Our sense of place, of cause and effect, and of change and growth, is directly linked to how we experience space and time. This is true both in real life and in any imagined world. Yet we have a lot more control over space and time in our imagination than in the real world. As such, we exploit this control in story telling, whether in books, film, or even games, to great effect. We can slow things down to build up anticipation, jump from place to place to follow parallel events simultaneously, or even move backwards in time to see past events play out from various perspectives. Good writers can play with these elements without us even noticing, and just as easily we find ourselves journeying through an epic saga in the span of a few hours, or have an hour drag out as we absorb each plot twist in the smallest detail. But how does this play out with MMOs?
For an MMO world to feel rich, vibrant, and full of life, it needs to manipulate these elements of space and time. But unlike a movie or book, where you are simply along for the ride, a game is interactive in a way that links imagination to the real world. After all, your imaginary self may move as fast as lightning, but your keyboard reflexes remain (to varying degrees) human. Now single player games have some flexibility, as the rest of the game can slow down or even stop while you set up your next move, allowing you to engage the game world in a way less restricted by your physical limits. However, an MMO world brings many other people into the world, all of whom can only interact and engage with each other at a normal, human pace. But at a normal, human pace, an epic journey like the Lord of the Rings would take much too long for many people to realistically partake in, or for it to remain fun.
So how can we have that sense of grand adventure, in a massive world full of unknown wonders, and engage with others in that world, and yet have it all condensed to suitable lengths of time? Granted what is a suitable length of time one should dedicate to an online world is not defined and very subjective, but perhaps there have been ways in which some games managed to give you this feeling over one or more gaming sessions? I'm curious how well you feel MMOs have convinced you of the scale and history of their world through gameplay and storytelling elements, or how you think they could do better?