Revelation Online Taught Me The Value Of Purposeless Space
Whenever I play an MMORPG I push against the boundaries of the game’s world, find out just where the invisible walls are or where the developers don't want me to go. It's exciting. Some primal urge churns deep within my belly to challenge the environment. So I run up against mountains, climb behind Ironforge, and run as far across the ocean as I can, until I’m teleported or a megalodon swallows me whole.
But Revelation Online surprised me—gave me an epiphany that I would have brushed off as trivial before. Let me explain step by step how I had such a… realization.
You start off your grindfest on a tutorial island, introducing the game’s mechanics. It’s orientation that pens all the noobs together so no one gets lost or overwhelmed before they understand how to play. I like it.
The orientation tasks players with completing some mindless quests in and around a small city: oppress the plant rebellion and make sure table three has their hot tamales. Simple stuff. Stuff any veteran will be familiar with. I like to call them icebreaker quests—as of this writing.
But I opened my map and became curious. There’s an entire forest and mountain range sitting just outside the quest area. I had to find out what was there; I had to leave the intended trail: “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
So I wuxia-skipped my away across the map at breakneck speed. And what did I discover?
A beautiful nothing, a large area with no purpose: no quests, no mobs, nothing to motivate a player's presence except for the environment itself. And I find that to be a fascinating notion, even if it wasn’t intentional on the part of the developer.
The area still has lanterns and trails segmented by ancient arches, even a couple NPC’s fishing near a campfire. But I couldn’t interact with any of it. Instead I ran through the forest, climbed a mountain, and soared across a chasm to an island. There was nothing to do but explore the environment: grass and rocks and trees and sunlight pushing its way through the leaves.
It was a moment of serenity.
And it made me ask, “what value is there in this emptiness? Why isn’t there an invisible wall preventing me from going here? Should there be one? Am I really off the marked territory on the map?”
The typical MMORPG is designed so that the entire world will be intentionally touched by your avatar’s feet—or hooves or fins or whatever. You will walk down this or that path, climb this or that mountain, because a quest made sure you did so. Everything in the world relates back to your journey.
But Revelation Online has shown me the paradigm is worth ignoring.
True worlds are places where we make a small meaningful impact. We can’t see every forest, vanquish every enemy, talk to every person. That’s a fantasy, an omniscience only possible in virtual worlds.
And that hurts the world’s value because the world is treated as a background for your quests, a play map for your toy: your avatar. It exists solely to be the catalyst for your hero's journey.
Trivial areas, one’s that exist only for their own sake and nothing else, give a game world a sense of permanence, of magnitude. “This is a place that exists with or without you. You never need to set foot here but if you do there is something to see—and that’s it.” To explore every inch of it you’ll have to abandon your quest, the only reward being to satisfy your drive to explore.
Purposeless space also creates value for areas with purpose. They imbue where your journey takes place with far more meaning by creating a juxtaposition: “This is where civilization and monsters thrive. The rest is wilderness only the bored or intrepid venture to.” Purposeless space makes where you quest feel like just one part of an expansive world you’ll never fully understand.
I should be clear, I don’t mean empty spaces, but purposeless. A purposeless space still has character: architecture, trails, NPCs, rabbits, etc. Life can still lurk in a purposeless space; it’s only purposeless because your character's narrative doesn't depend on it.
I’ve only explored a small portion of Revelation. And I have no idea if the purposeless space I discussed was intentional. It doesn’t matter. I believe it should have been, that more developers should create worlds that that are more than stomping grounds for your character.
Purposeless space is vital to creating a meaningful world. I hope to see more MMORPGs motivate my need to explore, by including areas with no reward but exploration.
Until then, I’ll keep pushing up against the boundaries of virtual worlds, seeing just how far I can go.
See our Revelation Online Review Game Page to see user ratings/additional information.