Uncanny Valley and MMO’s — Part 2 of 2

I described the Uncanny Valley hypothesis and how I related it to MMO’s in my last post, choosing to look at the technical aspects of whether or not players will one day be able to feel as though their avatars are an extension of themselves or whether in fact, they even desire this. For the second part of this, I’m going to focus on the emotional aspect of this idea. Social interaction with other players and NPC’s would play the greatest part of course, as well as character freedom. I will warn you I do get a bit side-tracked at times, but I think everything ultimately relates to the topic.

I’ll start with social interactions. It’s clear that currently in MMO’s there is very little true social interaction, at least that actual involves your avatar. Sure you can click on an NPC to obtain a quest and type a message to another player on the keyboard, but your character simply sits there while you perform these actions. I think the first step in changing this involves voice communication, which we have recently seen an influx in with the use of software like Ventrilo and TeamSpeak. In fact, some games have already included systems built into the game that allow voice chat, either through a third party program or one they’ve created themselves. Dungeons and Dragons Online has a built in system, Lineage 2 uses MSN messenger, and EVE Online is currently implementing a system as well. Again, though, this is simply for players to communicate what they want or need from other players. Rarely is it used to role play, speaking as the character would. This is part of the problem that many players currently have in using voice chat. They feel that it breaks the illusion when a 13 year old middle-of-puberty boy starts talking in Ventrilo while playing a 300-pound dwarf. While I agree that this breaks the atmospheric feel of the game, I would argue that so does reading the text that people type into a box. You don’t see people walking around with a whiteboard and a dry erase marker writing everything they want to express (I hope,) so why is this any more realistic than a 54 year old man with emphysema talking for a night elf woman? Also, companies have started creating voice chat programs that will altar your voice such as MorphVOX Pro (Vivox is also working on a program as well) to whatever you want yourself to sound like. While they are far from perfect it’s a sign that things are changing and heading in this direction.

More than just talking to other players though, I think a large step towards realism in MMO’s is NPC’s actual talking to you. I know EverQuest 2 has started with this and some of the quests you obtain will actually have the NPC say it out loud to you. The biggest problem you run into with this is getting voice actors that are actually good. If they are poorly done, it’s worse than just reading it so you have to be careful when implementing something like this. Also, I think if you get good voice actors, people might be more interested in actually reading the quests more than they do now, usually just clicking the accept button and reading the objective later, but quests are another subject I’m going to tackle after this. Also bodily movements (expressions) and mouth movement are essential in this. No matter how good the voice actors are, if the NPC is a rock then it will just be awkward and simply won’t work.

True character freedom is also very important in creating a sense of realism in order to feel a part of your character. Characters will need to actually be able to have control of the way they move. While this might not be possible in combat yet, there needs to be some way of doing so when not in combat. Asheron’s Call uses a combat/peace mode system. Perhaps this would work for the proposed situation. This may not be possible with the current mouse and keyboard configuration, but is just one more step towards realism. The ability to push someone, pick up a rusty axe off the ground, hold someone’s hand, or even scratch our characters head (your imagination can come up with all sorts of other possibilities I’m sure) would be incredible addition to a game. While we do have e-motes, they just aren’t the same.

Well there you have it. These are the most essential things that I’ve come up with when it comes to having a more realistic take on our characters we play for hours on end. There are many more things involved in believability in MMO’s, but they involve gameplay which is a completely different subject in my opinion. So is truly connecting with your character something you even desire within a game? Clearly we desire our games to be based on our reality, but how much is too much? These are questions I would love to hear your responses to, so let me know what you think. I hope you enjoyed this, and I’ll be back soon to talk about questing and possible improvements that could be made.

~Kanthalos

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