Those of you with good memories may remember my rather detailed post about endings.
The Escapist put out another issue yesterday, and one of the many rather long-winded essays they have is "The Contrarian: Masks is the Woods". Because it is quite long, here is the link to the relevant page.
John Tynes is one of the wordiest writers I've bothered reading in quite a while, but at least he is saying something. He has two comments of note, only one of which will be discussed here. It is to be found on that page: he read a drama between two guilds. He got into it. It was exciting. Then he found out that the guilds moved on, merged with other guilds, and vanished.
Now, the article is a bit schizophrenic about whether it's talking about making stories or role-playing, but my intent is to look at it specifically in terms of stories. In my opinion, there really is no such thing as "role playing" as we call it. There is only brutally limited storytelling.
And the storytelling is what is faulty in these on-line games. All the attempts of the more creative players to create a story of their own - these attempts fail. Not out of any problem with the players, not even out of any problem with the story.
They fail because of the game.
The game is intended to always keep going. The game is intended to never end.
That doesn't work, when you're telling a story. As I mentioned, stories have endings.
For example, the whole shebang in the Contrarian this week: it could have been ended. It should have ended - wham, the good guys lose, cry me a river of tears. That's that.
"What next?" is a brutal question to ask. It can be dealt with, but it has to be handled like a high explosive, because if you tell it wrong, you cancel the power of your ending. In this case, the power of the ending was destroyed by the sudden revealing that the whole thing was in vain - that the groups simply dwindled away and vanished. Brutal. What was the point?
In order to correctly handle someone asking "what next?" you need a deep understanding of what viewpoints your story is enabling. Presumably, the story of the triumph of evil of good is a dark and sinister story. The "what next" would have to keep this viewpoint in place, talking of dark and sinister acts. To keep the same kind of viewpoint tweaking as the original story had, after a few chunks of time dedicated to showing the utter darkness, you would then show tiny lights. People fighting against the darkness, for example. Then the second story could begin.
But it's a delicate situation. You can't cut away, you can't act outside the viewpoint, you can't break the "mental map" of the way the world is supposed to be.
Unfortunately, games like MMORPGs don't much care for the story you're trying to tell.
On every level, MMORPGs sabotage your storytelling. You fight against the MMORPG, which doesn't allow for meaningful communication and has extraordinarily strict and arbitrary limits on the kinds of events that can take place and what a character can do. Also, the lack of any meaningful death kills most stories flat.
If you do, by some miracle, get a decent ending, the MMORPG doesn't pause. It shouts, "and then? What then?"
Under the restrictions, it is almost impossible to handle the transition from ending to beginning properly. And these are just hobbyists: even experienced writers screw up with something this delicate. Fighting against the game mechanics and the power of player drift, these stories are universally doomed.
The question is whether a MMORPG could be created to enable storytelling rather than cripple it.
The idea of an MMORPG which enables storytelling well is a powerful one. There is no story more powerful than one which is actually about real people. The idea that what you are reading about really happened (even in a fake world) is a powerful one.