One of the questions that came up over on Massively recently was “What Do Fantasy MMOs Need?” That is, what, over and above our typical fantasy tropes, are the core set of features or qualities that would make for a better fantasy MMO? It got me thinking, not only about the specific MMO genre, but what draws me to the sci-fi/fantasy genre in general, and the answer came back pretty loud and clear: the sharing of ideas and common interest in what could be with others. With fantasy especially, there’s a nostalgia for home and hearth, somehow threatened that seems to lie at the center of The Hobbit and the early fantasy novels – Wizard of Earthsea, The Black Cauldron, The Sword of Shannara (yeah, I know…) that, if treated ham-fistedly, become cliché pretty quickly. And yet, that doesn’t negate the attraction of the feeling. It’s a wish for community combined with a love of the fantastical, and I think that’s what all MMOs are striving for, and never fully succeed in delivering.
So what are some things that could be done? Here’s a few ideas.
One of the things that first got me excited about my first Dungeons & Dragons character—my “magic-user” to use the old fogey term—was not simple combat magic. Sure, Magic Missiles were pretty darn cool, and you could generally take down an orc or two with them, but some of those early utility spells were pretty great. I remember reading those early spell descriptions out of the 1st ed. Players Handbook and thinking about creative ways they could be used. Remember Detect Magic and Knock? Levitation? How about Wizard’s Eye, the spell that allows you to see around corners or down the hall? Sleep was almost more powerful in its way than those early damage spells – you could possibly put a whole group of monsters to bed, and subsequently, death. Tenser’s Floating Disk for carrying your stuff? Spider Climb, which allowed you to skitter up walls temporarily, and Tongues, which allowed you to speak another language.
The whole Newtown tragedy got me thinking a bit recently regarding the combat-centric emphasis of most video games. I won’t get into a discussion here about whether combat should be eliminated from games or not – I think it’s probably unrealistic at worst, and undesirable at best. There have been many articles about violence in games before as well; just Google it and you’ll come up with plenty.
Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed are the games people first scrutinize (or blame) when these tragedies arise, but combat in games go back to very aborignal games – you could say Risk, Galaga, or even PacMan had something of a “combat” focus – you were certainly fighting an adversary, and conflict is certainly necessary in any form of literature, and even art in general. Combat versus monsters or dragons is a bit more acceptable, since they aren’t “real” in the sense that other people are—again, more reasons why Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto are the ones that get the most attention.