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Whatever Happened To: Alignments?

My last post made me feel a little nostalgic this weekend. Like most of us, I look back at the first MMOs I played and sometime feel the need to rekindle those old feelings. Well, actually, it’s MUDs in my case, but whatever.  As I stepped back in, it hit me. I left out a big bullet point in my last post. What have we left behind?

Alignments, and that’s a big one. What ever happened to these? As far back as pen and paper RPGs, a character’s alignment pretty much decided who they were and how their journey would play out. Chaotic Evil? You’d better watch out for that guy, because he can’t be trusted. Lawful Good? Honor probably meant his life. He would live, and die, by his word.

They were pretty pivotal. Yet, alignment systems have largely been left in the dust of the current-gen of MMOs.

I think we left it behind when we decided RPGs were an equal opportunity sport. If everyone can achieve everything, what does it matter if someone can be trusted or not? If you introduce alignment based content, all of the sudden you gate people. Of course the drow can’t enter the high elf city, but don’t try to tell them that.

Moreover, what does it matter if you’re good or evil, when most players don’t even associate RP with MMOs?

I was surprised when I saw races in EQ2 were broken up by alignment. But, when I asked around, I was told that it didn’t much matter. Alignment has turned into a brush off facet of character creation.

That’s not to say that it’s totally gone. We have Alliance and Horde. Empire and Chaos. Dwarf and Greenskin. Each is based on the alignment system, which is why considering one “good” and the other “evil” is par for the course.

We also have reputation systems. But, honestly, could system be more contrived? Alignment is a choice, not an equation. But when people demand access to every sans the opposite faction’s home city, it becomes a reason to make people grind. Something went terribly wrong here. A bad design choice, lazy even, that says one option is better than two, and alignment gets transformed into rep.

Even worse, the only form of meaningful alignment left is used as a form of punishment, ala Darkfall.

It should be more than that. It should be a meaningful character trait and play into each player’s story. From that first decision: good, evil, or neutral, it becomes a means to add depth to the game. Are there deities? Why is your character lawful good? How does he feel about lawful evil? Chaotic neutral?

Some of my fondest memories in gaming are based in a MUD where, daily, groups of players from both side of the fence would go to war. There was an ever moving struggle for dominance. Goods would hunt Evils, Evils would prey on the weak, until Justice sought them out.

I always get a little excited when I hear about a game that plans to incorporate gods into their games. If there are gods, meaningful and not just on a wiki somewhere, then there must also be good and evil.

Alignments, relic of the past? Maybe, but hey, you never know.

1 comment

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  1. Renee

    I don’t really like the idea of alignment being a choice at character creation. A really good MMO would have that character some how changed through the subtle choices made, but not obvious ones as most games do. Just because you are born a certain race does not make you inherently evil. Really our in game characters wind up being a reflection of ourselves anyway, with just some traits exaggerated. At least that’s how it works for me, but maybe I’m just not creative enough.

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