Thursday, November 17, 2011
Spoilers and virtual evil
One of my readers yesterday had an interesting theory, where he thought that the reason for the NDA being upheld for Star Wars: The Old Republic so long was that Bioware didn't want story spoilers all over the internet spoiling people's fun at release. Whether you believe that or not, it appears obvious that this plan is deeply flawed, because it breaks down on release day. We will have the first database sites with spoilers for many quests before the year is over.
Story spoilers might be a particular problem for Star Wars: The Old Republic because of the moral story choices. The typical MMORPG gamer is a person who when given the choice between saving a virtual princess or raping and robbing her bases his choice on which option gives the better reward, after looking up the spoilers on the internet. Previous Bioware single-player games with moral choices were appreciated not because players thought that making moral choices in a game counted for anything, but because it enabled them to play through the game twice and get to see different things.
Many players believe that good and evil doesn't exist in games. Apart from all of us playing mass-murderers whose kill count makes Anders Behring Breivik look like an amateur, we also don't hesitate to torture virtual victims if a quest demands it from us. Theft and armed robbery are so commonplace in MMORPGs that they are hardly worth mentioning. While many of these crimes are committed against unfeeling NPC characters, there are also new player ganking events in PvP games. The general thinking is that games are just games, and thus moral choices in games are just about exploring options, and your actions in a game don't say anything about you as a person in the real world.
That makes games with moral choices a no-win proposition: Either my moral choices in the game count for something, at which point I would be bound by my real world morality to behave nicely in the virtual world. Or my moral choices in the game don't count for anything, and then I might as well base my choice on whether to torture the prisoner on a spoiler database telling me that torturing him gives me the +3 blaster, while letting him free rewards me with the cloak of agility. Hey, I could use that blaster, lets apply the electrodes!
Apart from the moral choices, it appears clear to me that very quickly we will see the most dramatic events of Star Wars: The Old Republic as videos on YouTube. That is what happened to the epic Wrathgate cinematic of Wrath of the Lich King. Forums, blogs, and all sorts of other websites will be full of spoilers of SWTOR very quickly. Every time I mention that I would like to have more puzzles and intellectual challenges in my MMORPGs, somebody comments that this is impossible, because of spoilers. But that would mean we also can't have any epic, interesting or surprising stories in MMORPGs. Personally I will try to avoid all spoilers, but that isn't going to be all that easy. Especially with group content, where your fellow players tend to brand you a slacker if you haven't watched the video on YouTube before trying it for the first time.