February 10, 2005

Is ‘Story’ a Catch-all?

by Andrew Stern · , 10:40 pm

An article in today’s NYTimes about the success of the World of Warcraft MMPORPG ends on a curious note. After describing how the developers have endowed, and continue to endow, their virtual world with a rich history, culture and environmental design, we get this quote from Blizzard’s VP of creative development, Chris Metzen:

You might spend hundreds of hours playing a game like this, and why would you keep coming back? Is it just for the next magic helmet? Is it just to kill the next dragon? … It has to be the story. We want you to care about these places and things so that, in addition to the adrenaline and the rewards of addictive gameplay, you have an emotional investment in the world. And that’s what makes a great game.

Now, I haven’t played WoW, so I may be talking out of my butt here, and am normally happy just to read others’ analyses of online worlds, but is “story” really the right word to use here? Wouldn’t something like “richness of the world” be a better way of describing the nature of the content that players so much enjoy about WoW? Even if there is an overarching story going on, isn’t it the world itself really the big draw for players, as described in the article?

I wonder if “story” sometimes becomes a vague, catch-all way to refer to rich content in a world, even when there is little or no explicit story occurring. When I travel to a foreign country, walk its streets, immerse myself in the richness of its culture, landscape, environment, interact with the locals — which in combination with the “addictive” gameplay are the kinds of things WoW players are primarily enjoying, I’m guessing — I don’t say to myself, “wow, this place has great story”.