Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hey MMORPGs, let me not be racist

This is a little bit of a rant some might not understand, because it is difficult to rant in a second language. So be patient, I had to use LOTS of words to try and make myself understandable. Anyway...

I started playing RPGs with “dice and books” games, such as Dungeons and Dragons and the White Wolf series of vampires, werewolves and mages. Today I don’t have a group to play with anymore, so all I got are my MMORPGs, where I don’t really RP. But still, I like to have some freedom to imagine my character’s background stories, and try to make up reasons why I am doing certain quests instead of just being a crafter or a rock star in town. With that said, I’d like to share how tired I am with the limitations I’ve been finding regarding factions in games and the races being locked.

While I understand races being limited to certain factions are very normal and accepted in MMORPGs, it is something that is wearing out for me. It feels artificial and kills a lot of the RPG potential. I call it artificial because my characters had simply no choice in the matter, and won’t have any in the future either. They are what they are and are not allowed to change, or have different opinions, and I am tired of that. 

Part of this feeling comes from the fact that I love stories where the characters are allowed to change sides when survival, interests and beliefs lead to it. I guess a good example of this would be pirate stories where, while you know a certain character tends to be good, you never know if that one will be the key of a conspiracy to steal the cargo.

Also, I think there is enough racism and hate in our real world to just keep copying it inside our games. I’d like to help a character with a different belief then mine to reach a common goal we might have. I won’t be so willing if said character believes my village needs to be burned to the ground, and just then PvP makes some sense. But I’d like said character to be able to change its beliefs if events start going in a way they don’t appreciate or believe anymore.

I am not a Roleplayer in MMOs, but I do imagine a little story for my characters, and a natural hate of characters of another faction or race never feel quite right, or fit at all. Being eternally unable to understand them is another oddity. 

In Rift, you are either a faith driven character who must restore the world with the help of the gods or a believer in the power of technology to restore that same matter with the world, because you believe the gods have abandoned you. And then the faith based folks blame your technology in the matters of the world. Of course this is a very limited and simplified explanation, but my point is: we should be able to have different races on different sides, and more importantly, beliefs and faith should be more malleable and tend to change, instead of being so radically tied to races. Just look at us, humans, and how we all have different beliefs that sometimes change during life. Tying a race to a belief seems very artificial to me, and I don’t see the point of it for an MMORPG other then to make lore and pvp easier.

Same can be found in WoW, where only NPC characters have the freedom of mind to be neutral. This irritates me, because now you can see an orc giving you quests since said orc is from a neutral faction. Well, why can’t I be neutral also? I don’t hate tauren, I’d even like to visit Thunderbluff and learn their side of the druidic teachings. With the rumors of Pandaria, I hope that maybe a neutral option is coming, if even for a starting character. It is what I imagined would happen to goblins, given their mercenary background, that you’d start neutral and pick a side later on. So maybe if Pandarens come, that option will exist?

Classes being limited to factions make more sense, though, since they do grow in a certain culture and need it to improve training and so on. Also, classes determine powers that are tied to beliefs that would only match into certain factions, such as the Sith belonging to the Empire and not the Republic. But a dark elf can become a rogue and move to the outside world, and a gnome can be twisted to evil, as we’ve seen in NPC stories across games and books.

So far the best example that meets what I find more close to RPG options within MMORPGs is what is found in Everquest 2. Races do start aligned to certain good, neutral or evil cities, but you can change (with a lot of work), and you can group with different alignments, and join guilds, and learn each others languages. The only thing that will change once you betray your current alignment and citizen cities are the class you belong if it brings conflict, such as a shadowknight requiring to be evil and a paladin to be good, and the NPC relationships, since some cities are exclusive for either good or evil characters.

Again, I do understand that factions are part of the worlds in these MMOs, but my problem is in the fact of how you can’t get to pick one. You can have the illusion that you do, but with the races locked to certain sides, you don’t actually have an option. Explanations to that could be that the very visual aspects of different races make it so that people wouldn’t tolerate a less usual race within cities, and so on. Like a human inside an orc capital. But my point is that players should be able to be tolerant if they wish to, and even work together if they want. It is an option that I want, at least. NPCs can still hate me and throw tomatoes at me if I go into an “opposite” town, that’s fine, that’s the game world and the lore, but I am tired of being forced into either hate or love as the player character.

I hate to rant without suggestions, so this is what I’d like to see in these games:

WoW: Alliance and Horde are strongly tied into war and pvp, but I’d like to see an option where you could actually tackle down dungeons with horde players. We see NPCs working together on such places, and I think it would be rich to see players doing the same, where world villains become more important then the eternal Horde and Alliance battle. Would also possibly help queue times. Also, within neutral cities and “Sanctuaries” you could be allowed to even do dailies together, since the spirit of most of such places is that there is a common problem much greater and we shouldn’t waste time killing each other, at least in there. While I understand this is made just so people don’t troll each other while browsing a bank, I don’t see why not take a step further.

Rift: I’d like to see race freedom, where you could change factions inside the game, converting to faith or revoking it. It happened once at some point within the game’s story, so I think it would be fair to let it happen to the player characters.

SWTOR: While I agree that a Sith would never help a Jedi, I think a bounty hunter would not be as tied between good and evil, but more focused on rewards. I think that RPG wise, SWTOR could use a neutral faction, instead of grouping together with the Sith and Jedi and making it just two very clear sides. I am not in the beta, or deep into the lore, but I believe that this game could at some point fit a “betrayal” system much like in EQ2, since actions could lead someone to the opposite side of the force.

I am talking about MMORPGs here, and I understand some games draw the clear line because they are more about the massive gaming, and not much about the RPG aspects, and thus making clear enemy sides is just an easy way to set up PVP. Personally, if a game wants to call itself an “RPG”, I think the characters should have more options regarding in which side they wish to battle and live within the game’s world. While the game worlds already out there probably won't change this faction and race hate tied up together, I hope future made ones will.

What about you guys? Do you enjoy the faction limitations to races and lore designed for it? Do you think it should be about clearly drawn sides or do you wish to see more grey zones for the player characters? 

1 comment:

  1. I don't PvP, and I would prefer no race-based factions, which I think is the only context that makes such a thing.

    On something you mentioned earlier, about pen & paper RPGs and no group to play with: I started playing Neverwinter Nights 2, and that has a still-active online multiplayer system where players can be led through stories by a game master as in a pen & paper game. I haven't tried it yet myself, since I'm still getting used to the D&D 3.5 mechanics in single player mode, but I've heard that the site Neverwinter Connections is for players to sign up for gaming sessions.

    Just in case you were interested in an online DM-led D&D group playing in a 3D world. ^_^.


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