19 December, 2008
I've been spending some time thinking about fantasy worlds lately, for lots of reasons. As with a lot of things, I choose to blame Richard Bartle for causing this.
First, he wrote about the now infamous torture quests in WoW. Then he mentioned The Lord of the Rings during his presentation on the Pioneer's Panel at Living Game Worlds as being an inspiration for creating a coherent fantasy world.
So, read on for some of my thoughts about how well we've made coherent worlds in our online games.
One thing that Richard said in his replies to the replies to his original post really stuck out at me: "Jeez, a simple Eye of Kilrogg will find out all you want to know for you, you didn't even need to capture the prisoner in the first place!"
I find that really interesting because I love using that spell on my Warlock, but it really has a limited use as a player. However, it would be a tremendous boon in a world where you wanted to send an expendable spy to get information; yet, it seems that even the NPCs of this world don't think about the use of such a potent spell before they ask you to do something morally repugnant to get the information. Especially considering these are mages who should be well-versed in the ways of magic.
There are many other examples, too. For example, when I had to go get insignias off of dead pilots, I joked to my friends, "Don't worry, I have a rez spell. We'll get these guys back up in no time! It was just falling damage, right?"
Or, when one NPC watches me kill his underling and tells me he'll see me in a future zone, "...if you live that long!" My character is pretty much immortal unless I delete him, so how could I possibly not "live that long"? And, why is he upset about me killing his underling given that she'll respawn in 15 minutes, anyway?
In a world where death isn't permanent, it seems out of place to have NPCs treat death as something so serious. Of course, there are other games that have this same problem. When we wanted to have the story in Meridian 59 involve killing the old Duke Kalior, we thought of some reason why he wouldn't just come back from the dead. (One of my favorite mini-events to do is to have the old Duke show up in the underworld from time to time, acting like he's confused about how to get out.)
Even beyond MMOs, you have problems with adding magic in a fantasy world. If magic were as common as it seems to be in a lot of worlds, would technology have advanced the same way? The budget way to write a fantasy novel seems to be to take a renfaire and slap in fireballs and teleportation spells. In a world with easy teleportation, you'd expect that travel would have evolved differently. As the cost of teleportation goes up, then the system of roads you see in most fantasy worlds would make sense.
The core problem here is that the writers want to use existing techniques and tropes in their stories, but don't consider if they fit within the world as a whole. The violent war between two groups of people seems silly if neither group can truly die off. An arduous trip into the heart of the enemy's land can be trivialized if you bring up the fact that giant eagles could have make the trip a lot shorter and easier. But, the struggles in each case are what makes the story so compelling.
What are your thoughts? Do you lose your suspension of disbelief when you encounter a situation like this? Or, is it something you ignore as you just enjoy the game?