~ by Jim B. on Thursday September 4, 2008.
During the voiceover at the beginning of LOTR the film, viewers are introduced to the intricate world of Middle Earth. More importantly, they are introduced to its history. They are shown great kings and clashing armies; heroes struggling against monsters; “good versus evil” on an impressive scale. The premise for the story is established: the Dark Lord Sauron is defeated but allowed to retain power in Middle Earth through his ring.
The focus soon shifts, however, to smaller-scale events: the ring is forgotten, Smeagol/Gollum happens upon the ring, Bilbo happens upon the ring, and so on. At this point in the narration, the Shire and its innocent hobbit inhabitants are introduced. The hobbits, small in stature, are portrayed as simple rural folk- a fairly sharp contrast to the armored soldiers fighting for their lives earlier on in the exposition. The narrator remarks that even a hobbit can shape the course of history, and it is this idea-the idea that ordinary people can influence something as extraordinary as Tolkien’s Middle Earth-that I believe to be the major basis for story development in LOTRO.
The player character in LOTRO is immediately immersed in a story. In the story, he or she is addressed personally and depended upon in some way. Thus included in the action, the player feels that he or she has a part to play in the outcome. Instead of randomly slaughtering innocent woodland creatures, the player can enjoy a sense of purpose while exploring a world (dare I throw out the term gamespace ?) that grows and progresses as only an MMO can. While watching the movie, my thoughts are something like, “I wonder what they’ll do next.” While playing the game, my thoughts tend more towards, “I wonder what I’ll do next.” So in the movie, the story develops around the ring and the fellowship. In the game, the story is everywhere- it develops around the player character as he or she travels the lands looking to leave a mark.