Friday, December 7, 2012

A Question of Quests

I'm not one to quibble about semantics, usually. But one commonly-misused word is really grating to my ears. I'm not talking about trivia like 'irregardless' or 'begging the question'; if you use the first or misuse the second, you're only making yourself look silly. That's no skin off my nose. No, the word I can't abide being abused is one that is commonly tossed around in RPG circles, especially since the advent of MMORPGs.

That word is quest.

This was the offending use that broke this particular camel's back. Someone referred to his adventure as a "simple fetch quest". I refrained from commenting, but that trivialization of what was once an awe-inspiring term has been gnawing on me for a while now.

If something is "simple", then, by definition, it's not a quest. A quest is an arduous search for something that severely tests the mettle of any party bold enough to attempt it. It is epic in scope, and poses extreme challenges and perils along the way. Think of the Holy Grail; Odysseus' return; Jason and the Golden Fleece; and (do I even have to mention it?) the destruction of the One Ring. A quest changes you, and not always in pleasant ways. "Simply fetching" something isn't a quest: it's a Chore, perhaps, or even an Errand, but it's not a quest.

I don't know when this depreciation in meaning began; for all I know, it started with MUDs, or maybe even with television, outside the gaming realm altogether. But I hadn't heard it much until World of Warcraft became the phenomenon that it did. I've never played the game, but my former roommate was an addict, and he would throw the term about casually, labeling as "quests" such non-epic tasks as escorting a merchant, killing X number of goblins, or retrieving a low-power magic item from a known location. "Quest-givers" were NPCs wandering around the city with question marks over their heads. The character record could even list which quests--plural--your avatar is currently pursuing, a kind of fantasy "to-do" list.

Maybe it's just me, but I just don't see Frodo ticking off "Destroy Ring" on a sheet of paper and then looking down to see if there's a Grail he needs to pick up somewhere.

Now, anyone who thinks that the best first response to something is to head to the Web and correct people's usage is living in a very different world than I am. But it's good to get things off your chest occasionally, and to whomever finds their way to this blog, I advise you not to engage in any arguments about it. Just use more precise terminology yourself; calling something a Task is dramatic enough, and a hard one might even be called a Labor. But let the word Quest settle for a while; it will be that much more awe-inspiring when you have a legitimate chance to use it.


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