MMORPGs and Meaningful Player Learning (Part 1)
A random Youtube video about a man and “the lady he lives with”
A couple weeks ago, I was browsing YouTube searching for video essays and other videos to play in the background when I came upon a video entitled “What Games Are Like For Someone Who Doesn’t Play Games“. In the video, the creator, named “Razbuten” discussed an experiment with his wife (dubbed “the lady he lives with”) in which he had her play video games despite her not having much experience playing them before. What he came to find out is that for people who have played games for years, they have acquired a sort of video game language that allows them to understand controls and game design that isn’t explicitly stated. For his wife however, it was a trying experience as these givens were not understood by someone who hasn’t developed this “language of games”.
This video got me thinking about how games teach their systems to players who haven’t developed or even been exposed to this kind of language and in particular how MMORPGs go about handling this issue. Over the course of this and the following blog entry, I’d like to discuss this topic, speaking from my years of experience with video games and my experiences playing Final Fantasy XIV this semester.
For JRPGs (Japanese RPGs) it is customary to have some sort of story explanation that sets up the main conflict, characters, and setting for the game, whether it be through some movie or an introductory movie. From there, depending on the game, usually the player takes control of the player will take control of the protagonist and continue on in the story.
In turn-based JRPGs the main gameplay loop consists of fighting through battles, traveling from location to location, and progressing the plot by triggering some event. As a result of the menu-based combat, usually tutorials will focus on the mechanics that goes behind controlling a character and facing off against enemies. For example, take the smartphone gacha game Kingdom Hearts: Union X [Cross] (KHUX from hereon).
In this game, it features a dedicated tutorial section that goes over all of the main aspects to battles, collecting medals (main forms of attacking and what the gacha elements revolve around), and participating in group battles against large bosses to gain a large amount of experience points (points that go towards leveling up the player character). The interesting part about this tutorial is that if a player were to be confused about a certain aspect, while there may be a “Support” function that allows for contacting the developers or a help line for further questions, the player may not get the immediate feedback they are looking for. Instead they might turn to internet forums or other online help to get feedback from actual people that they may deem more relatable.
Different games will have different ways presenting information to the player, whether it be a character telling the player what button to press or on an on-screen text prompt giving the player information. Final Fantasy XIV is a massive MMORPG and has a lot of intricate complex systems that can take time to learn. Final Fantasy XIV also has a dedicated help system where it can show all the tutorials that have popped up to the player whenever they encounter a new system, serving as a handy resource whenever the player is unsure of the various systems in the game.
In spite of both of these JRPGs having tutorial sections in order to guide the player, there is still a big split in how a player goes about learning a single-player JRPG like KHUX and an open MMORPG such as Final Fantasy XIV. That difference lies in the amount of player-to-player interactions that happen.