History isn’t an important part of RuneScape. It will always take a back seat to game play. You can have a great time playing castle wars without having the slightest idea who Zamorak or Saradomin are. You can fight other players on a PVP world without having a clue as to who this Dharok is, whose armor you’re using. Yet Jagex spends an enormous amount of time sorting the history of RuneScape out. There are very few things that happened in RuneScape that there is no historical explanation for.
It’s a good thing that history isn’t critical to enjoying RuneScape. It would alienate people who didn’t like history, or don’t like reading. If you want to, you could skip past every bit of dialogue in a quest, get the rewards, and leave, all without being exposed to any strange, frightening facts! But if you DO enjoy history, RuneScape has a lot of it. There’s an entire section of the Knowledge base about history, not to mention the history written on books in-game. Of course, the biggest source for history is quests. There is even a 2-part quest series based almost exclusively on learning more about history. The historically interesting quests seem to be getting more frequent as well.
The most interesting quests, to me, have been Meeting History and While Guthix Sleeps, both released in 2008. In the most recent Postbag from the Hedge, #36, Jagex hinted that the long awaited eastern realms may open up. Why is it that so many mysteries, mysteries that have endured for years, are being touched upon now? In the span of a few months, we’ve seen the Spirit Realm opening up, Guthix himself letting humans onto Gielinor at the beginning of the first age, even faced two Mahjarrat, Zemouregal and Lucien. I think Jagex is realizing that a large portion of the RuneScape fan base wants history, and is willing to learn it, no matter how many times they need to click.
Jagex is even changing what they’ve already said about the history of RuneScape. When the very first dragon weapons came out, the dragon longsword and the dragon dagger, the fairy who sold them in Zanaris, Jukat, announced that they were “Straight from Frenaskrae!” Frenaskrae is the realm from which Mahjarrat originally came in the Second Age. This would seem to suggest that Jagex intended to have dragon weapons made by the Mahjarrat. Now, however, all notions of that idea seem to have been abandoned. Now all signs point to the Dragonkin as the creators of dragon weapons, yet this bit of dialogue persists. It would seem that Jagex is changing what they originally said about dragon weapons to something that they believe would be more interesting, but forgot to remove this bit of dialogue.
This practice does lend itself to problems, however. Jagex does a great job with RuneScape, but let’s be honest; they aren’t as careful as they possibly should be. The most recent minigame, Stealing Creation, was full of bugs. Freeloaders were allowed in Trawler Fishing for years, and when Jagex finally changed it, all they did was prevent freeloaders from casting magic spells; they’re still doing nothing and getting fish! So when Jagex updates history, they invariably forget to update all aspects of RuneScape which reflected the “old” history. When Jagex can change the past and present at will, how do we know what is the “true” history, and not just remnants of a past history? In the example I gave above, how can we tell that the dialogue connecting dragon weapons to Frenaskrae is unintentionally left in? What if the Dragonkin are from Frenaskrae? What if the Dragonkin gave dragon weapons to the Mahjarrat? You see, everything gets clouded when Jagex changes things. Hopefully they don’t change it too often.
Something I particularly enjoy about how history is handled in RuneScape is how Jagex hides it everywhere. For example, Melzar the Mad, from Dragon Slayer, rants about the “Cabbage of Jas.” Clearly there’s no such thing, if there were the OoC would have found it by now. Instead, this is a reference to the Stone of Jas, and one of the first ways Jagex revealed what this mysterious artifact did. Another common hiding place for historical facts is Postbags from the Hedge. A large portion of the general RuneScape population doesn’t read this, or doesn’t read this carefully, and it’s a shame. Some of the most historically relevant facts in recent times have been revealed in Postbags. It’s how Jagex often hints at future quests, especially using the Chaos Elemental. All of his replies are full to the brim with teasers and hints on everything from future quests and RuneScape’s mysteries.
Jagex goes to great lengths to make sure that the history in RuneScape is interesting and engaging to its players. But they also go to great lengths to make sure that it is unessential for those who still aren’t interested in it. By putting most of the history in easily skipped quest dialogue or in articles in the Knowledge Base, Jagex has assured that people who want to learn history have a vast amount to find (after doing a little digging of course!) yet at the same time they’ve ensured that people who would rather just play the game can play it without having to learn a thing. Jagex has made its history awesome yet unnecessary, just like RuneScape itself! How fitting.