Game Development Reference
1.2 The Play's the Thing
As writers, we instinctively want to tell the richest story possible. This is especially
true in MMOs, a style of game with a generally slower pace than platformers or
shooters, which therefore allows for more emphasis on plot development. But we
must never forget that we're making a game, a medium based around player-driven
action. We mustn't fall into the trap of confusing the goal of inspiring play with
leading players by the nose through a story we stubbornly insist on telling.
Play is instinctive. Like animals, we begin to play soon after we are born, using
play to practice fundamental behaviors that we will employ later in life. From peek-a-
boo we graduate to other forms of play, moving from the simple and childlike games
to team sports, as well as games of logic and chance.
Personal computers and consoles have helped sophisticated gameplay flourish,
because they allow an intellectual expression of many of the same primal behaviors
present in simpler types of games. But at the same time, these gaming platforms
have pulled us back from gaming as a shared experience to games that we engage in
individually, or at least on a smaller scale.
MMOs are compelling because they break that mold, taking the personal com-
puter or console and connecting it to thousands of others. The intellectual and per-
sonal game becomes social, making it a team experience once again. In fact, one of
the core tenets of MMOs is team building, whether it's a group that comes together
to fight in a dungeon or a guild that comes together to take on raid challenges.
1.3 Story and Play in Harmony
In contrast to play, storytelling is learned behavior unique to humans. Animals com-
municate, but as far as we know, they don't share stories with one another. Story-
telling is a skill we develop, used to convey lessons, histories, and shared experiences.
As much as we want to tell a good story, we must never lose sight of the fact that
this medium is about playing. Therefore, the storytelling must serve the game, since
there won't be an opportunity to tell the story unless the person playing your MMO
finds the gameplay satisfying.
We must not see ourselves as writing a story onto which someone else will tack
a game. Such an approach will fail, because computers and consoles are inherently
inefficient mediums for expressing the subtlety of good stories. What we are doing
is building a game, all the parts of which are carefully crafted to fit together and
inherently convey a story without it needing to be explicitly spelled out.
Fortunately for us, computers and consoles give us lots of tools to work with be-
yond written words. For starters, we have colors, movement, and sound—extremely
powerful tools with which to create mood and convey story. We can use them to
all sorts of effects upon the people playing our game, from scaring them to thrilling
them to making them sad. It's our job to craft play that elicits the emotional reactions
that dialogue and written words do in other mediums.