The Importance of the Hero's Journey in MMOs

From sticks to laser cannons, a character's growth means a lot to players playing MMOs. Xerin takes a fine look at the idea of the journey over the result.

One of the interesting things I think that MMOs bring out in is that we don't have to be successful to have fun, sometimes it's the trying and the journey that's more insightful and fun than obtaining the goal at the end. There's a fine line between prestige and happiness and MMOs are starting to lose touch with how important not only the journey is, but what victory means. 

I'm going to use WildStar as an example, only because WildStar is easy enough to pick on, a game with amazing graphics and fluid combat, but with what seems to be a small base of players - which is alright, but you can tell it didn't appeal to what players want - a carrot on a stick. They want a reason to go out there and do the things that they do, they want a hero's journey where they start off as something impossibly weak and build themselves up to fighting the gods themselves. 

WoW is a great example of a successful implementation of the hero's journey. In a monomyth, or hero's journey, there is this criteria of having a great story. Fable is a game that literally follows it word for word, but WoW does a great job of borrowing all of the necessary components. You start off just a normal person called to action, fighting wildlife and very weak enemies. Slowly, you're let on to bigger and badder events and you're the one to rally the forces in defense, often (around level 20) leading to talking to the leader of your race. 

Then, you move on to bigger and bigger things, until I would say you hit the end of WotLK, when it appears there isn't much more evil you can defeat. Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria are a dark spot to my theory, but the subscriptions agree that you have to become more and more a hero with each new content in order to continue to be invested in the game. Warlords feels so good because it does nothing but inflate your ego - you are the hero. 

That's why a lot of times instant boosts and games without much or any grind can sometimes feel empty, because you're not the hero that you play. You're not some force that can't be stopped, you're someone who got out bed in the morning and the next thing you knew the greatest evils in the universe were staring at you and you were like yolo. 

It also plays into the entire learning experience. We learn our characters, their stories, and more as we play. A lot of people loving alting - a sign to me that they enjoy having a stable of powerful characters, all of which share the same story, which is encouraging to think of because it really shows that we all love to be powerful - the hunt for gear, the will to survive, and the desire to progress. 

More games need to reflect on the journey more so than the end. While I loathe leveling in Guild Wars 2, the idea or premise is perfect, that your character grows at an even rate, and that there is never a gap in the difficulty. Gameplay remains the same start to finish, but the story grows and so does what your character accomplishes and partcipates in. GW2 goes a step further to make sure you understand it's not specifically only your character fighting, but the world, and you and your friends play a huge part in the story. 

In WildStar I never felt that, ever, at any given time. There was never this feeling or desire to be more, because I was always amazing. There was no starting small, because I was pretty much landing on a planet with the entire army backing me up plowing through each objective all the way to the endgame where it just stops. In a game like Phantasy Star Online, that's totally reasonable, because it's an unknown planet and the things on that planet are beyond your capability in defeating. 

Not that it doesn't have the same elements of you are obviously more powerful than anything else on the planet and it takes literally a giant plant monster twenty times your size to throw a challenge your way, but at least the gameplay worked, because you were literally a bounty hunter clearing the path and taking things down to help protect or establish a base. It's not a specific scenario in which you're starting off as a passenger on a ship and within 5 seconds you're leading the push to take a beach. 

I think Auto Assault's main failing was that the story wasn't compelling either. Everyone was a badass in some capacity or another, yet there was no room for growth. You didn't start in a Camry and work your way to a lambo, nah, you started in a lambo and maybe with some luck you could upgrade to a Buggati. The same could be said of a lot of MMOs that have come and gone and how they never give you that epic feeling. 

Not to say they're bad games or that players pay attention to the story, but even if someone skips the quest text, you can gain a lot from the environment. WoW starts you off with some sticks and stones to throw and by the late game you have giant other wordly cannons and magical artifacts hanging off of every part of your character. Why do you think head gear and trinkets are gated? The idea isn't to start amazing, the idea is to grow and become amazing. 

TL;DR The True Takeaway: Even if you skip quest text and see the game in binary through your sweet oculus headset mod, there is a lot to be said about attachment, and going from sticks and stones to mega weapons feels a lot more natural and immersive than going from mega weapons to more mega weapons. The journey emboldens the character and makes you attached, which makes you more inclined to continue to play and invest into it. Something that you can't see as yours or exert ownership over is less interesting for you to continue to play. This is why it's important for MMOs to scale content correctly and make sure that NPCs are properly inflating your ego in relation to your accomplishments.

That's enough of a lesson for today. Hope everyone has a wonderful week this week! 


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About The Author

Get in the bush with David "Xerin" Piner as he leverages his spectacular insanity to ask the serious questions such as is Master Yi and Illidan the same person? What's for dinner? What are ways to elevate your gaming experience? David's column, Respawn, is updated near daily with some of the coolest things you'll read online, while David tackles ways to improve the game experience across the board with various hype guides to cool games.

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