Why do people care so much about the story in World of Warcraft, to the point that they are rioting across social media and freaking out in the comments? That’s something WoW Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi has addressed in a rather timely new interview with him out on Aussie website Science Alert this week; he argues that story is what motivates players to do – and to justify – what they do in MMO worlds.
“If you look at story as a layer that we put atop the game, it’s a motivational factor in the things that you do and your actions in the world and it gives them consequence and weight,” he says. “It puts emotionality behind things. Why am I killing gnolls anyway? Just a bunch of furry dudes that are minding their own business. Without the story, that activity becomes meaningless – and in some ways potentially mean, right? Well, as soon as you find out that the gnolls keep raiding the orphanage and they’re eating children – which they’re not but let’s pretend they are. That suddenly gives you the urge to stop these gnolls at any cost! Story explains your actions as a player and gives you the ability to choose the things you want to do and the method you want to do them in. […] So it’s integral to the gameplay. Integral.”
Afrasiabi also echoes former colleague Chris Metzen in advising players to have patience when it comes to the currently unfolding story.
“A game, especially WoW, it isn’t like a book where you can just devour it and get the satisfaction of learning and understanding the whole of it, right? Unfortunately for us, we have chapters broken up across an expansion of patches. So as much as we would love to tell you what’s going to happen, we’d really rather you find out for yourself. But in order for that to happen, we have to allow the regular expansion process to unfold. What would be great is… just… take note of that. We want to make sure that you feel something, that there’s some emotionality there for you. Sometimes it’s anger. That’s a valid emotion! Sometimes it’s happiness, sometimes it’s sadness and excitement and so on. But the story is continuing to evolve and the answers you seek will be there and hopefully they satisfy you.”