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.