View From the Road

A View From the Road: MMOdern Warfare

John Funk | 16 Nov 2009 21:00
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A character that a player creates in an MMOG is more than a character given to you by a single-player game - that's why the term "avatar" exists. Your character is a representation of you (or at least a part of you) in the game, and while one could certainly argue that asking the literal you to carry out these disturbing acts makes the presentation that much harder, I would actually disagree - I think it's more of a barrier. In a game like MW2, the character you're controlling has a reason to do what he's doing: If he does not infiltrate this terror cell's inner circle and earn its trust, the consequences could be dire. This mission is a tragedy in the name of the greater good.

In an MMOG, my reason (not my avatar's) for doing such an act would be along the lines of "Because I get some gold and a better set of pants." By adding a second layer of "why are we doing this," it only serves to exacerbate the problem.

That's another barrier in the traditional MMOG model for something along these lines - there's such an ingrained idea of act-reward that instills players with a mindset of "I do something, I better get a reward for it." Which would be the exact antithesis of what the developers would be trying to make you feel in a situation like this. You aren't supposed to be rewarded for your acts, in-game or out of it. A game can't present a situation, tell you that you're doing a horrible act for a good reason and use it as evidence that you're palling around with some Really Bad Guys, and then smile and hand you the upgrade you've been waiting for. It turns it into a positive, instead of a forced negative.

Adding other players to the experience (you know, those two Ms in "MMOG"?) further complicates things. This is the sort of gameplay moment that has to be very tightly controlled - watching the terrorists calmly sweep through the airport and gun people down - and the moment the party can't figure out where to go next, or the moment someone lets loose a "lol," any sense of atmosphere or immersion is shattered.

Then again, these are just conventions of the genre, not necessities. If an MMOG were deliberately made with the intention of delivering a moment like this one - a solo, single-player experience without any inherent positive reinforcement - it might stand a shot at delivering something like MW2's airport ... but that begs another question entirely: Would it be worth it? In a constantly evolving world like that of an MMOG, would it be worth designing a game around one specific moment with the knowledge of "Well, what do we do next?"

For all MMOGs are capable of telling stories and delivering breathtaking experiences, I don't really think they're suited for something like this. Though it would be nice to see one try.

John Funk still hasn't bought MW2 yet.

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