1. #1

    Story in MMORPGs

    Hello,
    My name is Yumä, I’m a researcher at University of Chicago. I’m currently working on a project involving game narratives in MMORPGs. I’m interested in how players relate to stories in on-line games, especially through their character’s personal story.

    I’m posting questions here in hopes of getting more insight through player feedback about their experiences in MMORPGs. There are 9 questions, most of which focus on character and story. Feel free to answer all, some, or even one of the questions. Keep in mind your answers may be used in my project, and are always kept anonymous through screen names (which I will change if included in the project to protect your identity). I would greatly appreciate getting only serious responses. Thank you for reading this, and thank you to those who choose to respond. If you have any questions, feel free to post them here and I will gladly respond to them. Feel free to post about World of Warcraft, or any other MMO experiences you'd like to include.

    1) What is your age? Gender?

    2) How important is a game’s story to you? Why?

    3) Within a game’s story, are you more interested in individual characters, or in bigger events and groups?

    4) In regards to your own character, do you identify with them? In other words, do you view your character as yourself? Or do you view your character as a separate entity which you created?

    5) Do you view your character’s progression as something you create/determine, or something the game itself creates/determines?

    6) What do you view as your character’s ultimate goal? Is it different from the goal of defeating the final dungeon or raid boss?

    7) How effective do you find personal story in MMORPGs (usually done through personal instances/quests)? Do you find it disjointed from the rest of the game, or do you feel it fits well with the rest of the game?

    8) How do you view the idea that many other players are also playing through the same personal story?

    9) How do you view your character’s personal story in relation to the larger stories in the game, or the lore of the game? Do you see a difference between individual story and group story in the game?

  2. #2
    Warchief Saluin's Avatar
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    I'll answer some for you.

    Game story is important, you can see in a game like wow we have the gear, the zones the raids etc but that would not exist without the story it structures it into a world in which you can invest your time in and get something back.

    If I didn't like the wow lore etc I might not even play the game anymore.

    I'm more interested in a variety, I like to imagine how my character would react to larger events. The Horde vs Alliance war this expansion is an example.

    I view my character as a separate entity, but has characteristics of myself thrown in.

    Character progression that I create and determine.

    My characters goals is to defend this world basically, I see it as a life goal, I actually made use of the barber shop in wrath to portray character age with hair colour

    I feel story if presented well (look at swtor) fits within the game.

    I think it's okay if others experience a similar story but I craft my character differently. Someone might see killing Horde troops as glory to the alliance, I would see it as defending the alliance. Perspective of things basically.

    I view my character as a "nobody" but out to make a difference, I will follow orders but I do so with my own goal. Aka

    Varian - kill X to bring glory to the alliance and show garrosh who owns this land

    My Character - I will, but only to defend the villagers.

    Hope this helps you out a bit

  3. #3
    Thanks for taking the time to answer, I really appreciate it. Any and all responses are extremely helpful.

  4. #4
    The Lightbringer Kevyne-Shandris's Avatar
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    1. Near 50. Female

    2. It's the glue that holds the game together, so very important to give a meaning why we're even there.

    3. Mixture. Sometimes some characters their presentation wants me to get more of a background on how they "tick". Sometimes the events are important. For example, the lead up to the Lich King's fall. It started from the beginning of a toon's life, and escalated until a player was in Northrend proper. How the storytelling went on in WotLK is what I prefer. Subtle at first, then grows steadily until you're so filled with a purpose, that the antagonist MUST DIE!

    4. My upbringing has reflected on how I play Kevyne, but he's more of what I consider an ideal Knight in Shining Armor would/should be. That he's a Holy paladin he's more strict in keeping to the paladin code and more "good". So in game he'll be the most serious and parental of my toons. My sis calls my alts his sons, for example. Can't really separate who we are playing a character, but this is a MMO and RP is important to give some background to why the toon even exists.

    5. You are your own destiny, yes. But sadly in ONE patch Blizzard can change it. -_-

    6. Heal, h-e-a-l and HEAL!

    7. Reason I don't like things like phasing to give the impression you progressed through the story. I never felt that as the environment (especially the 1000000001 mobs around) doesn't change even with phasing.

    8. Don't always notice them around (too busy doing). And since the game pushes it is a group game, it's difficult to even have a personal feeling. Everywhere you go, everything you do is connected to some group or area a group is located. Only way to escape it, at least for a while, is to solo instances then it feels like a toon is on a personal journey, and has more meaning.

    9. He's there. But don't really feel my toon is connected to a larger story. Very much like the misconception of God people connect with Deists, with the watchmaker analogy. My heroes are corrupted. My world essentially still destroyed, it gives an idea that Blizzard wants you to not connect with their IP.
    From the #1 Cata review on Amazon.com: "Blizzard's greatest misstep was blaming players instead of admitting their mistakes. They've convinced half of the population that the other half are unskilled whiners, causing a permanent rift in the community."
    Blizzard's blame game in action: Deleting 6,100+ of Kevyne's posts and threads from the WoW forums.

  5. #5
    1) What is your age? Gender?

    I'm a 27 year old male.

    2) How important is a game’s story to you? Why?

    Not nearly as important as combat, when it comes to an MMORPG. Combat is 90% of the game. Literally everything else hinges on that. That said, there are some great games with good combat, that I can't get super into because of other factors, story being one of them. Rift comes to mind. If I played GW2, I'd probably cite that one, too. The story in those games are presented in a very weak way.

    3) Within a game’s story, are you more interested in individual characters, or in bigger events and groups?

    As far as the game is concerned, I like events. As far as roleplaying is concerned, I'm more interested in characters. The Zombie Plague in World of Warcraft is probably the best in-game event I've ever witnessed -- ever. On the other hand, when interacting with other players, the best times I had were always in very small groups of undead players, maybe 2 to 5, by a campfire outside Brill, listening to them talk to me in-character about how they died.

    4) In regards to your own character, do you identify with them? In other words, do you view your character as yourself? Or do you view your character as a separate entity which you created?

    As a roleplayer, my character is definitely a separate entity. However, everyone puts a little bit of themselves into their characters; even roleplayers. I'm a musician in real life, and tend to have at least one character in games that identifies as one.

    5) Do you view your character’s progression as something you create/determine, or something the game itself creates/determines?

    A little bit of both. The game gives you your foundation, and you build on it. Say my character is an Undead Rogue in World of Warcraft. Thanks to the game, I know that my character is 1) Dead, 2) Probably died of the Plague during the "Third War", 3) Likely struggles with the idea. I can take this, and expand it into being a wandering minstrel in life, who had the voice of an angel, and incredible skill with a lute. After death, his voice is mangled and ruined, and his bony, claw-like hands will never play an instrument again. Thankfully, his dexterity and guile has translated well to a career as an assassin in the Death Stalkers, and while he would never consider such an organization when he was alive, now he's dead, and he's pissed.

    6) What do you view as your character’s ultimate goal? Is it different from the goal of defeating the final dungeon or raid boss?

    It can be. I have a character (A Blood Elf, of course) whose ultimate goal is getting into the pants of pretty much every chick ever. He's the worst kind of chauvinist, in a hilarious way, and serves as comic relief. While he's definitely a seasoned adventurer and has seen and defeated all kinds of crazy stuff, he's terribly disappointed if his target-of-the-week wasn't watching while he did that Totally Sweet Flippy-Thing with his enormous two-hander (which is most likely compensating for something).

    7) How effective do you find personal story in MMORPGs (usually done through personal instances/quests)? Do you find it disjointed from the rest of the game, or do you feel it fits well with the rest of the game?

    I feel that personal story in MMOs is a bad thing. That said, I think SWTOR did a pretty good job with this. The game falls flat on its face in literally every other aspect, but the personal story was pretty good. The problem with personal story in MMORPGs is that I feel in those games more than anything that I decide who my character is, what they're about, and why they want to do whatever it is they do. Personal story can really get in the way of that. In SWTOR's case, I felt the choices given to me when answering in dialogue were sufficient to remain in character, and I was happy with just about everything my character ever said and did in that regard.

    All other games can't even begin to compare in regards to personal story, and it ends up taking away from the experience. Go big or go home, I say.

    8) How do you view the idea that many other players are also playing through the same personal story?

    This is part of why having a personal story as part of the actual gameplay takes away from the roleplaying aspect. The character feels less like it's 'yours', and so you're less likely to come up with an interesting backstory and/or personality for them. Games with heavy personal stories are next to impossible to roleplay with other players in, in my experience.

    9) How do you view your character’s personal story in relation to the larger stories in the game, or the lore of the game? Do you see a difference between individual story and group story in the game?

    I'm one of those people who adamantly adheres to stereotypes and lore. If I play a dwarf, you can be damn sure he'll be some sort of alcoholic. If I play a gnome, you can be certain that he's going to love machinery and probably magic. That's, as I said, the foundation of the character. It's where you go from there that makes you unique, and a compelling person to meet in-game.

  6. #6
    Not trying to be lazy but I think my post would be better if I just did a paragraph hitting on what I think is good and also bad about personal stories. I think personal stories in games are good but only if done right. See SW:ToR as the perfect example of doing them horribly wrong. While they were fun as you leveled and got you to learn about your character and any history of their order or class or whatever, once you hit max level they just straight up ended. I mean why did I waste 50 levels on my Sith Inquisitor betraying and killing off other Siths, including my own master, and finally joining the Dark Council only to have it end there. If you are going to add a story and have it be a center piece of your game it better continue even after you hit max level or it failed. For example I would have loved daily quests given to me by the Dark Council where I had to kill a Jedi somewhere or even something more in depth like leading an entire army of Sith to take over a Republic outpost or even taking on an apprentice of my own. But it was like OK your on the Dark Council grats now game over.

  7. #7
    Dreadlord Brightamethyst's Avatar
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    1) What is your age? Gender?
    30, female

    2) How important is a game’s story to you? Why?
    Pretty important. Even in an MMO there needs to be at least some story to hold the world together and give players and characters something to 'live' for beyond just leveling and killing bosses.

    3) Within a game’s story, are you more interested in individual characters, or in bigger events and groups?
    All of those things are important, though personally I prefer solo and small group activities for telling the story, rather than requiring a raid group. That lets more people see the story more easily.

    4) In regards to your own character, do you identify with them? In other words, do you view your character as yourself? Or do you view your character as a separate entity which you created?
    That depends on the game and how many characters I have.

    In FFXI you could play all classes on one character so you didn't really need alts or other characters. I only had one character and I saw her as myself. I did this, I killed that, etc.

    In WoW on the other hand, I have tons of characters and they're just that. Characters. My warlock did this, my paladin did that, etc.

    I was MUCH more attached to my FFXI character than in any other MMO I've ever played.

    5) Do you view your character’s progression as something you create/determine, or something the game itself creates/determines?
    I'm not sure what this means exactly so I'm not sure how to answer.

    6) What do you view as your character’s ultimate goal? Is it different from the goal of defeating the final dungeon or raid boss?
    I try to avoid having an ultimate goal because once you achieve it, then what? I usually set myself smaller short term goals that change over time.

    7) How effective do you find personal story in MMORPGs (usually done through personal instances/quests)? Do you find it disjointed from the rest of the game, or do you feel it fits well with the rest of the game?
    Again, that varies by game, and there isn't really a right or wrong answer. Personally I prefer the FFXI approach where story is done through quests and missions that can be done solo or with a single party. That makes it more accessible than the WoW model where the story is tied heavily into raiding so non-raiders get left out. It also makes for a more intimate form of story telling.

    8) How do you view the idea that many other players are also playing through the same personal story?
    I don't care in the least. Why should I? Just because someone else did something too doesn't take anything away from me.

    9) How do you view your character’s personal story in relation to the larger stories in the game, or the lore of the game? Do you see a difference between individual story and group story in the game?
    Again, it varies by game and how the story is told. Sometimes it's close knit and you personally play a big part in world events, and other times you're just a cog in the machine. There's no right or wrong answer. Just different forms of story telling for different types of games and events.

  8. #8
    The Patient Gaudaloht's Avatar
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    4) In regards to your own character, do you identify with them? In other words, do you view your character as yourself? Or do you view your character as a separate entity which you created?
    If i have a big range of actions, answers to diferent question, issues or problems, i can feel like im my character, also the world the choices and the npcs needs to be deep
    sory to awnser just this one

  9. #9
    The Patient Buckeye's Avatar
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    1) What is your age? Gender?
    Male, 20.

    2) How important is a game’s story to you? Why?
    If we're talking MMO games, I could care less about the story. If I need to complete a quest to get stronger, then my process is:
    Accept quest, find objective, complete objective, turn in quest.
    Rarely do I bother to read a quest dialogue in any game, only SWTOR was I slightly intrigued by story.

    3) Within a game’s story, are you more interested in individual characters, or in bigger events and groups?
    Individual character's are easier to align yourself with so I usually find myself more interested in single persons rather than groups.

    4) In regards to your own character, do you identify with them? In other words, do you view your character as yourself? Or do you view your character as a separate entity which you created?
    Separate entity.

    5) Do you view your character’s progression as something you create/determine, or something the game itself creates/determines?
    Depending on how sandboxy a game is it can go either way. ie in wow your character is basically determined by the game completely and you have little to no say in why your character does what it does. In SWTOR you have the option to customize your character's reaction to the story.

    6) What do you view as your character’s ultimate goal? Is it different from the goal of defeating the final dungeon or raid boss?
    I play games to be better than everyone else, the ultimate goal for a character when I make one is for it to be able to kill anyone/thing. ie in WoW my goal was always getting top 10 world parses, I gave two fucks about bosses and what I was doing compared to the loot they dropped.

    7) How effective do you find personal story in MMORPGs (usually done through personal instances/quests)? Do you find it disjointed from the rest of the game, or do you feel it fits well with the rest of the game?
    I think it's a nice breakaway from the world to be able to play the story the way YOU want to, not the way EVERYONE has to.

    8) How do you view the idea that many other players are also playing through the same personal story?
    It's pretty much a moot point.

    9) How do you view your character’s personal story in relation to the larger stories in the game, or the lore of the game? Do you see a difference between individual story and group story in the game?
    No like I said I play games to be better than others, story matters very very very little. I think the most successful MMO could have the worst story ever written, MMO gameplay, structure, content, balance and longevity all matter more.

    Overall I only think story is important in single player games, the actual gameplay is all that matters when you're talking multiplayer.

    Edit: To add to the above, SWTOR was very very cool for the story perspective, but the gameplay was clunky and lackluster. WoW's story is whatever but the game is so fluid and mechanically solid, it still makes other MMOs hard for me to enjoy. WoW is the better game, gameplay>story.
    Last edited by Buckeye; 2012-11-12 at 01:46 AM.

  10. #10
    Dreadlord
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    Here goes..

    1) Male, 27

    2) Story is quite high up, second most important factor to me in a game, which is why I tend to focus on RPGs. It used to be the most important factor, but now I find gameplay fun factor ranks number one. The importance of story to me is due to my love for reading. To me, it represented a way that the books and ideas that I loved could be "acted out" in a sense - being able to cast magic, or stealth around like a thief, take part in grand adventures, exploring a world, etc...

    3) Depends on which the game does better. If its focus on its characters is its good point, I will also end up being more interested in them. I like a good story, whether it's told through its character development or an overall arc.

    4) I kinda see my characters as representing different aspects of myself. My resto shammy in wow represents my desire to help people, while my thief in guildwars 2 represents my liking of observing events from the shadows before making a move. I wouldn't be able to fit either of their "supposed" profiles completely, but when I have them to use when I feel like playing out certain things.

    5) The game. I'm not one for entirely open ended games like Oblivion, I like having a sense of some limits which the game determines.

    6) It depends on the type of game. If I'm playing a JRPG, I tend to view my character's ultimate goal as the final boss. If I'm playing an MMO on the other hand, I simply aim to have the highest dps, be the best tank, heal the most efficiently. I like being useful to the group no matter what my primary role as well, so I'm always looking to improve how I help out, even if it's something as small as blinding a mob to keep him off my healer for 8s.

    7) I find it quite disjointed, which is why I do not enjoy open ended games as mentioned above. Even if it's in the back of my mind while going through a multitude of sidequests, I'm still aiming towards getting more powerful to steamroll that jerk who's made life miserable for my party. I enjoy playing an MMORPG for different reasons, but story is generally not it. The exception being SWTOR, I really enjoyed the story and if the gameplay hadn't been so boring, I likely would've continued longer.

    8) I don't care. They don't play it with the exact same mindset, feelings, or ideas. We all experience things differently, and that's a blessing.

    9) I tend not to notice in MMOs, but I like how it works in normal RPGs. The Witcher for example, or any JRPG, your character is hugely influential on the story of the game. Whether that influence is something you choose or the game determines is also not an issue for me, I just do like the feeling of completing a section of the story to find out how my characters' actions have affected it.

  11. #11
    Thanks so much for the responses everyone. All of it is extremely helpful. Keep them coming too, the more viewpoints the better!

  12. #12
    Brewmaster chaosjones's Avatar
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    1) 22 Male

    2) Important, I enjoy a good story. But gameplay is more important.

    3) Kind of a mix. I read allot of books where both is equal important.

    4) This calls for a story: When I first made my priest back in the days I made her cause I like the idea of being able to sadisticly damage someone and heal some. Over the years I simple love being there for other people watching their backs with the heals. So to answer your question I see parts of my personality in my priest.
    The other char's I have DK, Hunter, Warrior etc etc. They are only there cause I like playing their classes.

    6) Good question. My priest goal is to be alive when game and myself is old.

    7) Makes it more fun.

    8) Don't really think about it.

    9) I already accepted that my priest is not anything big in the big picture. I like that I am a minor role that helps whoever is the important ones.

    Active Wow Player | Active D3 Player | Active Eve Player | Active Wot Player | Eve Gametime | Youtube / Twitter

  13. #13
    1. 24 year old male.

    2. Story is every bit as important as gameplay to me. In an RPG, it's even more important. In my opinion the gameplay of RPGs is fairly weak compared to other types of games, so without a good story there isn't much reason for me to play one.

    3. A large scale plot and setting needs to be interesting, and groups are important, but I tend to focus on individual characters within that setting more than anything. If there aren't any interesting characters, it's hard for me to get immersed in even the most interesting setting.

    4. I try to identify with any character I play, and the more the character seems like me in personality, the more I enjoy the game. Squall from FFVIII is a perfect example, he's almost exactly like me, and Rinoa is pretty much exactly what I'd want in a girl. That made it by far the most engrossing game of my life, even though the gameplay itself was pretty weak. In an MMO, where characters don't have predetermined personalities, it's quite easy to do, though less interesting. So yes, I view my characters as different versions of myself.

    5. Well, if it's about story progression, then I definitely imagine it as me doing it, as if it isn't already scripted. But when it comes to gear and things of that nature, I just view that as a part of the game that I'm indifferent to but forced to do, and has nothing to do with me or my character. Especially since I don't raid or do any form of end game group PvE. There's not much room for story in PvP, after all.

    6. It depends on the game. If it's a story, I just imagine it as myself accomplishing all those great things. But in an MMO like WoW, it's different after leveling. I don't raid or anything, just PvP, so the story ceases to exist, and my goal has always been to be the most feared player on the server by the enemy faction. I actually accomplished this in BC, and it felt great, but since then world PvP has been on a serious decline, and that status no longer really exists for anyone. With CRZ it's probably possible again, but I don't play anymore, and with everyone flying around it's pointless anyway.

    7. SWTOR is the only MMO I've played where story is integrated into the game as well as it is in a single player RPG. So it can be done, but for some reason, it usually isn't. Usually leveling in an MMO feels like a grind that isn't immersive in the slightest, and there's no focus on personal story. SWTOR proves it can be done, and it's by far the best leveling experience I've had in an MMO, so I'd say it's very effective, and should be done more.

    8. When I'm leveling, I pretend I'm the only player in the game, unless I'm in a group of course. Or unless I see a player of the enemy faction, in which case I kill them. But when I consider the fact that in an MMO, besides SWTOR, I'm just one of many grunts carrying out errands for more important NPCs, it really kills my interest. SWTOR at least makes the effort of making you a central, individual character, like in a regular single player RPG, and that makes it so much better. So to put it bluntly, MMOs usually make me feel worthless because I'm just one person among many doing the same things. Again, more games should take lessons from SWTOR.

    9. I'm not sure I understand what you're wanting from this question, honestly. This could vary greatly from game to game. For example, in SWTOR, if I'm playing one class and am grouped with another, we each have our own personal stories within the shared wide scope plot. This works extremely well. But in games like WoW, there doesn't seem to be enough of an individual story to matter, and groups take away from that even more IMO.

  14. #14
    I want to thank everyone who has posted so far, it means a lot. This will be open for quite a while yet, so more responses are welcome!

  15. #15
    Stood in the Fire Centerra's Avatar
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    1) What is your age? Gender?

    Male 23

    2) How important is a game’s story to you? Why?

    It completely depends on how it interacts with and affects the game. A good story should bring context and meaning to the gameplay, with out feeling forced, and also without feeling like it's breaking the flow of the game. I think Deus Ex is the best example of a game that did it well (the incidental dialogue between idle guards that pushed the story, the short but snappy datacubes, etc) while example like Gears of War, and most rockstar titles are -even when well written and thought out - forced breaks that pull you out of the game.

    In an MMO, I think the best stories are the ones you make yourself. Traditional narrative carries much less weight in online worlds. Most MMOs have lore, not story. Lore, while often quite cool and interesting, is just decoration. You could play wow for years and never have most of it register unless you read quest text. And games like swtor's story, don't mean much when you know every other player is doing the exact same thing.


    3) Within a game’s story, are you more interested in individual characters, or in bigger events and groups?

    If the big picture is interesting, then a character's place in it will be even more interesting. But I must say I don't find "personal drama" very engaging in games, unless it's coming from a real person on TS or in a chat window. In an mmo, It's all about the world itself for me, and then the journey of my character through the world, meeting other players, becoming a well known person or sinking into obscurity etc.

    4) In regards to your own character, do you identify with them? In other words, do you view your character as yourself? Or do you view your character as a separate entity which you created?

    Separate entity created by me. I pretty much always play as a woman, but could not explain why. Maybe to protest the lack of strong females characters in games - or maybe because of nicely shaded bum polygons. Although I talk just as myself when I'm interacting with others.


    5) Do you view your character’s progression as something you create/determine, or something the game itself creates/determines?

    Depends completely on the game, I prefer games that do it the first way, but what I hate the most is a game that gives an illusion of it while actually being the 2nd. I prefer the idea of specialization over just standard progression when it comes to character progression.


    6) What do you view as your character’s ultimate goal? Is it different from the goal of defeating the final dungeon or raid boss?

    Again depends on the game, in a theme park mmo like wow, yes, but that is beause of the lack of any other meaningful things. In a game like EVE with a million different interconnected goals between players, you can achieve your "ultimate goal" in a few months, and then move on to another. One raid ends up being very much like the next and you loose all relative progression every expansion anyway.

    7) How effective do you find personal story in MMORPGs (usually done through personal instances/quests)? Do you find it disjointed from the rest of the game, or do you feel it fits well with the rest of the game?

    100% disjointed. It doesn't make sense in an mmo, unless it's something you build yourself.

    8) How do you view the idea that many other players are also playing through the same personal story?

    It completely removes all impact and importance of the story to me.

    9) How do you view your character’s personal story in relation to the larger stories in the game, or the lore of the game? Do you see a difference between individual story and group story in the game?

    Some games have done it better than others, but for the most part they are disjointed and just run parallel but still separate. Eve did it well, but only because so little happens in the wider story anyway that you can fill in the blanks yourself about why your doing what your doing in relation to the npc factions.

  16. #16
    Thanks Centerra! This is still open to new responses for a while yet, for those who are interested.

  17. #17
    I'll be collecting and analyzing the responses soon, so these are the last few days to respond! Thanks to all who have so far.

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