Following from Dusty and Syp, this is one of my ideas for a contemporary MMO setting. Thinking of an interesting non-fantasy, non-scifi (or scyfy if you prefer) backdrop that might appeal to people is quite a tough challenge.
In fact, setting any kind of immersive game in a non-magical version of the real world is always problematic. RPG writers realised this some years ago. People often game for escapism so playing a game about real life is not really going to fit the bill for most people unless you spice it up a bit.
I did also consider games about ‘police procedurals’, ‘harlequin hospital style romance crossed with House’, and Bollywood. I think any of those would be quite fun as settings. But this was the one I settled on.
CAT. You play a cat. Not a furry. Not a catgirl. Just a bog standard moggy in London. Your environment is a city but it’s a city from a cat’s point of view. It’s big. The buildings and environment is built by people, for people. As a cat, you live in and around this. You can go visit some famous monuments but it’ll be a cat’s eye view. Moving around will be a bit like a platformer, you have to do a lot of jumping. So think cat-parkour.
The main thrust of the game is all about carving out a territory for yourself. You have to be able to hunt, find safe (and maybe sunny) spots to sleep and find ways to either fight off or bribe other cats to leave you alone. Cat society (it’ll be like a cross between Carbonel and Vampire: the Masquerade) is vaguely organised. There are safe meeting places for cats, and safe routes for them to travel to get there, and each neighbourhood has a local defence gang which keeps strange cats away. There may be organised raids against rodent infestations, depending on how intelligent other animals need to be.
There is some gangland style theme to how the different cat neighbourhoods relate to each other. And although there will be plenty of opportunity for social cats to host gatherings, the game never lets players forget that they are basically predators and need somewhere to hunt. Cats can just as easily be solitary creatures and if a cat chooses to play mostly solo, they can easily find things to do with the upkeep of their own territory, planning out detailed hunts and new routes within it, and trying to snag free meals and comfy places to sleep out of unsuspecting humans.
Despite the slight tendency to cutesyness, the setting can also be grim. Lots of cats end up on the streets through no fault of their own. The game focusses on the fun of navigating and maintaining territory as a cat but it does not whitewash the way humans treat animals.
Cats also have limited lifespans but that’s ok, when your cat gets old you have the option to switch mains to one of its kittens. Territory and area knowledge transfers.
One interesting trick is that even when you are logged off, the game keeps track of your territory. You can do some detective work when you are online to see if any strange cats have come near what is yours.
It would also be easy to add mystical/ magical elements if people wanted them. Cat magic? Enh, whatever.
(note: my original idea was PIGEON because I like pigeons and think a game about London pigeons would be great, but I think more people like cats)