. If we keep the exact same structure, I’ll run into a minstrel, who wants me to deliver a message to a former lover, who he doesn’t think remembers him. I’ll run the message to his former lover, whose whole life will light up; s/he’s been pining for said minstrel since he left years ago, and this delivery has changed her life. She’ll pack up her things and go find him in the big city, and they’re going to live happily ever after. Thanks so much, kind adventurer! Without you, we would never have found one another again! We owe everything to you, have 2 silver 36 copper and 107 xp!
It would be a story, delivered in media res, with a happy ending where all of the characters we know are together. It wouldn’t be a moment, a snapshot in time; it would be an Event that requires our intercession to be resolved.
I’ve talked before about the frustrations I have with making the player into a Big Damn Hero at every turn, to the point where they can’t walk down the street without saving six people’s lives, reuniting three long lost loves, restoring a faltering business, and mending a broken family, all while saving the world from yet another evil plot. What I’ve noticed more recently is a trend in games from elsewhere, which don’t try to turn everything into a story, and let events unfold without necessarily resolving in a neat and tidy package.
I spoke to a friend from India recently, who was having a hard time taking a certain American MMO seriously. Her comment was that it felt to her like she was being singled out and made fun of, because the game was asking her to do simple things then lavishing praise on her. In talking to her, it was clear that there was a cultural divide between the kinds of stories that made sense to her and the kind I’ve come to expect from my own games. I’d love to play a game that features her kind of stories, where the subtle things that motivate and satisfy are shaped by a culture that isn’t my own.
I’ve felt for a long time like one of the best ways to get a pulse on a culture is through its entertainment. There are very few things that are quite so effective at revealing subtle ideas and cultural differences than seeing what kinds of things resonate with different people, what they watch and listen to for fun. I hope that as globalization continues, I can start to play games that put me not just in the shoes of someone whose life has been wholly unlike mine, but that has been designed from the ground up from a perspective I don’t instantly recognize.
Source: Digital Initiative