The old maxim goes that it’s always easier to destroy than create, which is true but also as tired as your mom telling you not to do what your friends are doing because they might jump off bridges and you will follow them blindly while forgetting the unfortunate law of gravity. When viewed in this rather simple filter — creation vs. destruction — it’s safe to say that most MMO features skew to the “destruction” side.
We kill and kill and kill some more — breaking down those mobs and dungeons from 100% to 0%, in order to be rewarded. We fight other players, destroy bits of the landscape as the game engine allows, and gleefully put to use that new piece of uber gear to rain even more chaos upon the world. Practically everything we do in MMOs is to accomplish greater and greater amounts of destruction — particularly the acquisition of better gear and the progression to higher levels.
While MMOs haven’t always been as destruction-centric as they are now, this method of interacting with virtual worlds (“Go to far away places, meet interesting people and kill them” as a military slogan seeps appropriate here) has certainly become the norm. Lots of people find great appeal in smashing something to bits, and for MMO developers, it’s far easier to model a repeating feature of the game on that than to take small bits and build something up.
But see, there’s that other side of the coin: creation. Now, I don’t mind combat and whatnot in MMOs, but there’s also a part of me the yearns — as a poet’s heart does in the middle of winter for the first breath of spring — to be able to create as well. To build, to fashion the world, to accomplish something more than just “I got Hogger on farm status”. Some MMOs make half-hearted to no attempts at enabling players to create; some go to great lengths and find an overwhelming response from gamers who want to do something other than pick up a +1 mace and hit something in the face with it.
Creation isn’t impossible in MMOs, merely more difficult and challenging to implement, because it is the opposite of destruction in a key way: where destruction requires the designers to give players a wide range of tools to do the one same thing (kill/destroy), creation requires a wide range of tools to be able to do a variety of things, many of which are outside of the foreknowledge of the devs — who have to worry about regulating potentially offensive content that springs up within their games.
But as a guy who used to love playing with Legos more than any other toy, I want to encourage MMOs to continue to push (and in some cases, reclaim) the art of giving players tools to create. Whether it be providing them with tools to role-play with other characters, tools to craft with, tools to make unique-looking characters, tools to design their own missions and instances, or even tools to build structures and towns within the game world itself, this is the essential lifeblood of making a game more real than an “on rails” photocopied experience.
I adore City of Heroes and Champions’ character creators, which always get the same reaction after people spend days and days with them — “Why don’t more games let you do this?” I find it captivating when people link to some of the more creative player houses in EQ2, the result of hours of work to build something that has zero impact on combat and leveling, but is huge in making that player — and others — feel part of a living world. I think it’s a shame that titles like Tale in the Desert, which focused on crafting as an exclusive path of progression, weren’t exalted and expanded upon by more companies. I’ve even started to appreciate and champion the cause of role-players, who often work to create content without the support of the game’s developers whatsoever (other than creating often-unregulated RP server rulesets).
If you give us so many tools to destroy, why aren’t we getting more to create?