“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