Our game worlds are not Human enough and I fear we are getting too afraid anymore to make them more Human. It's this inherent fear that Human worlds can cut too deep into the player's mind and we need to back away into some kind of sanitized world where everything is controlled by the man behind the curtain. NPCs are hardcoded to do everything a specific way and the player is restricted from ever making any true, real choice in the matter.
Consequence isn't strong in any game and they all market it and toy around with it like it's a big deal, but ultimately nothing you decide to do in a game has any true impact. In SWTOR there are some quests where your choices will impact if some NPCs try to jump you on your way to turn something in (I think, that's how murky it is). In TESO / ESO / whatever you have a choice to either help some ghosts who will make some other ghosts not hate you or just not level. In WoW, phasing lets them finish off some NPCs or let a few of your choices stick, but really you have no impact on the world, you're just an avatar walking around an art gallery.
Some games are not immersive, but with the lack of story and instruction, we make the story up and Humanize the game. In games like Civlization, players craft everything, while card games like Hearthstone, we boil down to more of a sport than an immersive experience.
NPCs do not build personal relationships with you and it's not limited to just MMOs, there is a whole plethora of RPGs where you feel little attachment to the characters because they're such a massive contrast between the player. The player, or PC, is pretty much some god of the world who has infinite lives, has killed countless enemies, and just literally does as instructed. We feral these interpersonal relationships now for some reason.
Games like Skyrim give us freedom, which is another discussion point, and are rewarded for it because freedom is very Human, it's very Humanistic. If you were really this dragon born, set on the world to carry on an epic mission, you could very naturally find that your power is more fun randomly walking through the woods trying to find weird things to mess with. You can say no to the story, to the NPCs, and be... Human.
Human is an important trait for us to identify with in a game because it helps us immerse ourselves. If our character and the world is more realistic, more Human, then we can immerse ourselves more because it's relatable. We can relate to the fact that if we were in that position, what would we do, and how would the world really respond?
This isn't to say adding fantasy elements in subtracts from the Humanity, it simply means that if we were in a world with dragons and magic, how would we act and how would the world act? Lately, as I've mentioned, I feel that we're afraid to make games relatable. For instance, in most MMORPGs, that is, MMOs like Everquest, we often find that we're stripped of many things that make us Human, primarly our ability to make choices at a Human level.
Like dogs, we're led through the games, told what to do, and are never given the option of doing anything different that the system doesn't fight you tooth and nail. What's funny is that games like WoW are popular because they offer more freedom than others, in a package that you can understand, but at the same time giving you the option of doing 10 things when you login is simply as constraining as saying that you must kill 10 bears and retrieve 10 of their asses in order to obtain some magical gauntlets, which if you refuse to do so you must now kill a total of 25 to 40 bears to make up the EXP difference.
You can't affect the world, the politics, or anything. I would simply argue, that in MMOs, nay in any game out there, the most Human game is EVE Online, because while NPCs exist, their existence is only to fill the maintenance role of having someone make sure newbies aren't transformed into their wonderful escape pod as they spawn. Everything within the world of EVE is decided by Humans and the world grants as much or as little power as people are willing to take. There are no NPC kings, no NPC heroes, the story is told by the players who craft it.
While it's a lot harder for players to take a sandbox game like EVE and do something with it, I think that we should be given more tools to affect the world and less promises of a "world that is alive" when the world isn't alive, it's just that the city you're visiting isn't available unless you kill the enemies in it. One of my issues with GW2 is that the world feels static when you play it at any point beyond launch, as there isn't enough people in the fields to keep the maps at anything but their default state.
A good example is Nebo Terrance, I believe it's the end line for the Centaur invasion and odds are if you visit it right now, it will be invaded by Centaurs. It'll stay like that, unless you keep recapture it. Within 10 or 20 minutes, if the Centaurs are not pushed back, they will simply return. It's like fighting an uphill battle to keep the Centaurs out of the city, but if at any time no one keeps pushing them back, they will just retake it.
You can't relate to that, a city that for all intents and purposes should be a fortress at this point, with the number of raids, and the constant need for attention. The NPCs inside of it will perish, over and over, and that in itself - since you can't stop it or do anything about it, is what jars you away from the world and makes you question what your own character is doing.
While it's one of many examples, I do want to point out that any time you question such things you begin to question your immersion. You can't help that city. You can't do anything about it. You can't care about it, because there is nothing you can personally do to affect it and the NPCs are just going to do what they are directly programmed to.
Counter examples are DayZ and Rust and survival games and the new horror games that super Humanize the world and immerse you, to a creepy level, and players are eating it up, yet RPGs are more fearful of having an Aeris within them for some odd reason or another.
There is hope that RPGs, specifically MMORPGs, may change. Everquest Next promises a truly dynamic world, one that can be actually altered, morphed, and touched by the players. If their promises come true, we can see once against why players feel in love with Everquest, a game in which events like the Sleeper really nailed in the point that players were doing things, they were making an impact, and there was consequence within the world.
If EQN will actually let cities rise and fall within its world, if Kings can come and go from power, and if your actions in the game world have an impact, you'll see success - because we all identify and get immersed in games that give us freedom. Games that put us on rails and take away choice, empathy, and emotion and instead tell us what we are doing and have done instead of letting us choose for ourselves, are games that often aren't enjoyable anymore.
This doesn't just apply to Human characteristics and traits, but also traits of fantasy characters. Take a game like Deadpool, with the best most awesome character ever if the Internet is to be believed. It's all on rails, walk from point A to point B, killing everything in your way Devil May Cry style. Great! Is that Deadpool? No, well maybe, the game does make an effort to try and change things around and make it more "Deadpool," but at the same time, it's still walk from point A to point B and see cutscenes.
That's not fun anymore, because technology has surpassed this. Games don't have to be mass produced trash that relies on branding and IPs to carry it. We can make worlds vibrant, huge, and even give AI / NPCs more power and control and function, to make everything more realistic. Yet, we don't.
I've ranted on this for too long - so much to go into this about, like how roleplay is a consquence of the lack of technology and how fantasy is Human in of itself because it's imagination, but needless to say, keep your eye out for EQN. Hopefully it will be the game that sets our industry right on what makes virtual worlds fun - being real, being Human. See you guys tomorrow, hope everyone is looking forward to their New Years!
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