Long, long ago, before I threw myself into my current path of East Asian specialist, I was a classicist-in-training with a focus on first century BC Roman lyric poetry. So I read with interest a piece in the Escapist comparing modern MMOs with the epic forerunners of centuries past – the likes of the Illiad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, among others. Anyone who’s ever waded through any of the epic classics can relate to the formulaic nature of the stories – epithets abound (Aeneas is always faithful, Achilles is always swift-footed, Dawn is always rosy-fingered), structure is repetitive, stories are familiar. The repetition isn’t merely the mark of a lazy story teller (or game developer), oh no:
When an audience member sat down to listen to an oral epic poet in ancient Greece, he knew he was going to hear about Jason and Achilles and Medea and Atalanta beforehand, in the same way an MMOG player knows he’s going to get Fighters and Warriors and Clerics and Rogues. Furthermore, our ancient poetry lover also knew he would hear about “swift-footed Achilles” or “resourceful Odysseus,” in the same way our MMOG fan can expect to hear about wolves that need slaying and mushrooms that need collecting.
Such formulas – whether in epic poetry or MMOGs – are not just for the convenience of the artist; they’re ultimately for the benefit of the audience, eliminating guesswork and confusion and giving people what it is they expect – a new toy with familiar packaging.
However, no matter how formulaic Vergil might have been in structure and use of epithets, his language itself is a pleasure to read in the original – even formulaic structure becomes a masterpiece when it’s dressed up appropriately. Formula serves a purpose, but it’s no fun when it’s bland.
Rhapsody: Quest Formulas in MMORPGs [The Escapist]