Storyboard: Never forget that all MMO lore is made up

    
27
Blown away.

Let’s take a trip back to the dewy slopes of June 2006, when Chris Metzen addressed the question of how the lore of the Draenei deviated from the lore that had already been laid out. See, in Warcraft III, the history of the Burning Legion had been established to include Sargeras being corrupted by the already demonic Eredar, whereas the lore laid down for the Draenei involved Sargeras showing up and corrupting the Eredar. A lot of people were very upset that this changed the existing lore back at the time.

Except it really didn’t matter much at all because it had no bearing on World of Warcraft up to that point whatsoever. Learning that things had happened in a slightly different order didn’t change anyone’s motivation. No one had actually been around for those events. It was all just moving imaginary pieces around the chessboard.

The discontent was based almost entirely on the fact that yes, the lore had been changed. But it was a change that didn’t really matter, because the spirit of things remained identical. This prompts a reminder that lore is, well… made up. It’s fake. All of it.

I don’t mean that to specifically denigrate the process of making things up. It’s a good thing and it doesn’t mean that none of it matters or should matter or anything. The point of specifying that it’s made up is to stress the fact that, well… it’s made up. It’s pretend. If you don’t like it, you can make up something new.

This is a good thing that leads to, well, better overall stories. If you think of something one day and think of something better later, you don’t have to deal with the fact that what you previously thought of is a natural law that must be observed at all costs. You can just… change what you do and move forward from there. The lore doesn’t care.

I’ve talked before about when you can deviate from the lore in roleplaying, but just as important is understanding what the lore is actually there to do. Both for storytelling for players and the designers, the lore is there as a guideline. It can all be changed whenever anyone wants.

Going under.

To use an example, I own both of the gigantic lore encyclopedias for Final Fantasy XIV. Aside from looking very nice on a bookshelf, I just love reading about the game’s lore. I love learning more about how the game’s underpinnings work, how the physics of the game have been devised by the design team. What I do not do is look in the books to prove that something is impossible to do in roleplaying.

Will I check them to see if something might be unlikely? Sure. But that just means that if an idea is good enough, it’s worth digging into that unlikelihood and massage the concept until it fits decently. If the lore tells me something is impossible, then that’s best appended with “so long as everyone knows.”

See, lore is not physics. Lore does not describe absolute history or naturally observable phenomena. It describes the setting information that the developers were working from when considering what sort of story to tell. If lore creates an untenable situation, you ignore it and come up with other justifications for what’s going on around you.

When you start playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, your story is laid out for you. As a Trooper, you’re a member of Havoc Squad right off the bat, and then you’re tasked with rebuilding the squad after various story events cause issues pretty early on. Obviously, this doesn’t track with the fact that there are a lot of players who are playing Troopers, which is why most people roleplaying as a Trooper just go ahead and ignore what the class story is technically saying happens.

Is this violating the lore? In the broadest sense, yes, but it’s doing so for the purpose of allowing more people to play around in the world. And it’s not really much of a stretch: Everyone knows that there are lots of different troopers in the game world; you just happen to be playing one following what amounts to an example story arc. There are no doubt countless other squads with other stories, and there are no doubt even more ways to justify your character’s status as something as ultimately common as a soldier.

Because, well, the alternative is limiting and boring. Heck, it implies that only one person gets to occupy this particular role… and that’s not what the designers intended but rather a limitation of not being able to produce endless bespoke stories for every single player individually.

We all know this on some level. Yes, there are frequently situations wherein the story refers to just one person getting or doing a thing, but often that doesn’t even track with the logical implications. (There’s a quest in FFXIV that lampshades the fact that you’re about to fight a boss with a full party despite the fact that according to the story, you don’t have one with you.) It’s just one of those acceptable breaks from reality in the way that games work, and we recognize that this is just the way things are.

As roleplayers, we accept this and work around it. Someone did the things in the story, but not our specific characters. We’re attached to things in a peripheral sense, but we exist in a vague state wherein we’re neither the primary movers and shakers of the world but still important. And while that nebulous state can make some things hard to nail down, it also has its benefits.

Worrying too much about what the lore says is a path to frustration. Yes, the lore might say that only members of such-and-such a group gets to travel to this zone, but that means locking yourself out of a space for roleplaying. You can justify it if you try while still acknowledging that it’s rare and unusual. There are always lore reasons for what you’re doing, even if sometimes you have to dig a little harder for them and exist in the realm of pseudocanon.

But then, by the time you’re roleplaying you’re already doing that. The story of the game doesn’t dictate your character’s appearance or cosmetic gear or whatever. You decide on that yourself, even if sometimes it might be jarring compared to the tone of a given scene when you walk in wearing silly cosmetic gear while things are supposedly Very Serious. You are more than likely not roleplaying all the time, even though you know that this might technically lead to some weirdness here and there.

In short, the lore is there to help you tell stories. If the lore is preventing you from doing that, it’s in need of amendment, expansion, or just outright ignoring it. Breaking the lore in order to enjoy the game and tell more stories is, at its heart, a good thing to do. Lore is made up, and if it’s not making the game as much fun, it doesn’t need to be there.

If you’re an old hand at roleplaying in MMOs, you can look to Eliot Lefebvre’s Storyboard as an irregular column addressing the common peaks and pitfalls possible in this specialized art of interaction. If you’ve never tried it before, you can look at it as a peek into how the other half lives. That’s something everyone can enjoy, just like roleplaying itself.
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
IronSalamander8 .

Lore is important for both a cohesive world and if you RP to give you a foundation for your character(s). Some games and works of fiction are very consistent on it, others not so much. In WoW’s case the lore is such a mess that even trying to make something coherent out of it is nigh impossible.

That all being said, when you’re making a character you plan to RP with other players, you have to at least try to fit the lore as best you can.

In SWTOR the fact that you couldn’t RP as the Emperor’s Wrath was often a point of contention for new players. Imagine if every Sith Warrior was the Emperor’s Wrath at the same time! When I played that game and RPed in it, we all came up with our own stories to make things work, because as you point out, you pretty much have to in many cases or it just won’t work.

Reader
Robert Mann

Sometimes this might be true, but as others have noted it can also be a negative instead of a positive. Retcons and plot twists are different things, and the problem with a retcon is that the more common they become the less truthful the rest of the lore seems. That is to say, when you do world building you are setting the story, and when you tell the story you are saying what exists. When those things are later changed, suddenly the integrity of the source is in question.

There can indeed be positive changes by working with new and better ideas. A more skilled writer does not change the story blatantly, they enhance it, twist things around, give reasons why a false belief existed, and turn that entire process into yet another enjoyable part of the tale. To contrast with what you are saying, lore IS the history that is supposed to exist. Where it can be bent to a certain degree, and good storytelling can work around many of the limitations of that, but when it is simply given a shattering blow it ruins any semblance of remaining true to the world and story as known. This can be fine in some RP, but it can also result in direct backlash. Worse still is a very poorly done attempt to do that good storytelling (see WoW 10,000 times over) to explain a retcon that is altogether too obvious as a result of their own failures in other areas of the story.

There will be those who do not care, but attempting to say that everyone should not is in poor taste indeed. It only results in those who will care finding even less reason for trust or association… because those things require respect both ways. It is the same as being so uptight about lore that you constantly call out any minor issues as if they were a war crime.

Reader
styopa

“If you don’t like it, you can make up something new.”

Except…doing so mid story is simply shitty storytelling.

Of course lore in a fictional product is made up. But well-woven and internally consistent lore provides a credible backdrop to today’s action and (in shorthand) current character decisions seem less arbitrary, more explicable.

Changing well-established lore is a sign of lazy plotting and a lack of planning by the author. (And, tbh where WoW is concerned, that’s pretty standard.)

Consumers – let’s remember they are the ones ultimately providing that author with income – are essentially wagering their time and $ in a story they enjoy, betting that author will make the rest of the story as good as what they’ve already read.

Certainly, as the creative parent of the story, the author is ENTITLED to retcon backstory if they want.

But if in book seven, George R.R. Martin decides Ned Stark wasn’t in fact beheaded (everyone apparently saw it wrong), it was actually a clone displaced into his position at the last split second by amoebic space aliens who saved him to return to lead their triumphal invasion…he shouldn’t be surprised if people stop reading his books.

Reader
Axetwin .

Counterpoint: Lore matters more than you think it does. I present Shadow of War as my evidence. A game that basically used the Lore in the context you present here, and does their own thing with it. And as a result we got Sexy Shelob. So, maybe, try to stick to the lore whenever possible.

Reader
Ryslin Windcaller

Lore is a myth. We are given unreliable narration from persons that may or may not have witnessed said events , or flat out made creation stories depending on race/gameworld/religious fictional context. Nothing we are ever told in any game we play is inherently the only truth. There is always a point of view that will turn it around. Even when we play the game OUR understanding of the narration can differ. See the multitude of folks pulling apart wow cinematics for instance. Truth varies, Lore is a Myth.

MurderHobo
Reader
MurderHobo

Made-up stories have started many of the wars throughout history. Countless people have died in faith to some made-up story.

That’s hyperbolic, I know. These are just video games, and though I acknowledge them as art, they are about as sophisticated as a children’s book. Children lash out at changes to their self-identified narrative. This isn’t usually a problem unless your marketable customer base consists of those children.

Tell better stories, and the audience will improve. If you sow division, you will reap resentment.

Reader
Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron
Schlag Sweetleaf
lorence of arabia.gif
MurderHobo
Reader
MurderHobo

You are an appreciable genius, sir. Thank you for your time.

Reader
Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron
Schlag Sweetleaf

ty MH

Reader
ApotheoticAdam

While I think there are some valuable insights here, I can’t help but feel that the message is basically “use lore as your foundation, and throw it out the window as soon as it gets in the way”. While I agree that lore can frequently be a barrier to the stories we wish we could tell, and that exercising some degrees of creative liberty is warranted in such cases, the sentiment expressed in the article seems…reckless.

My preferred position is – while perhaps not treating lore as an immutable gospel – one of ‘do no harm’. More specifically, exploring beyond the boundaries of established lore only insofar as it does not undermine the story being told or the universe being established.

In more obvious cases this of course covers the standard “don’t teleport a Jedi into Azeroth”; doing so is disruptive to both universes. But this also applies at more granular levels. If an area in a game appears limited because it seems tightly tied to the ‘chosen one’ story but nothing outright makes it seem totally unfeasible to visit, then sure find your own special circumstances. If on the other hand adventuring to said area necessitates magics or technologies far beyond any reasonable reach and even has world superpowers questioning the ‘how’ of it, it’s a hard pill to swallow that Average Joe managed the seemingly-impossible and nobody else ever picked up on it.

Does it suck to box things in here and there? Maybe. But if it means preserving the integrity of the story being told and our relationship to it, I think it’s a sacrifice worth making.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
johnwillo

“teleport a Jedi into Azeroth”

You… you may just have saved both WoW and SWTOR!

Reader
Robert Mann

Or this may just give Blizzard another idea with which to… apply real life to their product. XD

deekay_plus
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_plus

i’d be surprised if there aren’t jedi and heavy star wars references in wow.

i know there’s more than a dozen heavy star trek references in wow. so i just assume the same would be true for jedi and star wars.

also no one roleplaying as a jedi space goat wants to hear it.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Pandalulz

The first weapon you get in the gnome area is a light sword of some sort. I don’t remember the exact wording.

deekay_plus
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_plus

yeah the gnome starter area really packs in the references lol.

edit: confused myself with the goblin starter area lol. but i mean it’s wow. at least 2/3 of the quest content is direct or indirect pop culture references and memes lol

Alyn
Reader
Alyn

From one of my favorite authors; β€œIt’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

-and this beam of light from a wonderful actress/comedian; β€œI wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
Delicious Ambiguity.”
― Gilda Radner

Reader
sophiskiai

While the lore can be changed, there’s always the risk that somebody’s incorporated a seemingly minor background detail in the setting as a core part of their character’s backstory. Changing that detail might not even be noticed by 90% of the players, and another 9.99% will notice but not care, but to a handful of players that change will be devastating to their whole idea of who their character is.

One of the many reasons I keep my roleplaying to tabletops rather than MMOs.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
johnwillo

One reason I will play Classic WoW: static lore.

Reader
Tee Parsley

Static and poorly written. IMO.