MMORPGs as interactive entertainment

Stargrace has a recent post talking about game and movie crossovers. The topic interested me particularly because of the interactive role we get to play as protagonist:

The appeal of most video games is the chance to be the hero yourself and directly influence the action. Often games will echo the kind of scenes you are familiar with from a typical action film, sci-fi space adventure or war movie, but they allow you to play the lead role.

If you’ve played many of the games in this genre you’re used to your character being portrayed as a leading character – in Guild Wars 2 we are ‘the Commander’ of a vast allied army and in World of Warcraft we’ve progressed to being the leader of a class order. Not that all of the MMORPGs give you a leading role, Lord of the Rings Online is careful to portray your character as heroic, but not quite in the same league or position as members of the Fellowship of the Ring. In Rift your character is one of many ‘Ascended’ that are tasked with saving the world – powerful, but not unique.

A newly constructed (Defiant) Ascended

My attitude to interactive versus passive entertainment has shifted a lot over the years, and I would say playing MMORPGs for the last eleven years has contributed to that. I do watch movies and TV but rarely, and never as my first choice of activity. These-days, if the opportunity presents itself I would always choose to play a game over sit watching something.

TV hasn’t evolved to offer dialogue choices yet…

MMORPGs in the current era present gaming that is varied and potentially very social. They have the continuity of characters that a TV series might have, but they are interactive – you direct the action to a larger extent. Unlike single player games or console games they have longevity and often no distinct or planned end. Some MMORPGs have even managed to release content with a regularity that mirrors a show’s seasons to some extent (e.g. GW2).

Leading the troops into battle as ‘the Commander’

So I would value MMORPGs as overall holding more entertainment value than single player games in general, although single player games may have more complexity of gameplay or more choices as a character, they rarely match the MMORPG base playtime and lack their longevity. The chance for random social encounters, grouping and even conflict with other players in MMOs is something else that passive entertainment and single player games cannot come close to matching.

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3 Responses to MMORPGs as interactive entertainment

  1. Bhagpuss says:

    I’d agree with nearly all of that, except that if GW2’s Living Story was a tv show we’d get four episodes a year and if you removed the time-sinks they’d take about 15-20 minutes each to watch.

    There’s a problem with the analysis, though. Stargrace quotes Mark kermode, who knows enough about video games to fill the back of a postage stamp and still leave enough space for a movie review, saying something he often says, namely that movie adapatations of video games are “just watching someone else playing a video game”. He’s been saying that for a decade or more and it was quite apposite for a while. He doesn ‘t seem to have realised, however, that over the last few years “watching someone else playing a video game” has become a major cultural phenomenon. Indeed, watching other people playing video games is probably something far more people do nowadays than go to the cinema to watch movies.

    Interactivity is key even there, though. Watching Twitch streams isn’t passive – or it doesn’t have to be. You can interact with the streamer in a very meaningful way. Mark Kermode is also hyper-sensitive over the use of mobile phones in cinemas, largely because he’s an extreme example of a movie nerd, but leaving that aside he’s also far on the wrong side of a generation gap that makes the 1960s look like a crack in the cultural pavement. For the digital generation *everything* is interactive. Why would you sit and passively watch a movie when you can share it with your peer group in real time via the telepathic link in your pocket – your phone?

    World is changing – faster than most people over 20 can comprehend, let alone keep up.

    (Sorry, as usual have to poist comment twice to get it to work).

  2. Jeromai says:

    The mediums are also merging with experimental games. I picked up Late Shift for the PS4 the other day (also available on PC via Steam) and found it a very seamless interactive movie experience. The technology has progressed that much, I guess.

    Basically, you have decision points pop up where you choose what the protagonist does every so often and the film continues from there. The acting is a little bit cheesy but watchable. Haven’t had the time to finish it yet, but its blend of mediums is interesting.

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