Ni No Kuni and MMOs

What game design lessons can MMOs — and games of all sorts — take from Ni No Kuni’s nontraditional quests? Daniel Hill explores the power that comes from playing a game with goals clearly larger than your own.

If you think about it, video games really have their roots in selfish endeavors of accomplishment. Arcades were all about having the highest score, quicker reflexes than your fellow arcade goer, and the most quarters to keep those extra lives coming. When it came down to it, games were almost like a publicly private experience.

Video games are quite different now, with MMOs such as the wildly successful World Of Warcraft creating online communities where people come together to go out and plunder dungeons and slaughter massive hordes of creatures.

While MMO’s make you feel like part of community, somehow, the experience manages to feel no different than those arcades or competitive online shooters. Even if you are part of a raid, you are still there to get something out of it for yourself – to get a nice piece of loot, gain some experience points, or otherwise.

It’s hard to get the sense that you’re working towards a goal that is bigger than yourself. Enter Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch.

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This game is not an MMO, and yet, because of a particularly unique brand of questing, the game lends a stronger sense of community with run-of-the-mill NPC’s that humans can. What’s up with that?

In Ni No Kuni, you are actually helping people to work towards the betterment of all and, ultimately, saving the world. Broken-hearted quests see you helping a person restore a particular trait they are lacking by withdrawing that trait from another person.

One man loses his courage after having a bad experience traveling, and this cowardice is holding him back from opening his exotic traveling ice cream shop. You perform a fetch quest, but not in the traditional way.

Striking out to help the man, you ask people around town if you can borrow some of their courage. When you find a willing donor, you withdraw it from them using a spell and bring it back to the man, whose renewed courage helps him move towards his dream. This quest feels far more noble and human than any quest undertaken in a genre of games where you’re surrounded by humans.

Ni No Kuni doesn’t perfectly emulate doing something selflessly. You are rewarded stamps for stamp cards that can be redeemed for rewards when you help a person get their courage or enthusiasm back, but how else can you symbolize the emotional reward you get in real life from helping someone?

What if MMOs required you to interact with people with ways other than stabbing them, trading with them, or teaming up with them to go stab somebody? If MMOs took some notes from Ni No Kuni, the “communities” these games have can become actual communities.

What if MMOs gave you bonuses for helping others?

No, not the NPC quest givers, but other players. What if you found a pile of another player’s loot out in the wilderness, and when you touched it, a ping appeared on your map, granting you the opportunity to bring it back to the player that lost it? It would be great to be rewarded for helping someone simply out of an act of kindness, for once.

Rewarding people for helping each other could totally change the landscape of online games and how people play games. We probably wouldn’t see mean-spirited people totally eliminated from games. As video games have taught us since the beginning of games, there’s always a bad guy.

What if games rewarded you for helping gamers who are being attacked. What if you saw griefers going after a lower-level player, and you came to their aid, trying to ward off the attackers and helping the poor low-level individual enjoy the game?

An ecosystem of gamers that are motivated to help each other in more ways could create another layer of fiction to just about any universe.

We might see gamers pop up that dedicate themselves to fighting for the welfare of their fellow gamer. The strong silent type that travels the land and fights bandits of other gamers off of smaller, weaker players. Not only would this offer a morally fulfilling experience, but one that could really become its own story as well. The idea of clans of warrior monks, traveling the land to help others is really appealing.

In addition to the general awesomeness lent to the game’s fiction, it might even encourage gamers to grow up a little bit. Let’s face it – there is still a large portion of the gaming community that is out to claw their way to the top no matter what.

Ni No Kuni taught me that helping others really has far-reaching effects, and if MMOs starting encouraging to help others in different ways, it could encourage a generation of gamers that just want to help each other out, instead of questing for personal glory.

Granted, this isn’t a perfect solution. You are still being rewarded for carrying out selfless acts, which really just seems to make them very not selfless. However, it’s a great start, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that wants to see gamers helping each other out a lot more, even if we have to dangle a carrot to get people to do it for a little while.

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"Daniel Hill here. When I’m not trying to think of something new or weird to write about videogames here, over at Den Of Geek, or at Geek Revolt, I love me some hip hop or downtempo dubstep, hitting the gym, or stumbling around on the internet for too many hours."

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