What’s missing from World of Warcraft and other MMOGs

I've thought of this for about 15 months now, but it recently came up in a great conversation I had with two cool people, Tom Baer and Theresa Horstman, yesterday at the Cafe on the Ave.

There is a quest line in WoW that happens pretty early in the life of a Horde player. Thrall wants you to investigate some baddies in a cave outside Orgrimmar, the Shadow Council or whatever they're called want you to go into Ragefire Chasm, etc….

My memory sucks. Most of the quests in WoW blur together for me.

But I do remember this: I thought there was a build-up happening between Thrall and the Council who wanted to usurp power from him. I thought (thoguht) that, as a player, I would get to choose sides. How silly of me to think the developers would let me decide how to role-play.

It is a sad world we live in right now when players cannot count on CRPGs (not just MMOGs) to let us act and make decisions based on information that we get in the game in interesting ways. It's like they go halfway… they have a cool story, but then don't follow through by taking advantage of the interactivity of the medium.

Summary: World of Warcraft and many, many other computer role-playing games are missing the most important part of a role-playing game. They don't let players choose how their character would act and react in the dynamic worlds that've been created for them. I would love to have to make decisions about who to ally with and who to betray–moral and ethical decisions.

WoW instead has different factions you can gain reputation with… but none of them mean anything. Their only mechanic is to act as a time-sink so you can craft stuff with questionable utility. It would be interesting if the factions weren't so clearly divided into who you are meant to ally with and who you are meant to attack. Wouldn't it be cool if gaining faction with Argent Dawn made you lose faction with Cenarian Circle, for example? That would be a real choice.

Wouldn't it be cool to funnel some of your money and wool and silk and other crap collection into the Shadow Council to secretly work agains Thrall or vice-versa rather than just giving it to the Horde collector?

Bah… I ramble… What I want is a game that actually makes me grapple with who I am, who I want my character to be, and who my friends are.

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