Why MMOs Will Never Be Scary
By Vincent Haoson (Vincenthaoson), OnRPG Journalist
MMOs have been very successful in a limited number of genres, primarily fantasy and science-fiction. However there is one genre developers have completely failed to incorporate into an MMO. Try as they might there has been no successful release with an even relatively authentic experience.
I’m talking about the horror genre. While there have been attempts such as, Gravity’s Requiem: Bloodymare, Joymax’s Dark Eden or even Hanbitsoft’s Hellgate: London they have failed so far in terms of truly bringing out the ‘horror’ experience they have promised to deliver. Personally, I really commend their attempts of something that I imagine to be impossible. I think that MMOs could never offer anything resembling a truly horrific experience, save for a few surprised jumps here and there and even that’s pushing things.
I asked around to see if the MMO community thought the same about the failure of the horror genre in massively multiplayer games. After some time I stumbled across several reasons, some of which I hadn’t even thought of before my investigation.
Reason 1: the Idea of what is scary goes against the concept of MMOs
Fear is generally felt the greatest when a person is alone. What is more scary than alone in a dark world full of monsters that are out there ready to eat you. The fact that you can never be alone in an MMO is one reason why MMOs automatically fail at being scary.
Being alone in an MMO goes against everything this type of game stands for. It is practically second nature for MMO players to get together, form parties and beat up whatever monster they meet. MMOs thrive in player populations and in-game communities and MMOs are usually set up so group gaming maximizes the game experience.
Reason 2: the sense of helplessness is thrown out of the window in MMOs
You are never helpless in an MMO. There are always ways for you to beef up your character to protect itself from the oncoming horde of beasties you meet in a dungeon. As long as you are well prepared before setting out you will never be scared of dying in-game.
Think of those single player games like F.E.A.R. or Fatal Frame. Regardless of how prepared you are for the monsters you face, there is this sense of helplessness nagging at the back of your head because it seems that you are just prolonging the inevitable.
In F.E.A.R. you have guns, big heavy guns, but what can they achieve when you can’t even hurt the unseen enemies attacking you? In Fatal Frame you have the camera to beat the ghosts, but how long would you last until the next safe point? Always wondering how many shots you have left until you run out and just have to run, and hope for the best.
Clocktower – one wrong move
I haven’t even included Clocktower into the mix. That game really puts you at odds where your character does not have anything to defend herself against a psycho with big scissors, one wrong move and it’s bye-bye for you.
Reason 3: MMOs are made for open-world gaming
One of the reasons why good single player horror games are scary is due to its good storytelling nature. The story is restricted to only one path which makes it all scarier, this adds to the helplessness feel of those kinds of games. The horror builds up as the story unfolds and you’re your character finds out why they are in their current predicament and how they can escape from it.
Good stories and how they are delivered add to the creep factor of why they keep us awake at night. MMOs on the other hand are not made for such things because it restricts players on a set path, which in turn makes the MMO lose the ‘freedom’, or sandbox sensation that the developers are gunning for.
Beautiful Blood Spatter
MMOs are better suited for open-world gaming where players can react freely and do as they please in the game even if there’s an overall storyline that is unfolding.
Examples of good open-world gaming MMOs are World of Warcraft and Age of Conan. Both games have a good lore as a backbone yet it doesn’t restrict a player of their actions in the game.
Reason 4: MMOs do not culminate fear and dulls the emotions
The core gameplay of MMO’s is repetition. You keep on grinding on the same set of monsters on the same dungeon until the experience points don’t even move your experience bar up one percent. This practice dulls your emotions enough that if you do get to play another MMO, you don’t even flinch at the sight of the angry demon spewing hellfire in your face.
The only thing this kind of gameplay fosters is the excitement of finally leveling up. Fear on the other hand is a culminating emotion where it has to be fostered so that when that climactic moment comes, you practically scare yourself so much that you can’t even shut off the lights in your room for a week.
Reason 5: MMOs can’t foster the proper scary ambience
The lack of an MMO’s capability to foster the proper scary ambience is one of the reasons why MMOs will never be scary. One reason is that you are provided with faceless characters that do not really illicit any kind of emotional attachment whatsoever.
The lack of emotional attachment to your character is one of the integral connections that are needed to provide that ‘scare’, while it may be true that the cardboard character system does invoke a sort of ‘personal touch’ in your character you’d still find it hard to be scared.
Dark Eden isn’t scary
Horror MMOs such as Dark Eden and Requiem: Bloodymare are decent examples of attempts into the horror genre. The problem with these games is that they feel like an MMO far too much to provide the scary nature that they promised to deliver.
I find it impossible for an MMO to be scary. The concepts behind these two games are polar opposites which would never ever meet. MMOs thrive on the impersonal relationships of game characters and their environment while Horror needs its audience to be connected to the environment as much as possible.
With these reasons I strongly believe that MMOs could never bring out a true ‘horror’ game. Companies may try to do so and they may finally hit that mark, however until that time comes I’m sticking to single player games if I want to be scared.