Reflecting on the Personal Story

A personal story, apart from the mundane hub happenings, seems fairly commonplace in MMOs. RIFT has zone-wide stories. Guild Wars 2 has the personal story. Lord of the Rings Online (“LOTRO”) has the epic line. I like the term personal story because it is a stronger narration of the events affected by player character, and for this post I will use that term in a broader sense.

I reflected on my journey through Dunland, the Gap of Rohan, and the Great River as I broke bread with some Thane. I had blasted through a few Books in LOTRO’s personal story. I realized that so much of the finesse of the storyteller was not in the actual story, but in the explanation of the ripples, the effects of the player’s doing. This went forward and backwards in time.

Guild Wars 2 has a personal story where the mechanics heavily focus forward. It is not exactly foreshadowing, but it is close enough. For example, if someone says we should either cut of the supply to the enemy or kill the enemy outright, and I should choose. It is quite apparent how my choice will affect the story and the gameplay. Guild Wars 2 seems to be tipped forward focusing on what my character will do. LOTRO, and many other MMOs, are the same as players are chasing quest objectives to get a few more story cookie crumbs.

The opposite is much harder, but I felt along my travels in LOTRO that the most momentous occasions were linking back to my deeds. For example, in the Dunbog quest hub I completed a bunch of quests to get the defensive Boar Clan moving against Saruman. I believe that it was a mostly linear quest hub, but there were some discrepancies. As I completed the hub, I joined an instance where the elder of the town gathered all the people I had helped to discuss the move against Saruman. I was the fedex’r that delivered all of the summons.

Throughout the instance, the elder called upon each person I had helped, and the briefly spoke about my worth and trust. One hunter spoke about my inherent strength that I had exhibited in killing local reptile spawn. A little boy called out that I had found his favorite toy, and he was subsequently hushed for speaking amongst adults. I realized that there was one quest I hadn’t done to replace some dude’s sword, and said dude would not speak on my behalf.

That instance was profound. Here I had done swamp chores, and honestly I had expected nothing more than moving on. I did not expect the whole village to come together to honor my mundane work. I almost shed a tear at the thought that an NPC really seemed to notice that I had killed ten rats and stayed in their thoughts and prayers. In another later instance, I sat by campfire with my traveling companions on the way to Rohan. We were telling stories, and I was asked which story of my past I would like to share. I had four to choose from including the end of Volume I of LOTRO’s personal story. I wondered how many roads I had not traveled would have been included as options.

I think that MMOs are so forward thinking that creating these links back to my deeds are the most worthwhile pieces of my personal story. It is one thing to choose a story branch, but I am always looking ahead. I have to think about where I want to roam, which quests to do, when to spend time crafting, etc. It is quite another thing to emphasize player accomplishments and decisions. I feel perhaps that this is why linking back to my actions is more important than creating a forward-looking choice.

LOTRO’s personal story is mostly linear. What I have done, most other players have done. This does not make my doing it insignificant. It is still notable to me. So when Turbine takes the time to emphasize my accomplishments in story, that moment of reflection made me feel like this was my story. In Guild Wars 2, I have made plenty of decisions, which I know matter. Yet, in retrospect I know that the branch will always lead back on itself. That my decisions are not underscored after the convergence as much as I would’ve liked makes those decisions feel a little more hollow.

I feel that Guild Wars 2 and other MMOs could do a lot to emphasize this themselves. Even Turbine could do a tad more to make sure that stressing player’s achievements is important in every single quest chaining quest, epic or not. I feel Trahearne’s shadow would be a much less dark place if everybody focused more on what I had done as evidence of what I will do. I feel times in the LOTRO personal story would have made me feel more like a hero. I am the actor of my story, whether I have main role or not, and that is important. “Always link back” should be an MMO personal story golden rule.


12 thoughts on “Reflecting on the Personal Story”

  1. GW2’s Personal Story is far too personal from 1-20 – it’s petty and utterly meaningless to the world at large (with the lone exception being Sylvari 11-20).

    From 21-30, it gets to the world’s wider story (the fight against Zhaitan), then mostly drops it at 31-40 and 41-50 for more crap no one really cares about (ie, doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with the world’s main story). Oh, and from 21-50, you are mostly a flunky.

    After 50 (Claw Island), it becomes all about Trahearne and you become utterly unimportant as an individual character. This personal unimportants reaches its peak for the fight against Zhaitan, where you just sit with a turret blocking a good chunk at the screen, pressing a single button over and over and over for several minutes against a boss that does nothing but sit there and writhe.

    It doesn’t help that the writing is excessively clumsy throughout (hence always calling you “Slayer” and “Hero” and “Initiate” and so on when trying to address you, whereas GW1 managed to keep you central to conversations without having to resort to such clumsy devices)

    1. No, it’s crap that you don’t care about. Some of us care more about the subplots. My interest in 1-20 varies between races and I could care less how it relates to the world at large. It’s important to *my* world. The human story lines, for example, show a civilization on the brink of collapse independent of the threat dragons pose. Be a shame to defeat the elder dragons only to have no home to return to.

      My enjoyment of 31-40 varies between the orders (3 of my 5 are Whispers.) My interest in 41-50 vary among the tribal races. I guarantee you that the quaggen lovers, for example, could care less about how closely saving them ties in to the main story. They’re in it for the quaggen.

      I didn’t appreciate my story getting hijacked by boring old Trahearne (who’s wooden even by Sylvari standards) either, but I didn’t necessarily want to be the hero of the main story, just the star of my own. I’m almost offended by the implication that anything that doesn’t directly relate to Zhaitan is inconsequential. Why bother saving a world that’s no longer worth saving?

      The little moments are what make the big moments matter. It would also be a little boring if everything was about the main story from the beginning with little to differentiate one character’s story from another, and I like that seeds have been sown for the other dragons we will presumably face in expansions.

      1. Little moments with the right focus can create great stories. Just like the one in Dunbog. I didn’t do much else but find a lost toy, kill a few drakes, and get some beetle shells… yet that moment of having a town meeting will remain a good memory for me. It doesn’t have to be epic.

    2. I was pretty dramatically disappointed in the lvl 57 story mission where you got to “take back Claw Island.” After fighting the requisite zombie hordes, a dragon-like boss appears and, yes, sits there for several minutes letting countless soldiers beat on it. Not once (until it “dies”) does it fly ten feet up in the air to avoid melee attacks.

      Now I get that it “can’t” do that, because it’d be attacked by all the trebuchets I helped repair. However, since they, in reality, were all destroyed by undead immediately after being repaired (I know, because I ran around to check, leaving the scene of the boss battle), the boss dragon _should_ have been able to avoid 90% of the army’s attack by flying up.

      Then, after several pointless minutes of hitting the “1” key with short bow equipped, the boss died. Not terribly inspiring and there’s twenty more levels to go before a similar battle against Zhaitan.

      I love how in Trahearne’s military hierarchy, he’s able to “assign” himself the rank of Marshal just cuz. And my character gets to be a Commander. Wait a minute…am I not already a Warmaster in the Vigil? Why can’t my _actual_ military title transfer over? And why does my character, in full hearing of assembled troops, refer to him as “Trahearne” and “My friend”? You really don’t think that, after a gigantic battle, a lot of “Sir, yes Sir!” would be appropriate?

      Meh, I’m sure not playing the game for the writing.

  2. I find GW2’s story to be horribly shallow. Perhaps it’s the horrible voice acting and animations (squinting and eyebrow lifting, anyone?) that completely ruin it for me.

    I did enjoy LOTRO’s storyline, but I felt that all I was doing was busywork so I could level myself worthy to enter into the story.

    I’m surprised that you don’t mention SWTOR at all. They did story right. Everything else was mediocre, but the storylines were great, compared to other MMOs, of course.

    Though, if you want a great storyline, you’re still better off reading a book. Honestly, I play Sims 3 now because I find those “stories” more fun than what is offered in MMOs with their focus on leveling and loot.

    1. I wish I new more about SWTOR, but the depth required to understand how they foreshadow and more importantly link back, I simply don’t have.

    2. –“I did enjoy LOTRO’s storyline, but I felt that all I was doing was busywork so I could level myself worthy to enter into the story.”

      Exactly. The stories in Dunland were sometimes interesting, but the player’s actions relating to those stories were the usual tedium. I don’t want to be doing a bunch of grocery-store chores that these NPCs tell me to do.

      Give me real quests where an NPC gives me an overall problem, and let me figure it out. That would be noteworthy. But maybe we have a long way to go before MMOs can give players what should properly be called “quests”, not chores or errands.

  3. I encapsulate my feelings about GW2s story in the same things I’ve said about WoWs story.

    I call it the Fellatio Method; because it always feels like the game is either trying to force you to fellate the chosen NPC of the moment or you’re watching other NPCs choking it down and talking about how much fun it is.

    In other words, it’s dicks all the way down.

    Though, for what it’s worth, I kinda like some of the race specific quest lines. All of the asura ones I’ve done were at least somewhat amusing, especially the Magic 8 Ball one. And one of the norn stories is all about beating up some guy in a wrestling match just because he’s a douchebag.

    Pity it doesn’t hold true for all of them. Of the charr race stories I’ve done the Iron Legion one is silly for reasons I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, and culminated with an astonishingly boring instance courtesy of the really awful weapon I had to use for it. And the Ash Legion story is best summed up as “your tribune is a gods damned idiot and Rytlock is really cool because he’s Steve Blum doing that one voice of his.” But at least they’re better than the human storylines I’ve done, which were so forgettable that I keep forgetting that I’ve actually done them. Even the bit with the clowns.

    @Gina It seems amusing to me to single out the GW2 cutscene animations for criticism and then give SWTOR a pass even though it had the same issue.

  4. For me the story doesn’t bother me as much as how it is told. Two characters facing each other talking and making minor body motions (even when one character is dying in agony) makes the substance of the stories cardboard, even when the actual dialog is witty.

    I’ve had a great time in the actual game play of personal story missions I’ve played (with a couple exceptions due to balance issues). However immersion is nigh impossible when the story is so clumsily pulled apart from the setting. The result is clunky storytelling severely limited (in animation, events included, etc) by the design choice to have character dialog in this limited format.

  5. I to found it impossible to get involved in the personal story of GW 2, to camp, partly due to the voice acting etc mentioned above. I found the Char race compelling, as well as their starting area, that was about it. I still play spvp now and again.

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