Greg Aleknevicus, at The Games Journal - a web publication concerned with the art and design of the boardgame, poses an interesting cross-over question. In "German Games are Fradulent" he claims that there should be a thematic <-> mechanical connection to good (board) game design. Is there an equivalent principle for MMOGs: a thematic <-> simulation connection?
Greg states the advantage, for board games, in this way:
Look back to the games that Avalon Hill produced in the 1970's and 1980's and you'll find that they're much more closely tied to their themes. Merchant of Venus may have some rather odd bits of thematic colour but there's no mistaking that you're a merchant trying to make a profit. In New World, you really do feel that you're exploiting the Americas. Most of the mechanics in Dune are quite abstract but it all adds up to a game that feels remarkably faithful to the book.
He goes on to suggest to us a methodology of appraisal:
Consider playing a version of either game that has had all thematic accoutrements removed. (i.e. No artwork or descriptive text on the cards, the pawns are generic and the board is plain.) There's nothing in the gameplay of Ivanhoe to suggest that it's concerned with battling knights, it has as much theme as Hearts or Bridge. Clearly you could fit a theme to the mechanics but they do not suggest one of their own accord. A "de-themed" Duell, on the other hand, would be instantly recognizable as a fencing match to anyone who plays a few hands. The mechanics not only suggest the theme, they practically demand it.
A 'Dances with Elves Bard Fest' in an MMOG should not feel like Kung Fu Kombat, right?
Beyond the narrow considerations of the human-machine interface, are there more process-oriented links between game themes and game mechanics that need to be carried through in the the MMOG space? Should a Healer-Tanker-Nuker group pattern in a fantasy MMORPG be translated differently into a Sci-Fi Dune setting, should it *feel* different there?