When you look at the overall evolution of the MMORPG industry in the past 20 years (give or take a few for the sake of my white hairs), you’ll see a gradual “dumbing down” of the challenge and commitment levels required by games. In the early days you had the extreme of “only group content”, and now we have the extreme of “only single player content”. We’ve swung from one end to the other.
The current generation of games continue to swing towards the opposite side of the grouping spectrum (solo content primarily; micro-transactions for every possible scenario to customize the “unique you”), and one thing that has remained at the forefront of this push for accessibility-to-the-masses is single-serving content within the games. Quest hubs jam-packed with fetch quests and kill quests and escort quests and timed quests and harvesting quests and more.
The “milk runs” of the MMORPG industry. They aren’t there for narrative purposes. They are there to keep you “busy”. To keep you logged in and moving forward and feeling a sense of “progression”, despite the fact that these are meaningless tasks.
When we started looking at literary storylines, we quickly found that one thing you never see in the epic tales are the milk runs to the grocery store. You don’t hear about Conan’s daily foraging habits when he’s out in the wild, you don’t read about Hercules and his preferred type of fruit for the fiber in his diet, and you certainly never hear about Thor running down to his local supermarket to grab a roll of toilet paper (along with a gallon of milk).
Why don’t we hear about these things?
Because they are boring. Mundane. Repetitive. They don’t stand out, they aren’t noteworthy, they don’t have any sort of “value” that adds to the narrative to make the story one worth recounting. For a story to truly mean something, for it to be worthy of rememberance, it has to have some inherent danger to it, some challenge that is so difficult to overcome that the hero is required to look beyond his own self in order to complete the task.
Jason didn’t set sail without the Argonauts. Zeus didn’t overcome the Titans without the help of his fellow gods, Poseiden and Hades. These are epic tales. The ones that were passed down over the generations. The ones that stuck with us, because they were about something truly epic.
Story is important for us. There’s a reason so many of us can still remember NPC names and mob placements and questlines from EverQuest even nearly 20 years later, but games like SWTOR or Wildstar (fun though they are to play) never really impress any long-term memories upon us.
But what’s your take? Do you enjoy milk runs in MMORPGs? Or are you like us, and prefer your stories to have a bit more meat on their bones, to have your heroes face challenges truly epic in scope? Let us know in the comments!