Star Wars: The Old Republic - Please Save Us From Ourselves

Everyone mentions classes and combat but who knows the actual mechanics? We assume everything works the usual themepark way. And we're right to assume the scheme: linear sequence of quests until level-cap. Then dungeon raids to loot the coolest gear before others. The balance of usual classes; cooldown abilities; talents, etc. etc.

In all MMO's you gain levels and complete quests to get better and better equipment. Seeing your character get bigger, tougher, harder and more muscular is the current standard of any online game, something that in the absence of negates the existance of a massive online world. The only goals for playing are meta-goals, achievements.

Players, discussing a new MMO, like BioWare's upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, already know that the fulcrum of it is greed... and there's also other things they assume, otherwise how can they discuss what a smuggler does, not knowing anything about the game? Obviously the important things are gear and power. There's nothing else. It is a sad reason to play. MMO's are addictive anti-anxiety pills.

After this premise, let's get to the topic. Star Wars: the old Republic has the first chance to detox players, and if they fail, many should follow to do it right: IF done right, it can divert players from their obsessive goal, as we said, greed and the addiction to it.

Again, back to the point. SW:TOR doesn't want to be a so-called "sandbox" type of online game like Galaxies (why should it? They don't sell), and that's probably good... those simulations tend to forget the beauty of story telling. In The Old Republic the character does a sequence of quests, and probably also gets equipment as he goes. But this doesn't necessarily make it another typical themepark, like all MMO's after WoW came and established this is the sub genre of MMO's we like.

Ray Muzyka, head of Bioware, declared that their quests are never about collecting rats, they're based on story: this is new! A normal WoW player needs a quest that's generic and easy to do because what's important is the equipment at the end of it, no wait not even that, just reaching the end of the levels. Remember Hellgate:London, from the same persons who invented the Diablo treadmill? Quests in that game are about collecting kills and objects: that game is horrible to me because the "story" doesn't even try to justify why the character would even care, the NPCs just see you and ask you to be delivery boy... the tasks are left purposely repetitive and vague so that you may NEVER EVER loose sight of meta-goals.

So what about TOR? If the questing system is ruled by story telling, and because of its enlightened dispotism you are forced to follow it or you're in trouble, the player's meta obsessions will disappear. What can story do in a MMO, then?

1) it kills meta-gaming. How? Being forced to follow a story means, willing or not, you have to think as the character thinks. It forces people, yes it's violence, but if players, left free, go meta-gaming, then they cannot be free, it steals their freedom to be stupid.

2) Story being paramount now dominates gear&power. You will still enjoy bracing your new pen... i mean rifle... no i mean penis, but loot and level-cap obsessions will not tyrannize your mind anymore.

But the biggest achievement, one that i don't even think it's going to be in TOR or not, is that story reconciles persistancy with virtuality, so a simulative day/night casual progression, with drama. I'll explain: when a player completes his story-line, he has to face a "finale". If you don't follow the story, if you make the wrong choices, you may end up as a scum, hated, hunted. Your condition will be intolerable, tho it might have its charms. One would expect that you, as a player, would have to deal with your virtual everyday life only up to the next expansion Bioware make, then you have a chance to improve your social condition. This also sort of explains what they mean as "Tor is Kotor 3, 4, 5, etc.". So the chain is: the story creates consequences, consequences create a virtual life, an end-game career. The fear of end game, uncomfortable consequences destroys greed and addiction to power, reminds you that you're in "this" world to socialize with people, to face a certain life and certain foes. Fear re-establishes an order to things, a good regime over the anarchy of your low instincts. That's why TOR might "free us from ourselves".

This possibility, for this TOR would actually mix a unique story, its prescripted drama, with an on-going virtual life that you chose for yourself, which is realistic, persistant, ongoing. It's as if you just acted in a play, and the epilogue defines your normal life. It's a writer's dream, and it's one of the many proofs that sanction the supremacy of interaction, choices, over spectating a story.

To conclude, i don't know what Bioware will actually do with their MMO, some say they didn't divulge any information about it because they don't know it themselves. This article simply wants to point out that the passage from fixed story to virtuality is a miracle only videogames can do, and it has a lot of potential.


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