Tobold's Blog
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Feeling heroic?

Zoso of Killed in a Smiling Accident remarks that MMORPGs have a general problem with there being too many heroes, and too little regular population. Quote: "the 2006 Azerothian census broke down employment in the region as: 0.4% - Farming (livestock & dairy); 0.5% - Farming (arable); 0.8% - Innkeepers; 1.4% - Retail; 97.9% - The Chosen One Who Will Rid This World Of Evil". He also thinks that "suspension of disbelief is particularly difficult in a superhero game", which in combination with his post title made me think about the quote from The Incredibles, that if everyone is special, nobody is.

Non-heroic activities, like crafting, are nearly universally less popular than the more heroic adventuring. But somehow man's natural preference for stable and safe employment breaks through, and most people, most of the time, try to minimize risk and maximize reward while adventuring. Which, ironically, obviously isn't all that heroic. Instead of heroically helping the weak, we rather help the NPCs who offer a bigger reward.

So I'm wondering if anyone really feels heroic while playing an MMORPG, or if that suspension of disbelief never happens. What do you think?
No, I don't.
MMOs are not immersive/credible enough to feel heroic in the context of the world.
I do feel heroic, however, if I manage to outdps everybody else or am the last man standing in an encounter.
Being the main tank for a raid fight feels pretty heroic.

I think I agree with him about superhero games. That's a genre where the character is usually front and centre and the MMOs turn it into a set of random fights.
I absolutely always never feel heroic; it's just a way of passing the time as far as I am concerned.

Sure you feel good when you achieve something that you have wanted for ages - like the Leeroy achievement as it took a few visits to get it, but day to day playing? Not really
It is raids which sometimes make me feel pretty heroic. Interestingly, for me it depends not on the difficulty on the fight, but on the quality of encounter. How "epic" is boss draw, "epic" lore behind him, "epic" room decorations, and so on.
So I guess, at least in my case, Blizzard succeeded with their intention to make raids "free-for-all".
When running around Azeroth, collecting herbs, hitting the occasional fast-breeding kobold for little quest rewards, I feel anything but heroic. It just seems like a massive slog, and could probably qualify as the Azerothian equivalent of blue collar work; necessary, and looked down on by those snobby white collar people. You know, the ones who make their money by getting OTHERS to kill things - the NPCs.

However, during the scattered arc stories, such as the Scythe of Elune ones, discovering what Saronite is and helping the avatars in Northrend - well THAT'S when you feel heroic.

Yes, you are one of many, but when an arc is written well, has a decent set of story milestones and rewards, as well as you paying attention actually *reading* it then you can be the hero. Even if you're cutting people's ears off.
I don't feel heroic. I feel more like I'm at a Renaissance Festival. The set looks great, but it's all fake with NPCs weakly weaving a storyline about how the world is on the brink of destruction. The Players know it's a lie and the next "EPIC BATTLE" will only start when they group up and enter the portal (aka interactive theater). When the "EPIC BATTLE" show is over they leave the theater and pick up any prizes they may have won.

It's an amusement park with carefully planned levels and items optimized to keep their customers enthralled. In my mind, I'm just one of the many tourists that need to be entertained if they want to see my money next month.

That said, I play WoW because I enjoy it. It's the Las Vegas of the MMO world and I'm okay with that.
Crafting can be seen even in literary heroes. Merlin surely was an alchemist/enchanter right? Look at Dragonlance, where it's heroes were blacksmiths, and innkeepers.

The issue with games is that everyone is a cop or a fireman or a paramedic (guess which one is the tank?).

In WoW, it seems like we are trained warriors of our allegiance. We strive and work hard to improve our faction, at the same time we have to eat, so as people ask for our help, we get paid. What WoW could use, and what we might see in the next expansion is the "Open Quest" concept.

Imagine instead of meeting Mankirk in Crossroads, you instead help him as he is attacked by quillboars (or whatever their name is).

Currently, in WoW, I don't feel particularly heroic, and after experiencing an open quest in champions (no wonder they were so popular in Warhammer!), that it is very much an excellent addition to the quest system.

We now see that WoW is falling behind in it's quest mechanics. We'll hopefully see them improve them in the next expansion and include open quests.

On a related note, I remember playing EQ2, and the quests there were interesting, in that it would just keep adding to the quest until you were all resolved. For example:

Jonas wants to you talk to his brother over by the fountain.
>Brother asks you to help him find his briefcase.
>>You find the briefcase but something is missing from it.
>>>You find the missing files and Brother thanks you.
>>>>Brother tells you that Jonas wants to talk to you.
>>>>>Jonas thanks you for helping Brother.

And the quest ends.

Instead in Wow, the quest would be to talk to Brother and then that's it, now you have a new "Quest". It feels less epic, even though the steps would end up being the same.

So more than just graphics, WoW is showing it's age due to its quest system. One that is only partially kept up by dailies.

Future WoW would do better with more Isle of Quel'danas events, adding open quests, and changing quests to progressive style quests. At that point, I believe that our antics might start feeling a little more heroic.
I think it depends on how often you have played the game / read the book / seen the film. The first time I did Wrathgate felt really heroic, taking part in a world-changing event. The third time had no feeling of involvement for me, much as I didn't care very much the third time I learned that Darth Vader was Luke's father.

The only way around this that I can see is to have many more one-off events, such as the scourge attack on Orgrimmar pre-Wrath. The trouble with this is that they take a lot of developer effort for something that is going to be thrown away. afterwards, so it's hard to see them fitting in the business model of most MMOs.
I never thought that my characters are great heroes, in fact I always find it strange when quests and NPCs go out of their way to tell me how I Am The One or whatever. I always felt that the starter experience set you up as an average Joe who decides to be an adventurer, acknowledging that you're not the only one who does this.

I would actually quite like it if more MMOs offered options for people to be something other than a guy who goes out and kills stuff, by giving you fun things to do even if you focus on trading, gathering or other things.
While the world may be brimming with "heroes", there's still player-to-player interactions that'll make one feel heroic, like the last surviving DPS kiting the boss to death, a lone tank holding a capture point in Arathi Basin, snaring a crucial ship, healing your way through a FUBAR situation, seeing the proverbial light bulb turn on after giving a crucial hint (my favourite) and so on.
No I don't feel heroic. I think that is it very difficult to achieve this in an MMO with thousands of players running around.

There are ways to create the illusion of heroism, but they nearly all involve isolating the player in some way, like some of WOWs epic quest lines and phasing. The problem is these techniques just create little pockets of solo play in an MMO, they don't actually solve the problem of feeling heroic in an MMO.
There have definitely been times when I've felt heroic. As others have mentioned, downing a difficult boss can feel heroic. Once in LotRO monster play I was part of a small band that successfully defended a keep against a vastly superior raiding force. That definitely felt heroic; it was almost like being one of the party at Helm's Deep.

I agree that kill-ten-rats quests don't feel very heroic, though. Heroism requires at least some degree of challenge and risk.
I have absolutely NO interest in feeling "heroic". I do not play MMOs to "be the hero" and I actively dislike "heroic fantasy".

I play MMOs for the chance to see a non-industrialised, magic-based society. I prefer low-fantasy, low-magic settings and Iprefer to play characters whose main concerns are staying alive, feeding themselves and preventing their local area from being overrun by inimical but comprehensible forces such as dangerous wildlife, bandits and incursions from other minor powers.

The activities I most enjoy in-game are inventory management, gathering and management of reagents, crafting materials and other usable goods, and exploring. Fighting things is purely a means to an end, and something I try to avoid as much as possible.

My favorite MMO settings to date are almost all starting areas, where the heroism is kept to an absolute minimum: Qeynos Hills and the Karanas; The Shire; the first 7-8 levels of Guild Wars before the Charr invasion. Many more, but always along those lines.

When it gets to fighting dragons, let alone gods, I move on to another character or another game.
Do I feel heroic while playing a game? Not usually. Even despite not being a unique snowflake, I don't think you can feel heroic all the time. Sometimes Superman is just Clark Kent, someone who tries to blend in with everyone else. Being "special" all the time is a euphemism we use for people we feel sorry for.

Do I sometimes feel heroic? Yeah, but it's in really special situations. The times when my non-healer has used abilities to keep people alive has made me feel heroic. For example, one time my Druid was tanking the Dragonhawk boss in Zul'aman and during the bomb phase I popped out and did a combat rez on someone. We still wiped, but it felt awesome that I had that much control over the situation at that point. That definitely felt heroic to me.

Going around and slaughtering bunnies, or playing fetch, or FedExing a indeterminate object from one NPC to another? Not so heroic.
I don't feel particularly heroic when solo up levels in WoW but I've felt it before in other MMOs, especially EQ2. Something about PvP makes me feel a lot more connected to a game and there's nothing more heroic than swooping in and saving some friendly people from being wiped out by a group of opponents. Saving real players - who can show you their appreciation - is a lot more gratifying than completing a quest.
As another example, here's a response from one of Nick Yee's surveys. I've had similar experiences although not quite as moving as this one:

[L]ike clockwork in the fortress, the adds began to stream in out of nowhere. Mr. Ogre ascertained that we were in over our heads and gave the RUN command (as he was in charge).... But Mr. Ogre showed rare courage by staying until everyone was clear, including me, knowing that he would probably not make it out alive. That was the most selfless thing I had seen done before or since. He stayed, knowing the corpse retrieval that awaited him, the experience he would lose, and the wasted time he was about to experience because of it. He could have ran and lived, but he didnt for our sakes. Since that time, I have played differently, making the same sacrifices in a druid's way. I've taken suicide missions, evac'ed people that were trapped or dieing, and attempted missions for people when I knew full well we were sorely outnumbered. But when you make sacrifices for people, they will remember, and the best groups are those built on loyalty, self-sacrifice, and courage. --- [EQ, male, 32]

That's heroism.
I think the reason I seek out games like EVE and Fallen Earth are that the NPCs matter much less in the long run and player economies take over. While you probably won't feel any more heroic, in those sorts of games crafting and other "support" activities carry more weight and you don't feel quite so much like you are wasting your time.
When stomping around in a Uni fleet under a state of war, protecting young pilots from evil spacepirates... Not exactly heroic, but at least wearing a white hat and supporting a worthy cause.
I can't say I feel heroic while playing, but when I achieve something 'harder', it's an amazing feeling. However, I think it's not an "heroic feeling", as it's just a game.
I always like / prefer it when a game manages to make me feel as "one of the heroes", rather than "THE hero". Being part of something heroic is great. Being motioned aside by Elrond and Gandalf to be let into the secrets of the Ring never was. Geez, guys, how do you plan to keep this journey secret, if you just told a hundred thousand people about it?

AoC, as an other example, made me feel not necessarily heroic but indeed powerful with its gameplay, by means of its involving, intensive and aggressive combat mechanics and style - that was good. At the same time it was trying to tell me a story about what a special snowflake I am .. as special as everyone else - that was unnecessary.
I hesitate to bang the permadeath drum again but you can't feel heroic without the capacity for loss.
No not really.

But that's ok.

You are not supposed to be a hero. You are just another grunt who happens to live in heroic times and participate and witness some heroic events.
Back when I was Warcraft raiding I half-jokingly wrote about my hero bear moments where I'd save my raid. About one encounter in 25 our main tank would die and I'd switch roles from cat DPS to bear tanking, pick up the boss, and save us from a wipe. Tanking always feels a bit heroic, but that specific moment of thinking fast and doing something unique to help your friends was pretty fun. Feral druids in Warcraft are fairly unique in being able to do that, it's odd that MMOs don't design in more opportunities like that.

I never, ever feel heroic for any PvE content. Finishing a quest, killing a raid boss, etc. It's all completely robbed of emotion if it's preprogrammed.
Honestly, alot of the time I feel "Heroic" while playing Darkfail, always coming to the aid of a clanmate no matter what is going on.

Playing WoW for 3 years prior there were "moments" but most of the time I felt as if I was just playing to pay for raid repairs for the gear I got from raids. Viscious Cycle.
As long as the stories are being told in a capable manner, I actually do feel like most games do a good job of making me feel like the hero. Of course, I'm a dedicated soloer so other players are background noise to me. I treat them as more NPC going about their own business.

You might call in MMO solipsism. As far as I can see, the story is about me and me alone.
I’ll have to side with the “none of it’s heroic”. I like the amusement part analogy Basikx made. Very apt.

That being said, I’m not sure whoever generated that poll every played CoH/CoV. That game has vastly more seemingly ordinary folk heading off to their jobs (and running comically away from the bad buys) then heroes. And, even WoW has quite a few unreachable farms and such. Take the flight from Ironforge to Wetlands, while carefully looking down. One can find several farms cut into the hillside. It seems clear to me that Ironforge and the surrounding land is much larger than the bits we “heroes” see. I always assumed the world was full of places we cannot go that contain the bread basket portion of the population. Sort of like the Midwest.
Heroism requires an alternative -- ie cowardice. In the "kill ten rats" MMO, there's no alternative to being the hero, so its not really heroism at all. You'll only feel like the hero when you can place yourself outside the context of "the game" and into the context of "the community". I only see this happening in a sandbox-type MMO, rather than the theme parks that are popular these days. There were plenty of heros (or pseudo-heros, like Adam Ant in UO) in a variety of sandbox games. Heck, even Darkfall has heros and villains.
I've had roleplayer friends feel a bit too front-and-center heroic in some games--for instance, the Age of Conan "Destiny" questline, where you're not just another grunt, but part of some special unique story (in theory). It's a reaction to overwrought roleplayers wanting their characters to be even more special and heroic than a whole world full of heroes. There's a joy, from a roleplaying perspective, in falling into the normal life of a world like Azeroth.
Why does suspension of disbelieve need to equal being 'heroic'?

I find that the line gets blurred for me when I find myself actively disliking the wolvar or getting mad at my mage friend for nuking bunnies or when my little gnome alt decides to color her hair to match her mechanostrider or a guildie runs by me in Dalaran and gives my toon a hug.

Note: I am an ToC/Ulduar tank, but those encounters never take me outside myself and into the world because I am so busy managing, marking, explaning. It's more of a coordination puzzle in 3D.
I usually don't feel heroic because I'm usually involved in crafting/industry in the games I play. But EQ2 gave me a taste of it with the tradeskill epic quest line. Try running around a zone filled with level 72-75 mobs as a level 8-12 adventurer.

The thing that really made me feel heroic was the reactions of players 60-65 levels higher than me to my flying around the Kylong Plains or the players watching me succeed in my running around the Fens. I think part of being heroic is being seen by other players as having done something special.
I believe that wanting to feel like the center of the universe is something that typically appeals mostly to teens.

I prefer knowing there's an invincible opponent somewhere unattainable. Getting introduced to the next *absolute evil(TM)* every second wow-patch got old real fast for me.
This is as good a time as any to point out something incredibly obvious, but never really talked about, that MMOs are extremely libertarian in nature, because not only are players given rewards for their services, in many cases those rewards are shown as an incentive to accept the quest.

Let's face it, in these online gaming worlds, we are all John Galt.

= # # =
When everyone's Super, no one is.

These MMO things are fun to play, but not really the place for heroic storytelling (or much storytelling at all, really). There's really nothing wrong with that, unless you go in expecting something else.

I wrote a little about that in my latest article On Rarity.
I have felt heroic in games, often by doing the things I am NOPT supposed to do, like losing.

I have honestly yelled "save yourselves" to total strangers in L4D, not wanting another to fall to the wave of zombies crashing over me.

The chance to make a stand, to make a futile gesture but in doing so, make a difference . . . heroic. Whether it be in game or out.

Tiananmen Square awaits each of us, in our own way.

If I'm ever not feeling heroic, I go to Stratholme and start slaughtering the Scourge. Or I log off.
Having a civilian population is something I think CoH/V did better than most. Sure, most of them are about as interactive as grass, but they're visible, and more common than players.

On the downside, though. It's hard to feel heroic when you fight the same enemies re-skinned from level five to level cap such that many never completely lose out in comparative power levels.
This is one of the reasons I've never really given City of Heroes and other super hero MMOs much more than a second glance. I tried them, but it was as I thought. I just couldn't take them seriously when I was one of thousands of other superheros.

The world itself didn't makes sense and thus the whole thing broke down for me.

In WoW it's a bit easier to suspend the disbelief because the other players generally just look like "normal people". Sure a guy standing in his full tier eleventy-million epics is some great hero, but most of the populace are just generally normal people.

The most 'heroic' I've ever felt was during the zombie event before Wrath. Players organized teh defense of the Stormwind Cathedral (on an RP server). It was a blast. We were riding around rescuing towns that were besieged by zombies and desperately fighting off waves of undead.

Duskwood and Redridge were glorious battlegrounds where we fought over the bodies of the slain as we slowly forced back the undead masses.

(Of course when all the zombies were defeated I switched sides and helped run another zombie invasion... that was fun too, but less heroic)
I do usually during the mid-levels of MMOs and then in the early endgame before the burnout sets in. Interestingly enough when I played City of Heroes (4 months, never to the end game) I always felt heroic - always. I would battle the 5th Column the Circle of Thorns, etc. I think what helped me feel heroic was the type of character I played (damage dealer) an the fact that I was supposed to be a hero so it was easy to pretend to be one - or else you're in tights for nothing and that's not cool ^__^
I am more surprised by the idea that one should feel heroic when playing. Or that grinding of anything from wolves to Yogg should be.

Invoking a fantasy setting =/= invoking the same ideals or emotions.
Feel heroic? Those are rare moments for me. I felt heroic when I helped a lvl 60 warlock (I was 70) get his mount. It was a miracle I survived that one. I felt heroic stunning a flag carrier at the last second to win Eye of the Storm 2000-1999. Other than that, feeling heroic never happens. Mostly because of things like "LFM 1 DPS, pst stats, specs, and link achievement." You are constantly weighed and measured in linear MMOs (ie. WoW)

If an MMO had a more diverse population (socializers, crafters, farmers, etc) it would seem more real with each person's idea of success shining through in that diversity.
I detect census fraud - the sum is 101%. It is a glimpse of what is going to happen next year when the 'real' census is done...
WoW itself doesn't make me feel heroic but in my head the way I imagine my WoW character it would be heroic.

He has a good point - I don't feel heroic IN WoW due to 97% of the population being similar to me.

In my head: My druid is a powerful Tauren who can transform into different forms at a click of his fingers, entangle an enemy in vines, reign down the wrath of the moon on his foes, transform into a mighty bear and crush his foes, transform into a ferocious lion and tear at his foes, turn into a tree and and spread nature magic that heals and nourishes nearby nature.

In WoW: I get 2shotted by a full epic rogue.
Heroic? ATitD and EVE.
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