Part II: The Interplay
If you have not already read Part I of this series, please check out Part I: The Trade-Off.
To briefly recap, last week's edition of Fantasy vs. Reality discussed the intrinsic trade-off between enhancing gameplay immersion (fantasy) and supporting community interactions (reality). This week, however, I confess that I have deceived you, the reader, by solely portraying these two elements of the game as mutually exclusive, separate and antagonistic, black and white. The truth of the matter is that all community interactions occur on the backdrop of RuneScape's immense fantasy world, while gameplay immersion is inextricably joined with the hand of reality. This week, I aim to depict the two fundamental aspects of fantasy and reality with a more mature approach, one that does not severely polarize them, but instead seeks to examine their interactions and the underlying harmony which governs the entire world of RuneScape.
First, I bring to your attention the intriguing article which Alg wrote last week: Three Days as an Undercover Roleplayer. Alg and I did not specifically coordinate our articles, but I personally believe we could not have done a better job if we had tried. What aspect of the game better exemplifies the interaction between fantasy and reality than the often esoteric world of roleplaying at the Blue Moon Inn? Here, the interaction within the player base does not serve to weaken the fantasy element of the game. On the contrary, the community supports and embraces fantasy to the extent that each individual roleplayer injects his own unique iota of fantasy into the larger world around him.
Roleplaying is not the only example of the community's role in the game's rich lore. In fact, a huge percentage of all player interactions, which I previously labeled as "fantasy", actually play a key role in enhancing fantasy. To illustrate this, I note that the lore of RuneScape is far more engaging than a simple RPG game precisely because RuneScape is inhabited by other players. Just the act of seeing other people in the world around us, cutting trees or killing cows, instills in us the sense of being a part of a greater world. The experience of conversing with another player while enjoying the shared experience of RuneScape strengthens our suspension of disbelief far better than the game could alone. After all, one man who believes in fantasy is crazy; one community which believes in fantasy has made it reality.
What, then, can we say about the opposite direction? Does the game's fantasy augment the community? This is a trickier question and depends fully upon the intentions behind the piece of content. The Fight Caves are clearly meant for one person only; no room for a community in the fiery depths of Karamja. On the other end of the scale, Castle Wars is a classic example of how the game brings together a community. Castle Wars encourages players to meet new friends or, at the very least, to become involved with the Castle Wars community. However, this approach does not always succeed. Although various Pest Control clans have been formed, the nature of Pest Control often deters strong communal binding simply because lost games result in frustration, which is often directed at the 24 other players who control the Void Knight's fate.
One of Jagex's notable successes in this respect is the skill of Dungeoneering. Smaller, more concise parties of five members allow for stronger bonds between the party members, and Dungeoneering heavily rewards coordination with higher XP rates. Love it or hate it, you must admit that Dungeoneering, which is a highly immersive skill, unites various members of the community. Indirectly, boss monsters encourage the community aspect greatly in numerous ways: they encourage group formation to kill them, community boss hunting events (look no further than Tip.it for examples of that), and a market-based economy in which supply and demand create lucrative markets for certain pieces of equipment.
Still other times, fantasy and reality play tricks on each other and make fun of themselves. A notable example is the Bartender of Blue Moon Inn, who confusingly explains to the player that RuneScape is a mere computer game. In a reversal of roles, the NPC is the one who is aware of the outside world and the player is the one who is confused by the Bartender's mad ravings. It is quite a humorous touch added by Jagex, and RuneScape Wiki's entire article on the fourth wall is a fascinating read.
In short, Jagex understands that one cannot survive without the other. Thus, Jagex specifically plans content which often stimulates both. Tools for the community, such as Faruq's Tools, open up new opportunities for the community to expand RuneScape's horizons. Content designed with player interactions in mind lead to new avenues through which player integration is fostered. However, did you know that the biggest change is yet to come?
In Jagex's teaser for RuneScape 3 and the HTML world, Jagex speaks of another revolution, one that will change how the world interacts with the player. Essentially, Jagex has an ambitious plan which is intended to allow the player's choices to directly shape the world around him. Time will tell how much of Jagex's plans will remain intact throughout implementation, but if added, such a departure from traditional questing also signifies a shift in fantasy-reality interactions. Reality will shape fantasy more than ever before, and this in turn will further blur the distinctions between the two. That is, if Jagex has the innovation and skill to turn their fantasies into reality.
I hope you enjoyed this two-part series!