What are we being asked to perceive in our mmorpg worlds?
Do not let the players see too much. What do I mean by this? We’re being given too much too quickly now in mmorpgs. Before the game even launches most of us already have the leveling paths laid out or know the zone progression. Knowing the zones and being able to count them on one hand (or even two) is actually a much newer concept than you think. There is no mystery anymore or sense of exploration — not like there used to be. This isn’t a discussion about exploration though as much as it is about perception.
What we are able to perceive by looking out at a zone, a game map, or even a screenshot tells us a lot about how developers have made their game. How have we been told to look at the world? Yes, we are actually being forced/guided/told/influenced/etc to look at the world/game in a certain way. How far can we see? What do we expect to see? What is above us or below us? What is the scope of the environment; are there trees or architecture/structures much bigger than your character? All of these, and so much more, help to influence how we perceive the world.
It’s not just the size of the world we perceive either. It’s not just the sense of mystery. It’s not even the ideological sense of immersion. There’s a certain sensation that comes with the “I am here, and you are there” when you are helped to perceive the world as something bigger than you — bigger than you’re supposed to comprehend or thinking about in its entirety at once. No, I’m not talking about making the game world really big — compare Agon to Norrath . I believe that a game world can actually be quite small but still be designed in such a way that the players can not wrap their minds (easily) around the idea of talking about the world as just this oyster they can crack open easily.
Sometimes what we don’t see is worth even more to our senses. Next time you log in to your mmo of choice take a look around. Ask yourself what you see, what you do not see, and what you would expect to see around the next corner. Think about where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and which of your senses are being ‘used” by the developers. You may be surprised with the answers or feelings you get when you do. In my opinion, we have a long way to go before it’s even possible for us to rekindle, or for some to experience for the first time, that sense of unknown or sensational depth to how we perceive the world that our avatars roam. More can be done to improve in this area and I would like to see it become a priority.