I swear to you, today’s post is of utmost importance and seriousness.
Part of that seriousness may or may not relate to one’s ability to run about a battlefield, completely and properly covered mind you, but choosing to do so with a refreshing underbreeze whilst sporting a fine robe.. and only a robe. Pants, after all, are so much more stifling.
Granted, most games won’t let me play my mage totally commando, for the sake of ratings and ERP discouragement. Which IS definitely for the best. All the same, my choice as a player is limited, the character I might want to portray is limited, and thus my experience, like the freedom of my virtual nether regions, is bound and limited.
Except not gloves, underwear. Yes, you are reading a post that opens on the merit of forced underpants in video games.
If you’re still with me, congratulations! You gained +1 internetz tolerance.. or troublesome curiosity… hard to say, but let’s continue unabashed.
Really though, this is serious business. Because underneath it all (LOL underwear joke), I want to uncover a few unpleasant realities that are found in the story telling design of Guild Wars 2.
I know, let that sink in. It was pretty hard to type. There are flaws in this beautiful, wonderful, designed-so-brilliantly-it-can-cause-physical-pain-to-stop-playing game.
As addressed above, player choice is a difficult thing to balance. On the one hand, games emulate parts of real life, which is a very complicated thing to copy. Games also allow us to do things that we aren’t able to do in real life; games are freeing. And yet, the reality is, the more freedom you put into a game, the more complicated it becomes in every freaking way. Be it from a technical standpoint of actually coding the the ideas game designers imagine relentlessly regarding player choice, or from a responsibility standpoint of, well, not letting players crusade across the land stark butt naked. Add deadline and budget on top, and it’s easy to understand why game developers often cut features that expand player freedom. Because, well, they have to.
But sometimes that’s no excuse. Because sometimes, they didn’t have to. But they did anyway.
Guild Wars 2. My dearest beloved. To paraphrase a quote a young Nabooian Queen once said, “You’re going down a path I cannot follow.. but I have to anyway as you force choke the words right out of my character’s mouth!!!”
If you haven’t yet played the game, let me quickly say, the issue is not in the worldbuilding story side of the game, the NPC’s around any given city or town are both hilarious and interesting. You may see children playing hide and seek in the streets, or some shadier looking folk talking about the politics of their leaders in a dark ally. It’s fantastic stuff.
No, the issue is in the “personal story”, the “individualized” tale your own character embarks on from the very moment you create him or her. ArenaNet toted this as a huge selling point for the game’s progressive attitude, and to be fair, there are moments where your character makes some pretty significant choices. But they only affect your own story, they only happen occasionally, and most importantly of all, they don’t really change the overarching story of your character. At any major story point, a cut scene will take place, in which you lose all control over your character’s …well, character. They become ArenaNet’s character, and you are unable to control their actions or words or anything. You are THE HERO, no matter what. NO MATTER WHAT. You could have just gleefully murdered a town of Skritt and stolen everything they owned, gone for a run through the city of Divinity’s Reach in your underpants (though, alas, not totaly naked), and punched a friendly dolphin in the face all in one day, and you would still be THE HERO.
I really, really hate to say it, but in some ways Star Wars: The Old Republic’s individual story telling was better. SOME WAYS. In SWTOR, even though your choices were ultimately of little consequence to the world around you (same as GW2′s personal story I’m afraid, which is at least in part remedied by Dynamic Events), you always got to say what you wanted to say, or something close to it. You DIDN’T have to be THE HERO, because that would be (and is) boring for every player to basically be the same person at the end of the day. Good, evil, or in between, it’s for you to decide.
Here’s the really really aggravating part. Guild Wars 2 came this close to actually giving the player some meaningful freedom, as A-Net writer Ree Soesbee says:
In the first stages of production of Guild Wars 2, we discussed what we wanted from the character’s choices. Would we allow “evil” actions? Villainous characters? What about anti-heroes? In the end, we decided that we wanted to follow in the footsteps of the original Guild Wars game. Much like Jeff said: the player character is a hero.
It’s one thing when you can criticize a game for falling short, because, well, it just fell short. It’s another to see the developers deliberately choose, within their ability, to limit the player. Especially in something like story which, by nature, goes to the very core of who your character IS. I love Ree, I love her work in building the world of GW2, I love a number of the other characters I’ve come across, I just don’t love me. I’m too perfect, too good. To all-star hot-shot knows-it-all. Sure everyone wants to be that, but here’s the exciting part; we’re not!! And it’s in trying to be better where our stories become interesting, not in being super-duper off the bat. In RP, we call such characters ”Mary Sues”. And indeed, they are common among the gaming industry as well; perfect heroes ever resolute, charming, and with great bods. Even WoW, a universe I consider one of the best built fantasy anythings ever has Thrall, a huge Mary Sue that has not stopped Mary Sueing since his first steps in Warcraft lore; games and books alike. These are not interesting characters! Yes, they can serve a purpose, they can even inspire to a degree, but they rarely achieve anything really emotionally meaningful in their story. It is misjudgment and/or hubris to say all players should be THE HERO.
Bitching aside, the overall track record for what ArenaNet has done with narrative in GW2 so far is good. Overall, I’d even say it’s better than what any other mmorpg before it has done in terms of immersion of lore, and presenting a wholly original fantasy world. But there are shortcomings, big ones, in my humble blogger opinion, compared to what could have been done within A-Nets power.
Of course, the wonders of Roleplay also help remedy some of this, but only if you separate your RP character from what is presented as “your character” in every cut scene along the way. But, that is the advantage of an MMORPG, we have some space to make a largely theme park game more of a sandbox game. We have the freedom to pursue freedom where the game does not deliberately or intentionally offer it.
In the story of Guild Wars 2, the player is forced into a role that they have little defining power over. While giving any freedom to the player means complication, expanding the player’s freedom is what great companies like ArenaNet do best… when they don’t miss the opportunity and fall annoyingly short.
p.s. Ask Jacob about the commando robes thing sometimes, it’s a fun story. Mostly fun for me
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