Until recently, all MMOG\’e2\’80\’99s were set in a fictitious world: Britannia, Norrath, Dereth. Most upcoming titles follow similar lines, creating a completely fictitious world in which the players live out their virtual lives. Recently, a couple of new games were announced that are not set in fiction. World War II Online, and to a lesser extent, Dark Age of Camelot.
WW2O is set of course, on Earth during World War II, somewhere in the European Theater. DAOC appears to be set in Britain, in the distant past. One of these is of concern, the other less so, although the same standards should be applied to both.
Both games have developed a community following, as most online games have been doing. There are some stark differences however, between these two communities.
DAOC appears to be gathering the same sort of \’e2\’80\’9cmedieval period fantasy\’e2\’80\’9d community, similar to the existing \’e2\’80\’9cBig Three\’e2\’80\’9d: Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Asheron\’e2\’80\’99s Call. All three are set similarly, despite the vast differences between their worlds. Since none of these worlds is seated in reality, the ugliness of reality hasn\’e2\’80\’99t quite as easily spilled into them. Yes, there\’e2\’80\’99s racism and various forms of hatred, but such has been brought in by the players for the most part, and further discussion of the issue is beyond the scope of this writing.
Camelot is set in Britain hundreds of years ago, set in a time and place that are/were real. Britain\’e2\’80\’99s history is not exactly \’e2\’80\’9cshiny clean\’e2\’80\’9d. I\’e2\’80\’99m no expert on the British/Irish conflict, but what little I know suggests that the beginnings of that long-standing hostility began back then. This has little impact on most people (assuming that Americans make up most of the online gaming audience), but there is the distinct possibility that real-world issues between the two sides being brought into the game. An English or Irish patriot might not be quite so happy with what a particular town is named. It\’e2\’80\’99s easy for Americans to dismiss this out of hand as \’e2\’80\’9ctheir problem to work out\’e2\’80\’9d. Regardless, so far I\’e2\’80\’99ve yet to see players bringing real-world baggage into the DAOC community (I may be blind to it, but I can only keep up with so much).
WW2O, on the other hand, has sprung a community that makes one lose hope in humanity. The game\’e2\’80\’99s setting, World War II, surrounds some of the most atrocious events in human history. Dozens of teenagers are being drawn to this game, pulled in by the prospect of being a virtual Nazi or SS soldier. There is a distinct lack of understanding of what the Holocaust was. Yes, according to the publisher, players will not be able to play as concentration camp guards or executioners. That doesn\’e2\’80\’99t change the fact that giving players the ability to play on the Nazi side still associates them with what happened.
World War II and the Holocaust that went along with it are not an appropriate setting for a game. The players will bring in that disturbing baggage. Playing on the Nazi side of this game gives the players a reason to hate real people in the real world. Should players be able to distinguish between the real world and the game world? Yes, of course, but the MMOG community has shown many times that are many people who cannot, or will not.
I do wish that the developers and publishers would take a set back and look at what they are doing. They are building a game, that despite what they intend, will have the same characterizations about it as the period it is intended to reflect, including the pieces that are being left out. WW2O will end up being a \’e2\’80\’9chate\’e2\’80\’9d game.
Will DAOC pull it off? Possibly. Their setting is quite a bit less controversial, at least to the world at large. The same questions should be asked daily of it, however.
Setting a game in reality is an interesting idea, setting a MMOG in reality is also an interesting idea. Not all ideas, interesting or not, are good ones, however. MMOG\’e2\’80\’99s in general thrive on various forms of conflict, so it is natural to seek a real setting with conflict: the British/Irish conflict, a major war, and so on. It is my opinion, however, that making a MMOG out of a real-world conflict is very inappropriate. The MMOG audience tends to degenerate into the lowest common denominator, and that is typically someone who will gladly embrace any reason to hate someone else. There’s enough problems with hate in the world as it stands without a game making it worse.