I really enjoyed this episode and it inspired a lot of reflections on my own relationship with lore. I ended up drawing a very different conclusion than Rob regarding effective lore relating to characters or human stakes within the game’s story.
The discussion made me think about the way my relationship to the lore of Warcraft changed over the 13 years that I spent playing that franchise. The first Warcraft game that I played was Warcraft II, back in 1995. I remember enjoying the game so much that I spent a lot of time reading over the manual, reading the world history, looking at the art, learning the names of the different clans and their leaders. None of that information had any significance to the game itself. The reason I cared about that supplemental material was because the experience of playing the game had engaged my imagination and I wanted to spend more time in that world.
Perhaps this is part of the appeal of the grimoires. Lore is inherently supplemental to the experience of the game. If it weren’t optional, it would be plot. So, perhaps going outside of the game to seek out the information, feeling the requisite curiosity to put forth the effort, informs the enjoyment of lore?
As I moved on to Warcraft III and WoW, I found that my early investment in the lore actually enhanced my enjoyment of those games. Knowing that backstory of the orc clans (which was completely unnecessary to playing WCII) made their journey under Thrall more meaningful. Being familiar with Thrall and Grom made it more interesting to play as them in WCIII. Having played as Thrall and Arthas in WCIII made it more interesting to encounter them in WoW.
But I found that something changed for me when WoW started getting deeper and deeper into its lore with the expansions. I totally stopped caring. Now, that almost certainly had to do with the fact that I stopped playing after Wrath of the Lich King. And it probably also has to do with how convoluted it’s gotten. But I also think that it had to do with the fact that the more Blizzard did to centre the lore as an important part of the game, the less interesting it became. I tried catching up on WoW’s lore a few months ago by YouTubing some cut scenes from past expansions and I didn’t last 10 minutes before I got bored and stopped.
Maybe that’s because I am no longer invested in the game itself. But maybe it’s also because these stories are not interesting enough to be the focal point of the experience. If the history and mythology of Dark Souls was foregrounded as the plot of the game so that you had to hear exposition about cycles and the First Flame in order to progress, would anyone care? Or are people interested in the lore because the game creates an evocative world that is not weighed down by plot contrivances?