Anyone who’s been around long enough to remember the very beginning of computer games, as I have, knows that things have developed rapidly, but not always for the better. Twenty years ago, the text-based multi-user dungeon (MUD) was king. These games were based on well-written descriptions and strong story lines.
Some were better than others, of course, but the very best, like British Legends and Zork, were driven almost entirely by their storyline. They were mostly solo play with the occasional meetup with friends on computer systems (often a home computer hosted at someone’s own expense) connected by slow dialup phone connections.
Most of us playing MUDs were also playing table top role playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons and Palladium. Like a good D&D session with a fun dungeon master, a good MMO would be truly immersive.
Eventually, of course, the Web came and with it, the adoption of graphical interfaces for MUD games. Not much changed other than graphics (usually either not animated or only poorly so) being added to the same games we’d been playing already.
Then came faster connections, better computers, more powerful graphics cards, and the introduction of games that were based entirely on graphics. Like their stand-alone, non-connected games, these new MUDs eventually became capable of hosting thousands of people at one time and the massive multi-player online (MMO) was born.
Games at this point became lucrative rather than just small ventures. As the games became more graphically appealing, computers became more ubiquitous, and high speed connections more common, their audiences grew. The RPG took a back seat to the first person shooter (FPS) and the hack-and-slash gore fest.
And so story has been dying in our online MMO RPGs. Few games today really relish in deep story and fewer still have story as their true backbone. The ones that do are those that are based on deep-set literature or long-accepted mythology. Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) is an obvious example of that.
Even games like LOTRO, however, are succumbing to the market pressure to move towards a more graphical, hack-and-slash power matrix rather than role playing and story.
It seems apparent that the age of true role playing and story-driven gaming is coming to an end. It’s being replaced by a more graphics-intense, more “in the now” instant gratification type of game. Ones in which you don’t have to remember what happened 5 hours ago or think about the overarching plots unfolding in order to stay in the game.
Instead, you just have to worry about the foes in front of you, the size of your sword (or gun), and how many hit points you have left. Then, when the battle’s over, all that matters is XP gained and loot dropped. Another battle, leads to another battle, leads to another…
Times change, I suppose.