We’re all familiar with the standard categories of MMO quests: FedEx, kill ten rats, escort, click the glowies, and so on. But there are also many quest themes that pop up almost as often across the swath of online games, including ones like “take care of the fledgling animal until it’s strong enough to go out into the wild on its own” and “burn all of the corpses.”
Last night I was going into yet another Elden facility in WildStar, where scientific horrors always seem to await. This one had the expected constructs stomping around, but it also had a room full of posed corpses that I was tasked with disposing via flamethrower. As I started up the burning, I reflected on just how many times I’ve been called to burn dead bodies in MMOs — and how honestly disturbing that is when you think about it.
Why is this the job and duty of an adventurer? It’s got to be a highly traumatic event, to burn or otherwise dispose of dead bodies, and well outside of a normal soldier and/or explorer’s training. Usually when I’ve encountered such a quest, it’s couched in language to give me the impression that I’m honoring the dead by cremating their remains instead of leaving them on the battlefield to rot and be desecrated by the enemy.
But still. Still.
Still I’m taking a torch, or a flamethrower, or a fireball spell and setting a dead thing on fire. Over and over and over again. You can’t tell me that my character doesn’t have those sights and sounds and especially smells haunt her dreams at night.
Seriously, I’ve seen this from City of Heroes to Lord of the Rings Online to The Secret World to SWTOR. Sooner or later, the game is going to be all like, “Okay, you just saved the ten Hoojibs from their evil master, so now it’s time to go corpse burning!” And we don’t even question it, because we’re so deep into the questing routine and just see these as a bunch of clickies anyway.
I’m not saying that doing this is immoral, even in-game, but it is disturbing and I don’t quite know why so many developers feel that they have to put us in this position. To appreciate the sacrifice of NPCs who came before us? To attempt to introduce a little bit of fridge horror? To grow us up?
Or, is it more likely that there’s some giant master list of weird quest themes that is passed around the industry, and all quest designers pull from it when they’re lacking inspiration?
Personally, I’d be fine with leaving the corpses as is. They don’t really care much one way or the other.