It's not really their fault, MMO's can tell a story, it's just it falls short in so many ways. It's just this, I think it's hard for a video game to truly, in a deep and emotional way, move you with its story. Why? It's the fault of books.
So to that end I propose, for the sake of the future of MMO's, that we burn all the books in the world.
Dang, I hope you didn't believe me there! Of course I think book burning is tragic, immoral, illogical, illwhatevered baddness and all out evilness. That still doesn't mean that it's not the fault of thousands of years of literature, whether it be carved into stone or typed out and posted to the world wide interwebnetsess or bound and sold at Border's Bookstore.
I'm no expert at these kinds of things, but I've got a pretty good idea why a story from an MMO doesn't measure up in quality with that of good old fashioned literature in book form. It's not internalized the same way word on a page are. Let me attempt to explain (although I'm sure I'll suck at it).
From personal experience, when I'm reading a book that doesn't completely suck, something happens to my brain. I enter a sort of trancelike state where my mind receives the information from the words and then is given freedom to shape images in his head in a very personal way. True, many book authors will describe a scene or a person with great detail, letting you, the reader, know of the color of the carpet or the temperature of the air or the amount of light coming through the windows. But even then our mind creates other details that the author never thinks to include, and it's these little things that makes the scene personal to us, almost to a point where the reader is authoring the story simultaneously with the actual writer.
Have you ever seen a movie or TV show adapted from a book and said to yourself or someone else "that's not how I pictured him/her to look like". It's funny, really, because even when an author describes a person, each reader pictures someone unique and different, sometimes even changing major features to suit his/her whims. This is an example of a book becoming personal, and a reader's relationship with that piece of literature.
In a video game, all the visuals are provided, and often story is communicated with words or text or quests or whatever, but a visual is given to you with no room for interpretation or personalization. That barrier to personalization keeps the user from fully participating in the story in the way that readers participate in creating details while reading a book.
So right away MMO devs are at a disadvantage when trying to tell a story. They can make the story compelling, but they lose the ability for the player to participate in the character's creation.
I have some experience in writing...some. I've written some short stories and am about 75% completed with a fictional novel, along with a lot of poetry between the years of 16-26 (the "wooing years" I call them). I have my wife read what I write, to criticize and to encourage me, but often when I discuss with her the "behind the scenes" details of my characters or scenes, she tells me that she pictured something different in her mind while reading. It's good, really, because it forces me to make sure that I'm consistent, but it also proves the point I made earlier about a reader personalizing a story regardless of what the author wrote.
The story of Arthas, as told via the game of WoW, is interesting. There are points that you see where you want to reach through the screen and strangle him for making some of the decisions that he made, but ultimately I have never felt for Arthas or any other character in that fantasy world the same I have felt about hundreds of other characters I've read in books.
Perhaps a contributing factor is that MMO's generally deal with fantsay, while much of literature, even fantasy novels, often deal with real human issues of love, hate, jealousy, power, etc in ways that are significanly more realistic than a cartoon character on a computer monitor.
Again, I don't blame MMO's for not being as good, I just think that there are inevitable barriers that cannot be crossed no matter the skill of the dev in creating compelling story lines or scenes. Not to mention, often in liturature you share the journey of the main character, from their insecure beginnings to their heroic finale. Music, TV, movies, and MMO's just don't measure up to books in sucking in the reader/player and immersing them in such a personal way as to make that person feel that, at times, that they are actually there.
So, why talk about something like this? Why bash MMO's for their failures?
Well partly because I, like others, have been thinking or discussing a lot lately about the future of MMO's and how they could be "better", that is please old and newer type players. I'm not really intelligent enough about game design to throw my hat into the ring too often, I'd just like to say that I don't think that we should expect MMO's to create immersive stories because I don't believe that they are capable of it.
So let's try to fix them in other ways. RP is immersive, but it's personal and done in the player's mind. Images on a screen have never proven to immerse someone into a story the way words on a page do, and I'll argue that point till the day I die. I'd love to see changes to the World of WoW, I'd really love it. I'd like to see consistency and reason in the stories I play through as well, but I'm not asking for something that I don't think a video game is capable of.
That's all I have for now, I'm sure I'll think of other stuff later, I usually do. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful day in whatever world you play in.