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Vowing to read MMO quest text

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. If the quest text is small or awkward to read. LOTRO and EVE Online are two examples that come to mind.
  5. 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.

17 thoughts on “Vowing to read MMO quest text

  1. In my foray back into EQ2 I have read the quest text in every single starting area. The first time. Second and third time through I already get what is going on =)

    I am also still reading the quest text in higher level areas. The first time through. =)

  2. This is me. I always wanted to read all the quest text when I payed WoW but had a hard time making myself actually do it. Some of it was pretty pointless. I’ve been trying to get into ESO lately and I’ve decided if I at least read the quest text (not wait for the quest giver to say all of it) that’s good enough. I read a lot faster than I listen.

  3. I like quests texts, if the story driving the quest is well conceived and written. I’m currently playing ESO and even the most minor of quests is swathed in backstory and narrative depth. Furthermore, the quest text is spoken by professional actors, but I still end up reading it co’s I can do that faster than listening to all the pregnant pauses, as a thespian method acts 🙂

  4. I find it baffling that anyone wouldn’t read the quest text, at least the first time through. Why are you even playing the game if you don’t care what’s going on in it?

  5. With games like Elder Scrolls Online which has HUGE amounts of Voice-Acting NPCs, skipping the text/sound is SINFUL! LOL

    Many players have time-limited-fun meaning they want to maximize their advancement in the small time slots slated for gaming. Some are rushing towards End-Game/PvP-über-gear. Others just couldn’t be bothered by text/lore…it just isn’t in their genes.

    I am old school…I grew up with text adventures where the “theater-of-the-mind” were the kick-ass graphics! This is how I get immersed in the game…not all the pretty graphics. And if I am not immersed in a game, then I might as well be playing Pong…as a waste of my time.

    I play to escape. I don’t game like it is work. Goals, schedules, expectations, stress, peer-pressure, expected commitments, etc. Life is too much of this type of game…I am looking to escape that online!

    To each their own.


    P.s. Speaking of ESO: Many players don’t know, even the ones to enjoy the quest text/voices, that there is Second and Third levels of text/voice-overs. Get a quest, then re-engage the NPC. Then when you complete the quest, return to the NPCs to hear updated text/voice-over from them about your success/failure! -)

  6. This is a particular interest of mine, as you probably know. I still harbor occasionally fantasies of running a blog dedicated entirely to reviewing MMO quests as though they were novels. I read all the text of every quest in every MMO I play and I always have done. That is, the first time I do the quest. Coming back to the same quests on other characters I do start to skim-read and in MMOs I’ve played for years, where I may be doing a quest literally for the twentieth time, I eventually skip it altogether.

    If the quest writing is so bad I find myself not wanting to read it then it’s odds on I’ll also not want to go on playing at all. That happened with ESO, where, contrary to Roger above, I found the quest text to be so badly written (or perhaps i should say tediously written) that I could barely drag my eyes across the page. I may be unusual as an MMORPG player, though, in that I neither like nor admire much fantasy written for adults. Even Tolkein I find patchy and his latterday imitators are just unbearable. The closer MMO quest text adheres to the standard fantasy literature house style, the less patience I have with it.

    Presentation also makes a huge difference. WoW’s quest writing is mediocre but the faux parchment look Blizzard uses for the quest window is just awful. I always struggled with the quest text there until I found the wonderful add on that replicates GW2’s interface. It splits the walls of text into separate lines of dialog, replaces the mock gothic font with something sans and modern and adds an animation of the characters. It completely revolutionized WoW questing for me.

  7. I love having quest but the written text quedt is the anthithesis of a video game. It will never cross any filmmaker ( except starwars ; -) ) to explain what is going on through text. It is the classic “show, dont tell ! ” For game even a cinematic is skipped : we want to play so show us the story through gameplay.

    This is one of the strong point of the starting zone in GW2 : story is delivered trhough gameplay and the mundane action such as feeding the cow help give a sense of reality to Tyria. Today i was just connecting to my character in front of the city of PoF, and a group of cute little monster starts to attack all the vendor shops. They were coming from everywhere and were so joyful in their destruction. This is far better than reading : ” the monster have destroyed my shop please go kill 10 of them”.

  8. For me it’s 3 that makes the difference. I think LoTRO has some great stories, tiny text and bad interface or no. If there are well told stories to be had, I’ll muddle through just about anything. Heck, the last time I played EQ (10+ years ago) I spend most of my time reading books in the Plane of Knowledge.

  9. I think the main reason I skip it is that the result is already a foregone conclusion; there is no option other than to click accept. There is no moral option of saying , “No, i’m not interested in killing 12 wolves, they seem comfortable in their environment.” It would be great to have an MMO where our moral compass is influenced, like in Fable. Then I would read the text, in order to decide between the options. If there is only a “Duh, ok I go now smash things” option, then why bother with the story line.

  10. Maybe I’m weird, but I ALWAYS read quest text – I play MMOs for story.

    Poorly translated or written quest text early on in an MMO tips me off that the game is probably not going to be for me. If a team can’t spend time to polish the writing somewhat, then what other corners does the game cut later on?

    The only time I skip quest text is if I’m doing a repeat series of quests on an alt, or it’s a daily quest I’ve already done over and over again.

  11. You know? I actually trained myself to read quest text so I’d know why I was doing what I was and feel a deeper connection with a game, I think Wildstar was the first one I recall doing it properly for the first time, and maybe Cataclysm, and now I have trouble with it because reading all the quest text means I lag behind others a lot (I’m a slow reader) and then I get frustrated and end up leaving altogether, and if I skip reading, I feel guilty for not enjoying the story like I feel I should be doing. I love having that connection to a game world but it’s also a bit of a boon when you play multiple MMOs.

  12. I always try to do this when a new expansion or patch launches. I feel like I’d be missing out on the quest designers’ hard work. Plus it adds to the immersion (nice buzzword) a bit more!

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