Hero with a thousand faces
One of the great promises MMOs make to players is the chance to be a hero. You’re the knight in shining armour, the ONE who makes a difference. Typically you arrive at a village to see a question mark or icon above an NPC.

“Say there <Your Name Here>, our village is under attack by an army of undead ghouls! Would you be as kind as to enter yonder forest and slay them for us? In return I shall give you the Mighty Sword of Mightiness…”

And off you go into the forest, slay the requisite number of ghouls and “turn in” your quest for money, experience points (XP) and/or a item of supposed great worth. There can be nothing more satisfying than saving a village and stopping “evil” right?

Surely this is an important victory over the forces of Destruction/Chaos/Unspeakable Evil?

MMOs suggest that through our actions, we have changed “the world”. It’s central to the narrative of your characters journey within the game. It is the very definition of being a hero; the world is a stage, our actions are larger than life.

As you turn from the NPC to hit the road and find even more villages and kittens to save you hear the same NPC ask a new would be hero…

Say there <Their Name Here>, our village is under attack by an army of undead ghouls! Would you be as kind as to…”

Whaaaaa?

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Didn’t you just slay those same ghouls? Didn’t you just get the personal thanks of the village elder? Didn’t he give you a special reward?

Persistent games worlds are by their very nature static
Of course veteran MMO players well understand the underlying mechanics that drive these quests, and that with thousands – if not millions – of gamers playing following the well trodden path as them, there is no way to make each of their journeys unique. Time, development costs and the constraints of technology force players and developers into building and experiencing what are static worlds: in game parlance “theme parks”.

Each quest is a ride, and players are free to ride it again and again, and WoW is often cited as the pinnacle of the theme park MMO experience.

However most players are acutely aware of the façade: they know that in the end their actions mean nothing. The same NPC will ask thousands of players to complete the same task.

Make me a hero! Please!

In response to this disappointment, or disenchantment, players and commentators are increasingly asking developers to “make them feel like a hero”. They want the world to change in accordance with their actions.

Developers now have a heavy burden: making each one of their thousands of players feel unique and special. Blizzard has started this process already in their utilising phasing technology. Players completing a quest chain will see the world differently to those who don’t.

Ultimately, this is good as far as the development of story telling in games and enriches the player’s experience.

But ultimately, a developer can’t make you a hero. You have to be one. Slaying a Boss, gaining an epic weapon or killing ten thousand ghouls don’t make a hero. These take time, persistence or skill. Or simply grinding until you achieve the goal you want.

What makes a hero?
What does it mean to be a hero in an MMO when there are thousands, if not millions, of others completing the same journey as you?

To me it depends on how you define “hero”.

Heroes are defined by their actions, and the impact they make on other individuals. In an MMO, the AI controlled NPC does not care if you kill the dragon. It’s a scripted event. The ones that do care are other players. These are your guild mates, or the people you randomly group with in PuGs (Pick up Groups).

Ask any MMO player what there most memorable game experience is and it’s not the monsters they killed or NPC they saved. It’s the great grouping experience where everyone pulled their weight.

It’s the tank that holds aggro and keeps everyone alive.

It’s the healer who keeps everyone in the group up during the most intense boss fights.

It’s the high level player who spends hours running their guild mate through low level content.

It’s the people who give you gear, gold or help without expecting anything in return.

Not “heroic” in the sense of slaying a dragon.

But it’s these actions that make a real difference.

So, next time you ask a game developer to make you feel like a hero, remember you already have that choice. Hero’s act; they make a difference.

Want to be a hero? Be that person.

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