Why is it that no prison in MMOs can successfully keep its prisoners under lock and key? Regardless of the type of prison or the safeguards put in place to ensure no untoward incident takes place, there is always a riot or an escape or a combination of the two. Do they always hire NPC guards that are complete imbeciles? Or are the walls made of cheap pixels? Perhaps the head jailor is a sado-masochist who gets off on getting beaten to a pulp by escaping prisoners every reset?
To illustrate the spread of this plot device, let’s observe some examples from a few popular MMOs.
World of Warcraft
Prisons breaks are to WoW as George W. Bush is to retarded. It just seems to come naturally.
First up we have The Stockades. This is a high-security prison complex beneath the canals of Stormwind City. The instance is home to henchmen, masterminds and diabolical villains alike. More recently, there has been a riot, and the place is under complete control of the criminals. The only problem is that they stay inside the walls of The Stockades and refuse to leave. It would be the Prison Break equivalent of Micheal Scoffield killing every guard and administrator inside Fox River so no one can stop his escape. And then choosing a new cell as his new home.
Wrath of the Lich King introduced the Violet Hold, a magical prison in the southern district of the floating city of Dalaran. It is now being attacked by the blue dragonflight under Malygos‘ orders. The prison guards, being the perpetually inept, blithering idiots that they are, need the players’ help to fend off the blue dragonflight and to keep the prisoners in check.
The biggest examples of ‘prison’ encounters would have to be C’Thun and Yogg-Saron. Both were Old Gods cast into earthly prisons by the Titans and now corrupt the thoughts of any foolish enough to get close to their prison. Why? Because the guys that designed the prisons were criminally retarded and made the prison out of marshmellows. The solution? Go into the prison and kill the pesky bastards.
In Millennium City, one of the first public missions you will participate in involves preventing some of the most dangerous criminals from escaping during a prison riot. Cryptic‘s Producer of Naming Originality was on vacation the week they named the event, for the event is called “Jail Break”.
Next up is Stronghold, the Desert Zone prison. Unlike Millennium City’s rehabilitation center, this facility is designed to contain and keep watch over the most nefarious and powerful supervillains. A storm knocked out the power in the ’80s, disrupting the power inhibiting fields and allowing nearly 40 supervillains to escape and wreak havoc. In the early 21st century, Grond escaped with the help of a disgruntled guard, killing several guards in the process. And rest assured, the troubles of the facility are far from over.
The Nemesis system is one of the most unique features of Champions Online. But in the interest of this article, it is worth nothing that even your Nemesis can escape from prison, forcing you to hunt the guy down yet again.
Age of Conan
Conan himself founded the upcoming Iron Tower, a towering structure of heavy stone and black iron. Intended for civil confinement of the most vile of Aquilonia’s criminals, the Iron Tower continues the Tarantia Common District story arc. And yes, you get to go in, and bring the swift and unforgiving hand of justice with great force down upon the insidious prisoners and their minions.
Prison Break: The Convenient Plot Device
Prison breaks are one of the most over-used plot devices. What morally upright (experience-points-starved) MMO player would miss out on a chance to rid the world of a villainous menace of diabolical proportions? (Side note: what exactly is a diabolical proportion BTW?) What heroic (loot-hungry) adventurer would give up on a chance to bring an uncompromising and swift end to the dubious and undoubtedly evil pursuits of the scum of the earth?
I understand the twitch reaction that causes developers to build the inevitable prison break story into the macrocosm of the world. It is a classic, convenient setup that requires minimal explanation. It doesn’t take much for the MMO player to go in charging after those foolish enough to challenge the (questionable) might of the MMO’s law enforcement agencies.
What if we thought of prisons in MMOs in a new light? What instead of keeping prisoners in, there were quests that involved breaking people out? What if a prison instance was designed to facilitate the advancement of lore without being lured into the seemingly inevitable prison break quagmire? What if designers gave us choices requiring us to question our own sense of morality and justice, instead of forcing us to choose the obvious, morally upright choice regarding prison escapes?
For all its flaws, one of the greatest missions in Champions Online involved getting defeated by VIPER forces on purpose. You wake up in a lab, and escape your captors, making your way to the inner depths of the instance searching for an evil genius who was otherwise inaccessible. It was a brilliant concept, well-implemented and flawlessly executed.
Can you think of ways this device can be improved or altered that challenges the norm and expands on the classic paradigm?
What if prisons in MMO’s could actually contain the criminals?