Gods In MMORPGs

Spinks posted an interesting article about guessing the next Old God in World of Warcraft (apparently they’re all named after gods in the H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu mythos – had no idea). This got me thinking about how deities are used in MMORPGs and what I’d like to see done with them.

My first exposure to gods in MMOs was with the deities in Everquest. They were pretty hard to ignore and appeared everywhere in the lore and were mentioned a lot in game. In fact, choosing a deity to worship was also part of your character creation process, something I have never seen in any other MMORPG since. Although whatever god you picked had very little impact on your gaming experience, I really enjoyed the idea of using another attribute to define the character of my avatar.

Everquest 2 expanded upon Everquest’s god system when it introduced worshipable deities with the Echoes of Faydwer expansion. The mechanic works by allowing you to pick a god to worship by simply finding the appropriate quest giver and completing a level 20 quest. For your efforts, you receive a shrine you can place in your home and use to sacrifice items to in return for favour which you can use to purchase spell abilities. From there on, you can complete a series of quests, one every ten levels, to unlock access to more abilities and more items. It’s a very cool and engaging system.

Age of Conan has no deity system whatsoever and it was a huge disappointment to me. The whole Conan world is so massively ingrained with the idea of worshiping gods, everyone from Crom to Set, and I was really hoping it play a large role in the game. Although you can pick classes like Tempest of Set or Priest of Mitra, it didn’t seem to have much impact on anything you did or what could do. Perhaps a deity system would’ve added some much needed depth to the game.

World of Warcraft doesn’t seem to really focus on gods much at all. I know there are a few kicking around and obviously they exist and you can raid against some of them but that’s pretty much all I know about it. Kinda strange now that I think about it considering I’ve been playing the game for over eight months and I’ve done a fair bit of reading about the backstory. Is it just me or are gods in WoW not so prominiently featured in the story?

Overall, I think gods can add a huge amount of depth to a MMO either through game mechanics or simply by helping to define your character. Although the concept of allowing your character to worship a deity may seem a little superficial or redundant, it’s actually a part of the whole ‘RPG’ experience of MMORPGs that appeals to me. I enjoy anything that I can use to help distinguish and set apart my character from other players.

Ultimately I’d love a fully fledged deity mechanic in a fantasy based MMO, in which your choice of actions effects who you can worship and your choice of deity actually has an impact of how you are perceived in game.

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10 Comments

  1. Sharon says:

    Interesting ideas! Apart from rp on my WAR server, I haven’t seen religion play much of a role in MMOs at all.

    Lost Souls MUD has a class, the ELF (Erisian Liberation Front) Guerilla, where you invoke the gods to aid you in various ways. You have to build favor with them by sacrificing things they want, gain skills in ritual, language, etc., and you have to invoke them in the right way. If you don’t do it correctly, you’re likely to end up dead (or worse… chaos is unpredictable!) You can’t invoke the same god too often in too short a period of time, or you’ll draw his attention and possibly piss him off. So you’re going about the business of questing and killing, using your powers and hoping they don’t backfire, always knowing the each time you invoke Hastur, he might just decide to insta-kill you.

    I’d love to see a class like that in an MMO, where you have to watch your step and keep your gods happy, or at least hope they don’t notice you too much, or the consequences get ugly.

  2. Beej says:

    I really hope the next Old God in WoW is based on Nyarlathotep (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nyarlathotep). I’m a huge Lovecraft fan, and Nyar is one of the coolest Elder Gods. Fun stuff in the Maelstrom expansion, maybe?

    I think part of the reason that Blizzard has avoided gods in their MMO is because of political correctness. Priests and Paladins and Druids and cults all have their gods, but they are downplayed. I wonder if, to an extent at least, Blizzard is afraid of the anti-religious backlash they might get if they were to allow characters to actually interact with a deity like EQII because of parents letting children play. EQII isn’t nearly as mainstream as WoW is, so it doesn’t have to deal with that as much.

    I live in the Bible Belt, and I can’t imagine the backlash something like that would have in my community. The fundamentalists would cry foul because they would say that the game was teaching children to worship false gods and the devil. I don’t know about other places, but every time a new Harry Potter novel or movie comes out, I hear way more than I would like about it being the downfall of society. Ugh, I hate to think about that being interactive.

  3. Beej is most likely right, the worry is that introducing explicit gods in a game that has gotten as high profile as WoW is asking for trouble from some people. Of course, most of those people are going to point to the spellcasting and scream “Witchcraft!” anyway….

    In Meridian 59, the name of the spell schools are the names of the gods that sacrificed themselves to protect the lands. So, Shal’ille was the goddess of healing and protection, so she’s the school with all the healing abilities.

    The thing I don’t like about gods in games is that it often leads to kind of silly writing. Hammer on the keyboard, pepper in a few vowels if needed, pick a “cool” aspect (like disease, or war, or evil, or fire!) and you have a god. Set up some petty rivalries and you have a typical MMO pantheon. I’ll admit, M59 is just as guilty of this and of apostrophe abuse in some names! Developers should do better than high school D&D geeks did!

  4. openedge1 says:

    That would be interesting if AoC would have had some type of Deity buffs or something when worshiping the specific God.
    Of course, since the peoples of Stygia could not be evil, how could they bow to Set.
    Yea…AoC has some major issues in the content arena for sure.

    Good post mate

    Later

  5. Whatsmymain says:

    The thing about the Old Gods in World of Warcraft is that they aren’t really gods. In truth lore places them more as some form of parasite that feeds on planets. I think WoW was smart in their choice to make various religions in the game based more of ideals then of a diety. Paladins and Priests serve the light, but of course the light could be molded to fit whatever the players religion is.

    The Naruu are the closest to dieties for paladins and priests but ultimately they are just beings of Light. Again Light being completely subjective.

    I find it interesting that the races the players play were molded by both good and evil forces. Such as the curse of the flesh from the Old Gods or the destruction of the well of eternity due to Sargeras (one of the titans) trying to come through a portal. That even lead to the creation of the naga as well as the Blood Elfs. Also indirectly leading to the Forsaken (Sylvannas was a blood elf originally)

    No one being in the game is supremely powerful and the face of Azeroth shows the wear of these powers trying to become supreme.

  6. Gordon says:

    @Sharon Sounds fascinating. I’d love to see a complex system like in a new MMORPG, something that really challenges our views on religon in fantasy MMOs.

    @Beej That’s true, I never thought it. I imagine Blizzard is slightly scared of the religous backlash. I remember reading about schools in the US banning Pokemon for being evil. Crazy! Imagine how they would react to playing a character who follows a fictional religion…

    @Pyschochild LOL, yeah that’s very true :) MMORPGs tend to have pretty unimagintive Gods. I’d love to see some really complex gods and religions that actually make you think about if you want to serve them or not… not just because they give you cool powers.

    @Openedge AoC would be ripe for a diety system. Gods are so prevalent in the lore of the universe, I’m surprised there was nothing to do with them in the game.

    @Whatsmymain Thanks for the info! Very interesting. I didn’t know that about the Old Gods in WoW. The ‘Light’ is an interesting concept but a little cliché. I’d love to able to roleplay a ‘fallen’ Paladin in WoW for instance.

  7. whatsmymain says:

    That is one of the downsides is that, while you can roleplay a fallen paladin, actually having him have different in game abilities isn’t possible. Atleast when WoW is concerned. Still I believe that is part of the huge draw to the DK class. Aside from the OMG DKS ARE OP kids picking up the class. My best friend played a Shadow Knight in EQ so when I got him to pick up WoW again he rerolled a DK on my server and absolutely loved it.

    I think it is also nice how a lot of the armor from raids in WotLK have a more dark quality to them (even if the same model is reused 5 million times) but then the actual pally tier 7 gear is as pallyranger as you can get.

  8. Gordon says:

    DKs are fun enough but they just don’t appeal to me for some reason. I think because I played a SK in EQ and EQ2 a lot so they don’t offer anything new to me. I also like the idea of being able to tank, heal or DPS depending on how I spec.

    In terms of RP, I’d love to make my Paladin alt just a little more interesting. It would be awesome to forsake the light and gain different abilities as a result. It’s the type of thing that I could imagine being tied into talent specs in other games.

    Also, according to the lore, I never really understand why Blood Elfs can worship the light and be Paladins? What’s the story behind that?

  9. whatsmymain says:

    If you paid attention to the stupid quest in Shattrath where you take the tour, the guide kind of explains a bit of that. Basically the Dreanei and Blood Elfs were at war with eachother and had seiged Shattrath. Before the final push though the leader of the Blood Elfs came forward and surrendered and ask to speak with the Naruu. He had recieved a vision and it essentially moved him enough for him to devote his life and the lives of those he commanded to defend the Naruu at all costs.

    Hence the Scryer faction in Shatt was formed. A few of the dedicated Blood Elfs learned the way of the light from the Naruu and became Paladins. Thats the story for the most part.

    I may have butchered parts of it and I’m not sure how those Blood Elfs got back to Silvermoon at the start of BC. That may be explained in the starting area but since I never played a Blood Elf past lvl 8 I couldn’t tell you.

  10. Gordon says:

    Oooh, cool. Thanks for the explanation :) I remember that Shattrath quest but I never paid any attention to it :)

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