The Naked Gamer is a regular opinion column that strips back the superficialities and looks at the flesh underneath. If you’ve got a topic you’d like discussed, drop columnist Kristy Green a line!
I’m a very emotional person. I recently read The Book Thief and there were tears towards the end. I’m unashamed to say that it’s not the first time I’ve cried over a book or movie. So while I normally don’t have any problem connecting with something fictional, I’ve never been able to feel this same way towards digital worlds and characters.
Therefore when I almost cried during the recent World of Warcraft expansion, it wasn’t something I was expecting. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into what happened, but anyone who has finished The Jade Forest probably knows what I am talking about. When watching that cut scene, I found myself involuntary yelling No! in a long drawn out fading screech that left my lungs empty. I waved my hands in front of the screen as if I could somehow stop the inevitable from happening. Unfortunately I couldn’t. When the cut scene finished, my heart sank in a way it never has before. I was left just sitting there for a long time staring at my little hunter with my mouth open, unsure how to continue.
I feel that Blizzard has done some things right in the newest World of Warcraft expansion and storytelling is pretty close to the top of the list. They’ve taken the style of Cataclysm, where the story is told as you progress through the zone, but kicked it up quite a few notches. Mist of Pandaria sees a really heartfelt fable delivered in a way where you are a part of it simply by playing. You can’t miss it even if you skip reading the quest text. You can’t even ignore it while you rush to the finish the rest of the content. It’s just there, gently leading you through the beautiful world towards the big teary finale.
In other games I’ve played, these sorts of story moments tend to just suddenly appear and before I can realise what’s going on it’s over. Because of this, I have been unable to appreciate their full meaning or even their true dire consequences. Or the story is so separate from the general game flow that it can be easily ignored or missed, leaving me to have to go backwards or forwards to continue. That is if I really want to.
There has been a lot of debate over the last few years about linear progression and its role in theme park MMOs. It tends to be considered a feature from the bygone days and something future games should be moving away from. However, in order to tell a story, there must be a start, middle and an end. It may seem better to give players the chance to go wherever they want but it doesn’t help the story to force them back into an old area or even into the next zone just to be able to find out what happens next.
If an MMO needs to continue with questing from hub to hub in order to tell a brilliant story that can bring me to tears, then please future MMOs, never change.