Character Tao in Guild Wars 2

Tao” is one of the most simple [religious] concepts ever to describe, and one of the hardest to fully comprehend.  Simply put it is “the way.”  In smaller personalized chunks it can represent the way of living, the way of living, or the way of self.  Every MMO, whether I like it or not, has a player Tao.  In so-called amusement park MMOs (e.g., World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online) the way to play is nearly set in stone.  Sure there are filthy roleplayers that clog up an inn or ancient, ruined megastructure now and then, but all they are doing is forcing sandbox play into the set of preordained rides.  It’s very hard to fight the collectively defined way to play.  It’s even harder for a player to feel like the way of playing is his or her own.

Even though ArenaNet kept away from this deep waters concept, their latest blog article basically presents their view of Tao through an MMO through their systems of “personality” and “karma.”  They are systems to help define a player path, but also to let the player personalize it.

The personality system, briefly mentioned before, starts at character creation where a player decides where the character ends up on the personality triangle.  The three points are roughly charm, dignity, and ferocity.  Will the character be a savage tyrant, or perhaps a little more dignified in a lawful-evil sort of way?  The character, though, can change.  If the player wants the Guild Wars 2 story to be one of redemption the savage tyrant that was created could become a charming 4-color hero.  It all depends on the character’s actions.  From the blog:

When you decide to con a free weapon out of the local lumberjacks, that choice moves you more toward being known as a scoundrel. Inspiring some war-weary guards to carry on the fight moves you more towards being known as honorable or even noble. Perhaps you will boast and bully your way through Tyria and become known as barbaric. Your actions will sometimes allow you special responses or interactions with the world. Barbaric characters, for example, can occasionally just cut to the end of a conversation with a punch to the face.

The character’s personality will have an effect on the world around.  In the persistent world, a merchant might cower at a ferocious character while a norn mercenary might decide to work for the same character for free.  The conversations and actions available in the instanced personal story will also be affected.  A dignified soul would never think of persuasion by fist, and so the option would not even be available.  To top it off, for those that simply do not care about defining a character’s path through the game the conversations will basically have an “I don’t care, get me to the killing”-option.

As I’ve said before the comparisons to BioWare’s personality systems seem fairly apt.  However, whenever I played Mass Effect, for example, I was always afraid to choose the response option that I wanted because I was fearful that content would close off if didn’t follow the straight and narrow path of Paragon or Rebel. I mean, would I get a guilt-free sex scene if I was a Paragon? ArenaNet pared itself from that problem because “[p]ersonality choices are entirely designed to customize the experience and have the world echo your personality but not to block you from content.” 

If the character’s personality defines the path of how the character could be played, then karma becomes the currency to make that path a little smoother.  Karma, like gold, is used to buy things, except that ArenaNet’s karma is a sneaky way to help define an advantageous way to play Guild Wars 2.  Whereas gold reinforces the behavior of popping loot pinatas, karma reinforces the behavior of helping others.  It’s a touchy word, but at its core it might be the most correct term.  The system basically translates the feel-good feeling of helping out another player on a quest when I’ve already done the quest in to in-game mechanics.  Karma, according to the blog post, is gained by participating in events and helping other players with their personal stories.

I admit that sometimes I am a very selfish player.  I love group events, but only where it makes sense for me to join.  A night spent helping a hunter get a legendary trait can at the start feel more like a duty or chore than fun.  Usually if I am grouped with fun people, this bad feeling melts away into having a good time.  At the end of the run, I feel good for helping my friend out, even if my reward is minimal.  Still, it would be so much better if the game actually acknowledged my playtime martyrdom, and with the karma system it seems that just what Guild Wars 2 does.

Here’s where the interchange gets a little confusing.  If a player ignores the personality/karma system, “the most rewarding NPCs” will sell their services for gold.  It seems that the inverse might also be true where some of the lesser rewarding NPCs, like a farmer selling strength-granting pies, will only sell their services for karma.  Yet, it is unclear whether the farmer will sell his pies to anybody with karma or someone with a specific personality.  Perhaps the farmer wants to only sell his raw-liver with rooster sauce pies to champions of ferocious strength, not to some pansy, flower-wearing paladin of dignity and virtue.  Honestly I think the karma system deserves its own full blog article by ArenaNet.

In Lord of the Rings Online, one of my favorite features is how the NPCs will talk to me as I run by if I have done them a favor.  One might tell me how he can sleep at night because I squished a bunch of noisy norbogs in the nearby swamp.  Yet, for every player this path was set.  Guild Wars 2 seems to advance this feature, but allow the path of my character to be my own with the personality system.  It will be very interesting to see if players embrace the path as their own, or find another way to game it.  I am rooting for a personalized MMO Tao.

one often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it

15 thoughts on “Character Tao in Guild Wars 2”

  1. Sometimes I think you make gw2 features sound more exciting than they sound straight off the anet blog o__0.

    This feature sounds like it will be a nice accoutrement that many people will enjoy without even realizing. Unless karma farming becomes popular…

    1. Thanks! That’s a huge complement.

      I did think about karma farming, and isn’t that what we want? I mean if karma farming is more people helping other people in events and personal stories, even if their motivation for doing so is selfish, isn’t that a good thing? I think so.

      1. Good point. If you’re going to reward any specific player actions, “selflessness” and player cooperation should rank high on the list. Player cooperation has been their modus operandi from the outset.

      2. LotRO, you may recall, added rewards for repeating the epic book instances to encourage players to help others who were behind them (before everything became soloable). That worked rather well for having veteran players help newer ones, and the rewards were pretty nice for when they were added. It was flexible enough to let you repeat the content without someone running it for the first time, however, which led to the perverse result of level-capped groups going around repeating the content without new players, therefore having the quests still on cooldown timer when newbie friends needed help.

  2. I thought there was no henchmen in GW2, that part about the norn mercenary sounds like there is, maybe they mean there’d be no heroes and only temporary henchmen a bit like WiK allies.

    They seem to be going out of their way to earn the loyalty of people disenfrancised by themepark games like WoW, which is a good strategy IMO, and not promising bigger and better. Aiming for people who like to RP, enjoy the story, to roll multiple alts and enjoy the levelling experience, RvR, or just don’t like grind for levels/loot.

    1. Yep completely true. I also noticed this and it’s very good. Cause then I’m the type of player they are aiming for and I found the game that I’m searching for… for years…

    2. “Aiming for people who like to RP, enjoy the story, to roll multiple alts and enjoy the levelling experience, RvR, or just don’t like grind for levels/loot.”

      Did you just name EVERY MMO gamer, or is it just me?

      1. The population there may be smaller than you think, Naoroji. Many people rarely/never RP, skip the flavor text, power through the leveling game as quickly as possible, play mostly PvE, and/or spend most of their time grinding levels and/or loot.

  3. Sound analysis of the triangle.

    Let’s speculate how it could work ingame: The NPCs probably have certain charm, dignity, ferocity settings as well and will react on you depending on your score in the various attributes.

    This would allow “noble” Ascalonian Lord NPCs, that respect dignity, but not brutish Norn style. A Norn warrior on the other hand might just respect and admire that.

    I think this is way better than the Dragon Age system of simple oppositions, that was pretty easy to play to maximize happiness of every group member. Seems now one is at least somewhat encouraged to stay in character to raise a certain value of the triangle and not just tell every NPC what he/she wants to hear.

  4. Just on the general theme of MMO Tao, while games do have their own “player tao”, as you describe, so do game servers and game guilds. The Tao of a bustling, high-population server can be very different from that of a a struggling low-pop server, for example. The definition of self-interest changes, as does the personality-type of those who chose to carry on playing in a less-than-optimal setting.

    On EQ and EQ2’s Test servers, to give an example I know well, the Tao is much more collectivist than on Live servers, with a heavy dose of make-do-and-mend attitude on top. Kind of like a socialist version of the Boy Scouts, only with dragons.

    Whether GW2 can impose a change of mindset on MMO players by pulling certain game-mechanism levers remains to be seen, but it’s definitely an experiment worth watching.

    1. I agree… never have I felt it more than on LOTRO’s Landroval server. It’s amazing how unique the culture is there.

  5. I think if you try the “what he/she wants to hear” method, you will end up with a “liar” personality or, at best, no personality.

    @darkeye – ArenaNet from the beginning has always tried to do away with the problems most online games have. In GW1 they did away with drop stealing and boss camping, and monotonous tasks. Now they seem to be trying to remove all the problem areas they missed in the first game.

  6. I for one appreciate the discussion of the personality triangle. All the games I’ve played that have utilized this concept have only used a bi-directional or continuum based approach, which is very black and white. To me, people don’t fall into one of two camps (unless you’re parachuting into a warzone, but then you’ve got more problems to worry about ^^).

    What ANet has done, imo, is allow for people who are relatively new to role-playing to have an opportunity to give it a try. Granted, it’s not a full sandbox like an RP guild or RP server might be, but it ultimately allows the player, should he/she choose, to pay greater attention to the character and the decisions that character makes, and maybe, just maybe, make decisions based on that character’s personality and experience. Isn’t that basically the core of role-playing? And hey, if you don’t wanna do it, says ANet, you don’t have to!

  7. Great discussion here, as always. I don’t really have much to add, but to laud Anet for actually making an MMORPG where I’m interested in playing the PvE side of the game. ^_^

    One caveat though: As great as all this sounds, it feels to me like maybe this part of the game isn’t completely fleshed out, yet. Some of the other big idea features, they really seemed to have locked down before they talked about them, but the personality system still feels a bit nebulous to me. Like I’m not sure if it’s a triangle, or a pentagon, or just a fancy scale where you get points that all go towards one value from multiple, varying flavors of action… I just feel like I need either more detail or more specific examples of the system in action before I trust that they’re really taking on the huge pile of work involved in doing it right.

    In theory, what they describe sounds amazing – I especially like the fact that you can change your personality over time. This feeling of change, and the ability to craft these personal stories of redemption (or the opposite, playing a good character who falls to violence and thuggery) should make the PvE much more engaging, and really bring back the core of what it means to be an RPG, hopefully.

    It just feels like they’re really doing a great job of clearing their heads, and looking back to the old school roots of the RPG genre for inspiration, rather than getting caught up in the feature-cloning competition that so many developers seem to be entangled in. You know how it is, the “our game is like WoW – but MORE” deal.

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