If I’ve heard it once over the course of my blogging career, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “This time around, I vow to read the quest text! I’m going to read it all and really soak up the lore and story of the game!”
It’s like some sort of new year’s resolution to lose weight that you just know the person is going to break within a few weeks. With MMO quest text, we have a hard time just reading it in most games. Have a hard time reading it, I should have said, without skipping past it and clicking “accept” on the quest button.
Is this on us or the games? I think there is blame in both courts.
MMO quest text has been around pretty much since the early days of the genre and was solidified when the World of Warcraft questing model took preeminence over the genre. It was a quick and easy way for a developer to initiate a quest, give us a briefing on the background and motivation, and send us on our merry way. We were mean to read and absorb these as part of our adventures, as evidenced in how WoW used to gradually reveal the quest text as if the NPC was speaking it. That quickly changed to showing the full box instantly and allowing us to accept as fast our our clicking finger could manage.
Why don’t we read quest text anymore? Or at least, why do we have difficulty sticking to resolutions to do so? Five big reasons come to mind, although there are probably more:
- So much of the quest text is irrelevant to knowing how to accomplish the mission. We know that the screen will now show us where to go and what simplified objectives to do. If it happens to be more complicated than that, sure, we can always go back and scan through the quest text or look up a walkthrough.
- Since we’ll only be interacting with this NPC a handful of times at most, we don’t have any vested interest in getting to know them, their struggles, and building a relationship with them. They’re disposable, and that’s how we treat the quests that they issue.
- While some writers honestly do put in great effort in giving us funny and interesting mini-stories, so many of these quest text boxes are a whole bunch of boring nonsense. It’s yet more justification of why we should go on a rampage against Group X, as if we need any reason other than “rewards.”
- If the quest text is small or awkward to read. LOTRO and EVE Online are two examples that come to mind.
- We get in the habit of wanting to progress as fast as possible and so have conditioned ourselves to stop absorbing the lore and details of the world in the interest of speed. To get back into the habit of reading quest text, we have to discipline ourselves to break that cycle.
I’ve made this vow many times to varying success. Some games I’m simply more interested in following along with the quest story. There are a few things that MMO devs can do to engage us deeper into the quest story, such as relying more on cutscene introductions (expensive but definitely more interesting), having us choose dialogue paths with the NPC (EQ2, DDO, Shroud of the Avatar), allow us to make choices at the onset of quests, and having the quests be part of an arc that counters the “disposable” aspect. But a lot of it is on us to actually see the quest text again instead of having it be invisible right in front of our eyes.
Generally, yes, I do enjoy reading quest text. I even screenshot a lot of it when it’s particularly interesting or humorous — and you’d be surprised how often this comes up now. It’s something that I’m vowing to do more in my games this year, but old habits die hard.