Limited Narrative, Worthy Stories

Sims hanging out around a campfire

Image from https://www.ea.com/games/the-sims/the-sims-4/pc/media

Now that I have a gaming blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about the blogs I’ve read through the years, and how important they were to my enjoyment of various games. Blogs helped me find my footing in my first MMOs, but even before that, they provided a sense of community around a shared love of games and virtual worlds.

Before social media, it seemed the Web was full of sites detailing players’ progression through games. Since the Internet was still in it’s relative infancy (I’m thinking late 90’s – early 00’s here), the games being documented in these blogs were typically offline-only. But the community that grew up around games was just as social — perhaps more so — than the ostensibly social MMOs of today.

Fans of the Sims regularly blogged as their characters, writing about their mostly mundane doings in Pleasantview or Strangetown. Writers would show off recent fashion choices or a major renovation, or just blog about their sim’s day. Some creators wrote lengthy fictions based on their sim families, or recorded carefully-staged machinima. You can find some of these blogs, still regularly updated, decades after the game’s release.

Documenting Play

Yesterday, as I wrote about One Hour One Life, I felt compelled to describe several recent ‘lives’ I’d led in-game. As I started my draft, I realized that I was writing a lot about how ‘Fate’ was born to a mother who was immediately murdered, or how ‘Ed’ had ancestors who tragically decided to start a base in the desert, far from adequate food.

As I felt compelled to document these lives, I discovered that they felt noteworthy because they were unique. It is what makes perusing the OHOL family trees to reminisce about past play-throughs so strangely compelling, as well. Like OHOL lives, Sims stories are unique, and progress linearly — we can’t go back and replay.

But it’s not the same with most themepark MMOs. One player’s experience leveling through Battle for Azeroth content is basically the same as any other’s. Sure, you can choose which zones to travel through first, you can skip some quests. Gear drops differ across play-throughs. But, assuming you keep playing, you’ll basically end up in the same place.

In the Sims, or in another sandbox, characters can end up in wildly different places. The journey feels special, worth noting, whether a character ends up ruling the town from their mansion on a hill or sleeping on a park bench.

A graveyard in One Hour One Life

In One Hour One Life, each ‘life’ is more compelling, because it is unique.

Stories Worth Telling

Absent some creativity, I’m not sure that most of these stories are really worth telling. This is why I never delved too deeply into other players’ Sims blogs, and why I cut the narrative about my characters from yesterday’s post.

But the desire to relate the unique moments in a game indicates something special about the way players connect to a game.

Even though themeparks like WoW or EQ2 have enormous quantities of lore, and player characters are enmeshed in this lore, I can rarely recall the stories my character has ‘lived’ through. It wouldn’t occur to me to blog about how my Tauren Shaman felt while questing in Stonetalon Mountains.

But I feel “Fate’s” story deeply, sparse as it is. I basically spent an hour maintaining a bunch of gooseberry bushes, and nursing a series of children through toddler-hood. There’s nothing there, really, but I keep thinking about it. At least until the next ‘life’ grabs me. The power of the story lies in what is left unwritten.

This August, Belghast from Tales of the Aggronaut is sponsoring Blaugust Reborn, a month-long celebration of blogging, for both new and veteran bloggers. Learn more or join in here!

4 thoughts on “Limited Narrative, Worthy Stories

  1. There’s another side to this. It’s true that the basic elements in an MMORPG are consistent between players but that’s as far as it goes. The way each player approaches them is unique. Even if you group up to quest, the individual experience of each player in that group will vary considerably, as anyone who’s tried to lead a group of several players through a zone from quest hub to quest hub can wearily attest.

    Then there’s the very important recognition factor. Reading the account of someone else who has done a quest you have done or leveled a class you have leveled triggers all kinds of memories. Skilled (and, frankly, barely competent) comedians can often get laughs just by mentioning things their audience recognize – people respond strongly to familiarity. Similarly, a good writer (or even a barely competent one) can often hold the interest of readers by writing about something the readers have experienced for themselves.

    I love reading other bloggers tales of doing content of almost any kind in MMOs I’ve played and I particularly enjoy it when it’s content I’ve done. I like blogs that include a lot of session-by-session narrative. I also really like things like the Sims stories you mention, even though I have never played the Sims, so it works both ways.

    I’d encourage any gaming blogger, particularly MMO players, not to be shy of writing up their adventures just because they’re “the same as everyone else’s”. They never are!

    • abbi

      I agree about a lot of this, and I realize my writing isn’t terribly clear. When I wrote ‘Absent some creativity, I’m not sure that most of these stories are really worth telling,’ I was referring specifically to trying to relate the experience of playing a sandbox like OHOL. It’s really hard to write 500 compelling words about staking up gooseberry bushes — at least I couldn’t manage to make it work at all…

      I definitely don’t want to sound like I’m discouraging anyone from writing about their sessions! I enjoy reading about other people’s experiences in MMOs as well, and find I get more from it story-wise than from my own gameplay. Since I’m missing a lot of the background lore, I often lose the thread of the story when in-game myself.

      Since they can be replayed, though, I have never felt an urge to document my experiences in themeparks.

      Even though my journal of maintaining a farm was not good to read, I found it really satisfying to write about, and I’m interested in why I’m still thinking about these characters a couple of days later.

  2. I hadn’t heard of One Hour, One Life before and it does seem like a great idea.

    Interesting to hear Bhagpuss’ take. I had always assumed no one wants to hear the nitty gritty of my doings in an MMO, but he’s right about the recognition factor. Even hearing someone complain about how hard it is to find your way around such-and-such region can be enjoyable to reminisce about. Like bonding through shared suffering! Even more so with special moments and achievements.

    • abbi

      The recognition factor is really important, and I think it has a lot to do with how communities have grown up around game blogging. Even though we are playing together, at lot of the game is experienced in isolation. It’s good to connect over these moments, though I guess I’m still a little dubious about sharing the more routine aspects of my play sessions. Bhagpuss’s comment is making me rethink this, though.

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