I was reading a recent post on Massively that was summarizing and discussing the various points of view about why fantasy is so heavily represented in MMOG settings. I might be in the minority, but I disagree with Kyle’s ascertain that the industry is ripe for a non-fantasy/sci-fi gaming experience. Personally, I’m not likely to play any game that isn’t fantasy or science fiction. The reason is quite simple. MMOG universes are an escape for me. They are a complete departure from what is currently possible in my sphere of reality. I have zero interest in playing anything that could be remotely possible in my life time. When I want present-day something, I can turn on the television or read any number of books. That’s not what I’m looking for in a game.
Beyond my disinterest in anything that quacks like reality, I think many gamers are drawn to and intrigued by magic. I know I am. Whether it’s playing a character that dabbles in its darker nature, which includes the super natural or the positive aspect of white magic, for thousands – if not millions of people, magic is a fundamental part of existing in a virtual universe. One of the first things many potential players wanted to know about Lord of the Rings Online was would there be magic.
I think we can look to literature and the motion picture industry to see the truth of my statement. We obviously have many of both, that aren’t science fiction or fantasy. However, there is a clear and evident trend toward making more fantasy movies in the past several years, not fewer of them. And we have fantasy authors grabbing press attention, reader adoration and publishing top selling books. I can’t recall a time when fantasy as worlds, have been so prevalent in our entertainment choices. This isn’t just a MMOG trend although it’s present in the gaming industry from the start, I think it’s a growing trend overall. I don’t think game-makers publishing fantasy are doing so as a cop-out, I think fantasy is STILL want people want.
Why are we still so hooked on fantasy? If I had to hazard a guess without any data to support my assertion, I would say it’s rather easy to explain. As people’s lives get more complicated, stressful and unfulfilling on some levels, we seek opportunities outside of ourselves where we can feel more powerful, in control and indestructible. We want to have truly out of body experiences – not my body, not my time period and not remotely like my reality. This can be satisfied by fantasy or science fiction.
In the case of science fiction, those experiences are provided by mastering external objects – lasers, spacecraft, cybernetics, etc. – basically, technology. Whereas fantasy does this through a direct extension of self - growth in learning, experience and power in order to wield direct magic – wizards, sorcerers, necromancers. Plus the traditional combat roles who can call upon magic to their aide in battle – Paladins, Shadow Knights, Druids, etc. In these cases magic is a manipulation of nature or its forces, which produces an organic extension of self.
In either case, whether you’re playing science fiction or fantasy, there is a magic of sorts happening. For all intensive purposes, the advanced technology witnessed in science fiction, might as well be magic. The only difference between the two is the root source of the energy. Which is why people readily float between the two, and someone who doesn’t like one is not likely to enjoy the other. This is the chief reason why a game like The Agency, has absolutely no appeal for me.
I don’t think people are dying for something that isn’t fantasy. We love fantasy. What I could use a change from is high fantasy. Let’s create worlds that are fantastical in nature without the dwarves, elves and ogres. I could even tolerate a world that is a parallel universe to current day earth, if magic was a core principal of that world. Think The Amber Chronicles, by Roger Zelazny. Please someone take me there!
Unfortunately, the one dry aspect of fantasy that won’t just die already is feudalism as the representation of the political hierarchy, which invariably leads us to worlds that look like medieval Europe, also known as, the middle ages. Now that’s something I’d like to see change. I’m not happy when I’m watching a science fiction movie that insists on visiting worlds that look like an amalgamation of the various countries or races during the middle ages. I am SO over that depiction.