As MMO players we have embarked on our own Neverending story, quite literally. And its clear why a story with no end has appeal. Like Bastion you are invited to live in the mythological world as long as you can stomach it. You can battle the “Nothing” forever if you so chose. As most people are aware, MMOs by design never end — they just fade way. As you progress in level your foward momentum beomes slower and slower. Like Xeno’s paradox, it never stops but fades so that everyone just chooses a point to quite when they can’t take it anymore. Theoretically you could continue to play forever until your character’s progression starts to become measured on a geologic time scale.
So the ‘neverending story’ is ultimately a trap.
The problem with all of that is that stories without end aren’t really stories at all. The appeal of a story is that it is not real life. In real life there are no clear antagonists. There are no chapter points. No climax. Stories are meant to be a relief from that. There are meant to pair down the perpetuity of your existence into a digestible and understandable slice. But the story of the MMO just goes on – and if you stop logging in, it goes on without you. There is never a summing up or a place that it is all leading.
You might think that MMOs would eventually adopt a more traditional story structure. But I think that the reverse has occurred. I think that MMOs have actually begun to change the way that stories are being told in other popular entertainment. Exhibit one is the popularity of the endlessly serialized comic book movie. Marvel entertainment has even taken it to the next step where all of their movies interconnect and each one is essentially a serial of the other in a shared universe. Sound familiar ? Or how about the shared universe novels such as the Harry Potter series? Even though the story of Potter has ended the author has vowed to continue writing novels in the same universe with other protagonists. I guess Rowling is an alt-o-holic.
Sure serialized entertainment is nothing new. But has it ever dominated mass media as it does now ? You can wonder and cause and effect but there is no question that the rise of the MMO has come at a time when entertainment in general has begun to really embrace the idea of the neverending story.
But ultimately to me the neverending story is not a satisfying one. Do I really want to be on a fictitious journey without an end. Can there be any point to it all ? It’s bad enough that real life can occur without the guarantee of a satisfying conclusion, do I really want that for my entertainment as well ?