The Where is the Boss of Me
I’ve been thinking a half-formed thought for a couple of weeks now. It relates to the subtle psychological difference in what saving the world means. Some games portray saving the world as saving the people in it, sometimes even at the detriment of the world itself. In other games, saving the world is a broader term, saving all the things within the world as well as the people. The debate came to me as I was playing Guild Wars 2. While, yes, there are hearts hovering above specific people’s heads, it’s not so much that you’re helping those people; you’re helping the land itself; you’re truly saving the world.
How does this affect how we think about our actions? Does it at all? These questions created the half-formed idea. I’ve tussled with it and tried to nail it down, but I’m just not having any luck, so I thought I’d bring it to the most impartial, fair, and logical audience I could find, the Internet. Clearly, I don’t have many audiences to choose from!
I’ve broken it down into three possibilities. I’m sure there’s more, but these are the three I find most likely.
A) helping a geographical location makes questing more meaningful because it’s not about a person helping another person (a specific questgiver), but instead about doing good in general, about leaving a place better than you found it (a là the Girl Scouts).
B) helping a geographical location makes questing less meaningful because you’re not necessarily doing something that matters to anyone. Sure, the farmer may appreciate you clearing some worms out of her garden, but she was doing okay without it anyway, so thanks, yes, you get some karma, but it’s not as big a deal.
C) it doesn’t matter at all; the questing mechanic is just a mechanic and is meaningless philosophically and psychologically. Hello, Buzz Killingtons of the world.
Personally, I think I err towards choice A. I think that helping a geographical region feels like a more meaningful activity. For one, you’re not technically being told by an in-game character what to do; I feel like the heart popping up is more your character observing a region and noting the problems. Secondly, it means you’re taking the initiative. Once you’ve identified the problems, you decide to do something about it. Also, you’re not being bribed into doing it for material rewards. Yes, you gain experience, but again, your character doesn’t know what experience is, so it feels less self-serving. That seems like the heroes, then, are more heroic (more on that next time, though, since basically all the story NPCs I’ve encountered are monsters). I think it feels more like you’re taking ownership, too, of the maps. Instead of a laundry list of quests that you run around and check off, you’re instead helping establish control over a region, meaning that your specific tasks feel more important.
Then again, part of me says this sounds like a lot of nonsense. Maybe it’s an issue of the depth of role play, but I suspect that to most players the difference between the heart mechanics and a yellow exclamation mark are microscopic at best; you’re still getting a reward, though intangible (xp and karma), you’re still doing what you’re told (by the game engine) and reporting to a specific character when you’re done (if you want to browse their shop).
Yet another, smaller part says that it’s actually worse to just do things, as described above; how do you know before you even speak to someone what needs to be done? Are hearts really just a convenience feature that make no in-game sense?
So what do you think, dear reader? Is helping a place better than helping a person, or does it make no difference at all?
Stubborn (and puzzled)