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The Where is the Boss of Me

September 13, 2012

Dear Reader,

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?

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and puzzled)

 

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2012 9:34 am

    As someone who started in role playing long before 16 bit graphics I’ve also thought a great deal about this and I believe it comes down to mass. If you look at any MMO it is crawling with heroes, all out doing heroic things – at least when they aren’t trying to grief each other. If you argue that role playing quests are basically an updated version of the Labors of Hercules that makes it very difficult to translate to an MMO. The quest system really started with the single-player game, where it could work in accordance with myth, and was directly translated to the MMO by the early pioneers. It has, largely, remained unchanged since.

    I’m not wild about the heart system to be honest. I think they would have been bettered served to just gate the merchants behind doing a certain number of DE in an area, maybe place a karma cost on access. It does feel more organic than the standard quest system. The characters are really not the hero out doing heroic things, that’s your personal story, they are just part of mob of mercenaries who are stamping down on a local problem. Most of the hearts are not very heroic (gather goo, feed cows) but they really shouldn’t be. The system is not the work of heroes, it’s the work of an armed gang.

    Right now in WoW the lower zone questing does feel more like an RPG quest, but that’s only because (even with the CRZ fiasco) the zones are mostly empty. Wait for the flood of new human monks lined-up at the farm waiting for the Princess to respawn. Even with the artificiality of the heart system it is better than the ‘every man a hero’ approach of the traditional MMO.

    So, to answer the original question (assuming you are playing the character and not just blowing through content to hit end game), I’d say Door B. It is less meaningful as it is just doing grunt work in an area, but it is still better than the alternative where 50 other people are stacked-up waiting for a chance to rescue the prize cow. I think that you have to consider the hearts / DE and the personal story as the ‘quest solution’ in GW2. Taken together they closer to answer A.

  2. Ettesiun permalink
    September 13, 2012 10:30 am

    In fact I would love to be able to turn over this part of the UI until I spoke to the HeartKeeper. As you describes, very often the problem are self evident : poisonning, killing bandits, recovering broken parts of robots, etc… I would love that characters recognize my work before finishing the tasks. Somethink like ” Oh I have seen you have started to bring the spider down ! You ‘re such a hero. While you are at it, can you also [List of tasks to do] ? It should be great” and now the tasks list appears. Less evident tasks will also appears.

    Just a point : it feel to me that I help a population more than the location itself. And in some case, the population is down to one person : the farmer, the mad scientist, etc…

    I love to help these populations when I succeed not looking at the tasks : it is about giving gifts VS doing chores. It is about Karma VS Money : I am doing it because I am a hero, not because I am a greedy mercenary. Someting very simple : they never say that they will offer something in exchange ! They never pay you : they reward you. And one part of the reward is fame (karma point), the other part is being gratefull : they let you buy their belongings or offer their secret recipes.

    Other time, I am trying to complete map, and then I find those quest as boring as old one. I am not the biggest fan of my completionist mindset : we do not like each other 😉

    • September 17, 2012 2:22 pm

      Yes, I was contemplating something like this, too, where the “heart” didn’t pop up until you experimented in the area a bit. That way, your actions and investigations would cause the heart to appear, filling in what other tasks might help the area, rather than just being told as soon as you cross an imaginary boundary line. That would feel much more organic and player-generated, but overall I’m still much happier with the heart system than the more traditional quest-giver system.

      I do agree that some areas feel much sparser than others, and that you’re helping the population there. I see the difference, but helping remove poisoning from a swamp where no one really lives still feels like more helping the land than the population. Sure, a water table might be connected, but the one warden who’s keeping an eye on the place doesn’t feel as much like a populace as much as just a dude hanging out there because of work (;

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. September 13, 2012 10:45 am

    Personally I dont think it matters if I get told by an NPC to do something (that might help the world, see EPL quests in WoW) or if it’s a heart. My problem with hearts though are exactly the questions you asked at the end. You see I liked to read through the quest text and read about the lore and background, even if it’s something like: “the population of Nightsabers is threatening the ecological balance of Teldrassil”. To me getting the quest from a person thus gives me also a reason as to why I need to be doing it. This might sound ridiculous but who knows if you by killings worms on the farm dont so more harm than good, maybe the farmerliked the worms in her garden?
    My personal problem with Guild Wars 2 was also that I never really got into the story in the same way that WoW offered me through quest texts and the mechanic of hearts made my questing experience very disjointed and lacking a flow (I only played in te first beta) it turned out to be more like. “grind this heart””. I am not so saying WoW’s shopping list is better but I like questing where there is not something on the map telling me where to go or what to do but instead encourages me to read the quests and immerse myself in the world. As to your question which I think is correct A, B or C I’d have to say A but I see it as something bad. In my opinion helping a geographical region places your avatar often in the role of “the hero” of t he game more often than into “a hero” (the phenomena of personal stories) and that is bad because it is so immersion breaking to see god knows how many Darths and Chosen of Aessina walk around. Being just “a hero” helps with it tremendously it enhances my questing experience by not making me into some “larger-than-life legend”.

    So you might also want to add the positive/ negative side effects of helping a person or geographical region like:

    Helping a geographical region gives questing more meaning but can be immersion breaking as you suddenly become “the hero”.

    Helping a person can be non-stimulating as the consequence questing does not see meaningful, But you are more free to define your character, since he is mearly “a hero”.

    My thoughts on the subject great post as always!

    • September 17, 2012 2:17 pm

      The distinction between “a hero” and “the hero” is an interesting one. Some people are citing the population size of TSW (as small as it is) as one of its problems, as having 100s of people running around hurts the horror genre, or, in your words, having too many “the heroes” helping cheapens the whole thing.
      I’m not sure why the whole “personal storyline” mechanic has become so popular; it seems to me that it does make the game more individual-PC-centric, which makes less since in an MMO. I suppose it all falls back to suspension of disbelief, as does killing the same raid boss over and over again.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  1. Ascension of player avatars and the problems it brings, Or how life was simpler before someone told me I had a story of my own « Cloak of Thoughts

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