Today’s Daily Grind question on Massively Overpowered got me considering factions in MMO’ing. More specifically, how multifaceted factions are the more interesting than the flat black-versus-white sort that you see in some games. Even World of Warcraft had pretty much foregone its Orcs vs. Humans narrative on…well, pretty much every open opportunity, near as I can tell.
One of my favorite aspects of a multifaceted faction is the belief in their noble purpose. The concept that they are truly right in their cause. Even those who would be painted with the Evil Brush can have sides that are actually something to look up to.
One of the things that The Old Republic does well is its class stories, and one of the best parts of those class stories is how you can honestly make something of a noble-leaning Sith Warrior. The things you do in the narrative (or at least as I’ve played it) are not exactly above board, but the rationale was something that I actually found myself kind of nodding my head in agreement with. And, of course, being able to taunt a Jedi with the knowledge that they are comfortable in their own skin was pretty much icing.
Parts of the Dominion in WildStar also struck that same vein. Here are a group of people who fully believe that they are touched by a grander purpose and that fate has led them to the planet Nexus…and while that has all the makings for a trite, overzealous faction, in reality they have as much curiosity and purpose as anyone on the Exiles side. There are those who want to learn. Those who want to explore. Those who want to get rich and/or famous. Those who want to test themselves.
Someone in the comments for that article had very brilliantly brought up The Secret World, a game that just keeps on doing things righter than most. The factions in that game were almost a non-issue since they were all banding together to take down a much more severe threat while at the same time attempting to undermine each other or cover up their involvement. They all had their own way of doing things and why they were doing things, but ultimately the ends justified the means. It also made player characters come up with deeper ideas about why they chose the society they did–a sort of “What would you do in an apocalypse?” question answered by ideology and rationale expressed by your faction’s leadership.
Final Fantasy XIV has this “enemy of my enemy” thing as a large part of its narrative as well. The three factions of the Eorzean Alliance are an alliance in probably the loosest terns, as their inter-political jostling frays the binding ties frequently, but they each have their own sort of noble cause that a player can agree to. Even Ishgard, which first came to us as a supremely zealous and blind faction, revealed themselves to have a lot more going on–a fact that my character, Steel Wolf, has experienced first-hand as she follows the training of the Dark Knight. An order who apply pressure and force against those in Ishgard who would abuse their position to oppress the commoners of the city is precisely the kind of character I like to play as.
These are groups who usually are seen as villainous but have parts of them that appeal, which makes playing them–and especially roleplaying them–very engaging. The nuances of these groups make them beloved to me on a variety of levels. Since most roleplayers tend to whitewash the black away to make them grayer anyway, having that already written in makes it easier. In addition, being embroiled in the more appealing aspects of their causes just makes the gameplay much better.
Being evil for evil’s sake is boring as hell. I have written before about how most roleplayers are bad at being bad., but when an MMO’s writing team is just as bad, it chafes me. There has to be a convincing way to make the “red side” just as alluring as the “blue side” without resorting to touching on a power fantasy. For me, the best way of doing that is providing a sense of noble purpose. Of justice. Even if that justice is meted out with a huge level of force.
A noble purpose doesn’t have to be the exclusive domain of the good guys. A villain can have a sense of honor and justice just as easily as a knight can become seduced by power and prestige. Even Star Wars, for all of its Light versus Dark nonsense recognized this by making the Mandalorians a thing. The meshing of ideology should not just be written, but designed. Interplay between and within factions should be encouraged. Walling friends from each other because they found different faction ideologies appealing is not how MMO’s are meant to be fully experienced.
Basically, make each of your factions a diamond, not a sheet of paper.