Dead, Again

While writing this week’s shared topic I got caught up in the game mechanics involved with dying in World of Warcraft and did not get a chance to discuss my feelings about player death in the context of the lore of Azeroth. Instead of waiting around for some nebulous future date to return, I have decided to finish pouring out my thoughts right away.

Before heading onward, if you have not already read my first post for this week, why don’t you step back a page and check that one out. It’s alright, I can wait.

Back? Ok, let’s keep trucking then.

WoW is a game and games must have punishment and reward in order for them to be fun and interesting. Games with no punishment for messing up are not particularly fun… try god-moding through Halo; I bet you won’t finish. Alternately, having a game that is all punishment is clearly going to be a drag. Part of WoW’s punishment for screwing up is dying and all the associated costs that were discussed a few days ago.

However, WoW is also more than a game. Warcraft is overflowing with stories and lore that are vibrant and engaging, personalities that speak to the players, and conflicts that can resonate with anyone. Death in such an environment can (and should) mean more than in a transparent, two-dimensional game setting.

Now things get tricky, though. Designing and developing a game that can include the death of a single character is relatively easy. Even a handful of characters can be managed fairly well. When you get up into the millions, development becomes a nightmare.

I would love to see more scenarios within WoW where my skill and cleverness as a player can be tested and have the results matter. As it stands, my character doesn’t really interact with the lore. Yes, things happen around me (in some astounding and dynamic ways now that Cataclysm has hit). The world has an impact based on me finishing quests and advancing storylines.

But it isn’t me making those changes… at least not really. Those lore moments are built for everyone and, as a result, no one. My speed and technique give the exact same outcomes as anyone. For example, say I take a quest to escort a guy across a treacherous zone, but I’m not really paying attention and the guy dies. I can go ahead and take it again, pay better attention, and get through it with no problems on the second try. Me finishing the quest on the second go round rewards the same outcome as someone that was diligent and protected the quest giver the first time.

This example ties back to the idea of death in the lore. I have died hundreds of times, but none of the npcs I interact with know that. Players can’t die in the lore because there are so many of us that we would clutter up the story if we were part of the lore. As a result we remain the ‘nameless heroes’ that accompany Tirion into Icecrown or Brann into Ulduar.

I understand the limits of development and game mechanics so I am perfectly happy being a nameless hero. But it would be really interesting if there were a way to give me a more personal stake in the story, make it so that my inattention and screw ups can give me slightly different outcomes from others around me.

Imagine this: a series of quests have pushed you to fight a big boss-type character in order to save the day. You diligently run up and… get killed. The second go around, you understand a bit better what you need to do, but still fall a little short. The third time, as you are preparing, you get a whisper from one of your npc allies in the area. As you start the encounter, that npc ally shows up and helps you finish off the boss. Afterward, the quest gives you different outcome text that says ‘Gee, thanks for trying so hard, I guess you needed some help on that after all. Sorry for making you take the journey beyond and back again.’

Of course, another problem presents itself there. If I get that outcome at the end, I feel less like a hero and more like a noob. Perhaps there is more to dying that I thought.

~ by Aliera on June 17, 2011.

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