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[Column] General: Pop Culture in World Building

SBFordSBFord Associate Editor - News ManagerThe CitadelPosts: 22,965MMORPG.COM Staff Epic

Pop culture defines much of our daily life, from the music we hear to the TV shows we watch to the games we play. But do games adequately represent pop culture? Find out what we think in today's Fair Game. Head to the comments to continue the discussion.

Pop, (that is to say, popular) culture is not a new phenomenon, nor is it a byproduct of the technology age. Throughout human history, ideas (memes) have taken hold of public consciousness, often ruling the day in which they developed. Harry Potter’s trials and tribulations may have been a formative experience for an entire modern generation, but the fictional lives (and fates) of Dickens’ characters were no less compelling for the real people crowding New York Harbor in 1840-41, demanding of incoming ships, “What happens to Little Nell?”

Read more of Lisa Jonte's Fair Game: Pop Culture in World Building.



  • SenadinaSenadina San Diego, CAPosts: 896Member Uncommon
    First of all, you can play Mass Effect on the PC. Not a console exclusive. Secondly, I don't think the devs have the time, money, or incentive to update make believe pop culture references in their games. I think they feel that most players don't care that much. I'm not here to argue if that assumption is correct or not. I honestly don't know how the majority feel about it. I think it's something best left to a single-player game that can create a complete, unchanging world. In an MMO, it should be used sparingly, so as not to alienate the players who do not wish to get a cultural studies degree in some fantasy world. Look at how resistant Western players are to the pop culture of Eastern games, and I think you have your answer.

  • ApocalypseSunriseApocalypseSunrise Paducah, KYPosts: 80Member

    "If the purpose of an MMO is to be an immersive alternate reality, why should such a crucial part of the puzzle be so conspicuously absent?"

    You do understand what you wrote, right?

    If it's an "alternate reality" then this particular puzzle piece may not even be a part OF that reality.


    Philosophy - FTW!

    Yes, I've read a poem. Try not to faint.

  • maplestonemaplestone Ottawa, ONPosts: 3,099Member Uncommon
    Every culture absorbs and digests the pop culture it replaces, eventually making its holidays and stories it's own.
  • lostscout5lostscout5 patchogue, NYPosts: 57Member
    I lot of games do have at least some pop culture, but it tends to be very limited. Usually it's only a modified version of one or two holidays. There is a lot more that can be done to add flavor, such as brand names for in game products, posters for performers, ect.. I think we don't see that much of it because Dev's are usually rushed for time. When you have to ship a game by a certain date and you have to pick which is more important, fixing a game killing bug or adding "flavor" to the environment, hopefully the bug gets fixed.
  • ReallyNow10ReallyNow10 Pile It High Town, LAPosts: 2,196Member Uncommon

    I remember how WOW loaded Uldum with pop culture references to Indiana Jones and it was grating on the nerves.  I do not mind a subtle sprinkling of pop culture (like the NPC lumberjacks on one zone being named after the first names of Monty Python's troupe, but overkill ruins immersion for the price of a few wry chuckles.

    So, NO.

  • KhalathwyrKhalathwyr Denton, TXPosts: 3,138Member

    I mean, the first two posts here pretty much sum it up.

    I hate real world pop culture references in my MMOs. Its lazy and it isn't funny. It shows me that the games creators really aren't creative. If they were they would create new "pop culture" references based on the culture of the NPCs in the world they have created.

    People just don't think that far or that deeply. Their a computer science major, not a philosophy major. Well, maybe MMO companies need to start hiring more philosophy majors.

    Now, that's not to say real world pop culture references don't belong. Sure in games like Fallen Earth or Fallout something PopC today may have a place. But coding it so that avatars can do the Macarena and calling it the "Macarena" in a High Fantasy MMO....lazy, uninspired, hacknyed, lame and ultimately is an insult to RPGing.

    "Many nights, my friend... Many nights I've put a blade to your throat while you were sleeping. Glad I never killed you, Steve. You're alright..."

    Kickstarter 2 / Naysayers 0

  • Po_ggPo_gg Twigwarren, WestfarthingPosts: 3,654Member Rare
    I think the column was about the gameworld's own pop-culture (and the absence of it most of the time) and not about the in-game references of the real world. The Lumberjack song is awesome btw :)


    OP, maybe LotRO? Town criers keep announcing latest events, npc's gossiping the news and addressing you based on your status there (true, it's scripted), etc. Even your questions are answered mostly, if only by players and titles:

    Charismatic ones and new dresses/uniform - there are fashion contests, with titles to show later, awarded by gm's. New outfits coming out all the time, usually themed by the current festival.

    Trends in food or free time - again, festivals are great for those, occasionally with new recipes. Food can also give you titles, there are many of them so it's up to the players taste, if someone is eating veggie-based dishes all the time can earn the title vegetarian for example. (edit: who would do that anyways, when the game is stuffed with tasty pies? :) )

    Artists and entertainers - Weatherstock? :)

  • gwei1984gwei1984 ViennaPosts: 409Member Uncommon
    It works brilliantly in TSW cause it reflects our own world, but im really annoyed of those jokes WoW tries to pull with every new expansion.


  • maplestonemaplestone Ottawa, ONPosts: 3,099Member Uncommon
    No matter what the developers try to keep out, players can still bring in.  Unless you play on an RP server with severe punishment for OOC chat or play strictly solo, there are going to be pop references in your play.
  • MondoA2JMondoA2J Henderson, NVPosts: 258Member

    I agree with your article. What developers are failing to see is that you don't need to create an adventure necessarily, yes every game needs a story in some form but once you create the characters that inhabit the world itself. The story writes itself almost.

    Creating living breathing characters with dreams and aspirations and wants is all you really need.

    I find that when I dream up a person in my head the first decision is "Is this character immoral?" and from that I base where is the character going. Cause thats really the only difference from other characters I created. They all have wants, styles, tastes, professions.

    Once developers learn to make an actual evolving NPC and that spreads across an entire MMO universe. We will never be bored cause it won't be the developers that make the story or forced onto this rollercoaster of linear story. We will grow with a universe that is always shifting.

    MMORPG Gamers/Developers need a reality check!

  • RazeeksterRazeekster GlobPosts: 2,589Member Uncommon
    I've always wondered the same thing actually. I've wondered many a times why MMOs don't have ingame celebrities of their own. It seems unrealistic. And seriously, people saying it's because of money... Come on. If they can create NPCs with dialogues, they can create some pop-culture.


  • shantidevashantideva bongholmPosts: 186Member Uncommon

    So in essence..You wan't more fictional celebrities, fashion and gossip in your MMO...

    Papparazzi online anyone? Strong IP...

    "Train by day, Joe Rogan podcast by night, all day!"

  • jonrd463jonrd463 Tacoma, WAPosts: 597Member Uncommon
    Interesting article, and definitely required reading for anyone wishing to comment on it. You can easily tell which of the above commenters didn't. :)

    "You'll never win an argument with an idiot because he is too stupid to recognize his own defeat." ~Anonymous

  • AlBQuirkyAlBQuirky Sioux City, IAPosts: 3,828Member Common

    "If the purpose of an MMO is to be an immersive alternate reality, why should such a crucial part of the puzzle be so conspicuously absent?"

    You must have missed the memo.  This kind of immersion is "boring" for the majority of players.

    I would love to see this kind of thing appear in MMORPGs, but I don't foresee it happening anytime soon...

    - Al

    Personally the only modern MMORPG trend that annoys me is the idea that MMOs need to be designed in a way to attract people who don't actually like MMOs. Which to me makes about as much sense as someone trying to figure out a way to get vegetarians to eat at their steakhouse.

  • LoktofeitLoktofeit Stone Mountain, GAPosts: 14,247Member Rare

    UO, AC and EVE have regularly adopted the players' memes and fads into gameplay, both in NPC dialog and in-game items.

    I would enjoy seeing more games do that. It personalizes the game world for the players. It allows them to connect with the game more, especially when it comes to things like quests and NPCs, which have a story and lore so far removed from what the players experience in their daily gameplay. 

    There isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to play, if you want to use a screwdriver to put nails into wood, have at it, simply don't complain when the guy next to you with the hammer is doing it much better and easier. - Allein
    "Graphics are often supplied by Engines that (some) MMORPG's are built in" - Spuffyre

  • LoktofeitLoktofeit Stone Mountain, GAPosts: 14,247Member Rare

    I think some of the people are misunderstanding what kind of pop culture is being talked about in the article. 

    It's not about real world pop culture being injected into the game (ex: jokes in the Ungoro zone in WOW) but the game world's own pop culture. AC adopted a lot of player memes into spell names and locations in the game. EVE Online has incorporated player jargon, memes and player events into many of their in-game items. 

    There isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to play, if you want to use a screwdriver to put nails into wood, have at it, simply don't complain when the guy next to you with the hammer is doing it much better and easier. - Allein
    "Graphics are often supplied by Engines that (some) MMORPG's are built in" - Spuffyre

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