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No Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG?

18 Jan

Wil’s got a good post up Is There Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG?

Started a long answer there a couple of times, but punted and finally made it into a post.  I’ve mused on this area before, but Wil and the commenters bring up good stuff.

Short answer: no.  Not for pure SF.  And not if you are looking for a “classic” MMORPG character-centric experience (intrinsic growth, progression, etc. = skills, powers, etc. versus extrinsic growth or progression = buy a bigger ship, blaster etc.).  Pure SF is focused too much on the realm of the near-possible or plausible technology.  As we race into the future, we are culturally tailgating pure SF. At some point we must whip into the fast lane and speed past “old” SF giving it the finger as we zip by.  Pure SF seems to have a “sell by” date after which, as you point out, it becomes silly.  Sillier even than this comment…

Fantasy tends to build upon those culturally resonant archetypes that live in our collective consciousness, literary history, myths, legends, movies, television and now the games we play.  They almost always exist in the past or at least a “never[exists]land” and as such are never overtaken by our cultural progress.  Most of these themes, archetypes, etc. have grown out of us over the last hundred thousand years or so.  We bring most of these to a game even before we click play.

As Rodin mentioned, so-called Science Fantasy straddles the line.  In my view, all the most-popular SF (Fiction or Fantasy, you choose) like Star Trek, Star Wars, SG, BG, etc.  More closely resemble fantasy than SF.

In these, you’ll find all the character-centricity you need to make a compelling story.  The setting (the technology) is incidental to the story rather than the focus.  When you start throwing in goofy aliens with weird “powers” (or Chicago mobsters, or Nazis, or mutants, or ….) you are starting to get awfully close to reskinning fantasy in space.  And honestly, thats not necessarily bad.

Science Fantasy succeeds where Science Fiction fails because it simply tells character-centric stories better.  No one really cares whether or how I can commute to work over the crowded highways in my gyrocopter… People will care about a character that can participate in some facsimile of one or many of Polti’s 36 dramatic situations.

Too often pure SF is more about the idea and not the character, or if about the character, it has a dependency on a technological element that is both critical to the story and too susceptible to being over taken by our headlong technological rush into the future potentially rendering the dramatic heart of the story irrelevant or to quote Wil, downright silly.  Its much easier to keep our disbelief suspended when we’re talking about the Force in another galaxy than to disregard what have become now-glaring factual inaccuracies (or implausibilities) in light of scientific advance.  FTL travel or the gravity problem anyone?

SF that merely amplifies the everyman (pewpew) may be a great setting for a shooter, but doesn’t allow a player to be the center of his or her own story, IMHO.  TR seems to be in a bit of a netherworld of both (pewpew + logos).  Likewise in Eve, no matter how many skills I learn or how cool a ship I acquire, I don’t feel that identity with a character that I do in most fantasy MMOs.  If you lose your top of the line ship, you can still get podkilled by a noob in a rookie ship.  Doesn’t mean its not good gameplay, I just don’t feel very special.  They tend to lack the transcendence that seems inherent to classic story telling.

Not that I don’t want a great SF MMORPG, but as we are always careening into the near future, I fear the cultural relevance of most SF expires before it can deeply seep into the cultural consciousness like most of the myths upon which fantasy draws.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on January 18, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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11 responses to “No Hope for a Science Fiction MMORPG?

  1. tipa

    January 18, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Well, you define SF fairly narrowly and define fantasy broadly. I’m not sure that works for me. I think most people would have no problem categorizing Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, X-Files, Jericho, Firefly and so on as science fiction. My definition (not really mine) is a story where the premise involves a scientific premise without which you would not have a story.

    But MMOs are really exempt from such definitions since they don’t tell stories. One of the major failings of these games is that they are just THERE. Any stories they tell are stories you make up. If you log off and never again log on, the world will go on without you and will never realize you’re gone. Like real life, perhaps, but not like stories. MMOs are the games people play because they want to be a central part of a story, and in return, all they tell are stories in which we are unimportant bit players, and so they are fundamentally unsatisfying once the new shininess has worn off.

    Fantasy very readily tells stories in which we are nothing. They are myths, fairy tales, in the past, we accept them as unchangeable. They have nothing to say to us who live in the real world.

    But Science Fiction — we LIVE in the future. SF writers can’t keep up, heck, William Gibson has given up on it because he can’t stay ahead of reality. SF has always been about the present day, set at a remove. I bet I could think of a dozen unique SF-nal MMO foundations that have nothing to do with blasting aliens out of the sky with your space ship.

    Anyone who think Star Trek wasn’t science fiction is, frankly, simply, wrong. Every week it took a look at the current, modern world through the lens of the future and tried to show a better way. Its world view and future tech inspired countless people to adopt careers in science and to look for a better way of living and DIRECTLY influenced the modern world.

    Of course, a MMO would trivialize that. MMOs don’t hold mirrors to society; they gratify the lowest instincts of greed and savagery.

     
  2. p@tsh@t

    January 18, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    “But MMOs are really exempt from such definitions since they don’t tell stories. One of the major failings of these games is that they are just THERE. Any stories they tell are stories you make up. If you log off and never again log on, the world will go on without you and will never realize you’re gone. Like real life, perhaps, but not like stories. MMOs are the games people play because they want to be a central part of a story, and in return, all they tell are stories in which we are unimportant bit players, and so they are fundamentally unsatisfying once the new shininess has worn off.”

    I’m glad I’m not the only cynic in the world…;) But seriously, there’s an entire “Is there any hope for MMORPGS” post in there. Not just SF or Fantasy, the whole genre.

    I’ve got to disagree on the relevancy of myth. Fundamentally, myth has tried to answer the “why,” while science has attempted to explain the “how.” It too is an attempt to show a better way in many respects.

    ST and the best SF does just that. SF (set in our near future at least) has the advantage in terms of relevancy in at least a few ways: 1) the premise is we in the now somehow managed to overcome our current problems to become the them in the future and 2) they in the future share our collective history. In ST, they were our future and we were their past and only a gap of 500 years separated us. About the same as between the Age of Exploration and the present. Doesn’t get much more relevant that that.

    The interesting thing the morality plays of ST show to me though is that despite technological advancement which has the (hopeful) capacity to overcome most of that which plagues us today (starvation, poverty, social inequity, environmental degradation, etc.) what remains are still human problems which are those same conditions that myth attempts to answer and which neither science nor myth has an adequate response.

    Roll file footage of every Bones and Spock discussion. Also roll file footage of every halting Bill Shatner soliloquy. “Why… do we love? Why… do we hate?,” etc.

    “Of course, a MMO would trivialize that. MMOs don’t hold mirrors to society; they gratify the lowest instincts of greed and savagery.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree, but lets turn it around. Do you think MMOs could hold a mirror to society or reinforce something other than greed or savagery? Would we play such a game? Could an MMO actually inspire us to do and be better members of society?

    Or would that simply end up an insidious and corrupted mind control experiment run by evil corporations?

     
  3. tipa

    January 18, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    “Could an MMO actually inspire us to do and be better members of society?”

    Allow me to be cynical a little longer and ask if any MMO has *tried*. One person’s words can change the world. One book can shift history.

    Maybe if a game company hired writers instead of quest designers.

    Actually, “A Tale in the Desert” HAS tried to use the MMO not only as a mirror to society, but also encourages creativity and values people working together.

    That’s one.

    Huge soul killing MMOs like WoW and EQ1 have their place. But the genre will die if we can’t appeal to its better nature. It will die when people see what barren wastes their lives have become.

     
  4. Marchosias

    January 19, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    I think there have been strong contenders in the SF MMO genre: Anarchy Online and EVE Online. Probably rank at least in my top-10 of MMO’s, both rank better than my experience with WoW. And I do think the mythic model can be used for SF stories (it was modelled almost exactly for Star Wars), and I believe it could be adapted to MMO’s as well. As Tipa says, game companies need to start investing in writers, not quest developers in order to take full advantage of this mechanic.

    On subject two – can MMO’s favor/teach moral choices/character:
    I think that of course you can present moral choices/consequences in an MMO – particularly in regards to PK’ing, etc. Even DnD tried to address this with their grid of 9 aligments that could drift based on player actions (Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic / Good, Neutral, Evil). Alignment should be allowed to drift without any character skill losses/gains, but it would definitely impact how NPC’s would interact with them. Technology is probably even capable of rewarding RP behaviour on an RP server – just a thought…

    There are some very good, objective moral definitions available if anyone cares to look (Ayn Rand’s Ethics, for example, or Aristotle’s for another, or even judicial law for that matter) – we’re not stuck with controversial/subjective definitions. (Objective rules are much easier to code than subjective ones…)

    DAoC and WoW both used very limited “faction” definitions, but the technology is there to make much more subtle moral judgements within the game rules. NWN was a bit more elastic, but the Concorde areas of EVE and their factioning seems even better implemented. I believe the area of morals and behavior modelling are ripe for entry into MMO’s. It’s only a matter of time and willingness to implement such rules, the technology is there.

     
  5. pvthudson

    January 20, 2008 at 6:18 am

    saw this on Blues on Friday:

    (from Blues News): GameSpot offers confirmation of rumors reported by WarCry yesterday that P2 Entertainment would be laying off the entire Star Trek Online development team, saying that the predicted pink slips arrived today. GameSpot says that P2 will continue operation as an “engine-only” company, but they have not confirmed the rumors that Cryptic Studios is to be the new developer on the Trekkie MMORPG going forward, though they have word that the game license and existing art assets for the project are being shopped around.

     
  6. Ultimate Game Card

    August 24, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Yeah, there would probably be only Fantasy-SciFi mix. Mainly because companies don’t like to break from the norm, since it’s already a proven success, I think. While yeah, Sci-Fi is a bit too possible future, I think it’s an unexplored territory that developers aren’t ready to dive in.

     
  7. Darnals

    November 15, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    why no hope?
    in the asian mmo always up2date
    but if you wanna make a private server or mmorpg server offline lest try here
    u can ask the question or something if u get difficult setup the server MMORPG Server Files
    If you want see the News information of MMO you can check this MMO Guide and News

     

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