Even though I'd like to play characters as varied as possible in an ideal world, I've found that I enjoy playing characters I identify well with most. Male characters, very short characters or characters with a different build simply don't get logged in, so I've given up on creating them.I also have to be able to identify but to achieve that I like my characters to look as different from my actual appearance as I can make them.
I have a semi-established hierarchy of preferences when it comes to making characters in MMOs. In loose order of preference, factors that are likely to affect my choice positively include:
Anthropomorphic animal race
Cute or funny
Childlike or naive
Looks good in hats
Normal height Humanoid but has a tail, rabbitty ears or other non-human characteristics
|It's tall grass, alrights?|
Overly muscular, especially Viking or Charles Atlas types
Elves (although, counter-intuitively, an elfin appearance can be a positive so long as no actual Elven blood is involved)
Weird creatures that you can't tell what they're supposed to be
|Guess which one's me. Wrong.|
When it comes to gender I am flexible. When I first began playing MMOs and for quite a few years afterwards, the issue of matching player gender to character gender used to be a very controversial issue. The outside world has moved a long, long way since then and the question of whether the person behind the keyboard is a direct analog of their avatar has largely lost its meaning, what with self-identification outside the game and gender/class locks like Black Desert's inside, not to mention single-gender races or races whose genders are visually indistinguishable.
I always played a mix of male and female characters although over time I have developed a preference for females. I suspect this has something to do with identity politics. Despite being a cisgender male in almost all respects, my upbringing led me to favor female role models over male as a child and adolescent and that has stayed with me all my life. Playing a heroine just feels more natural and comfortable than playing a male.
|Embrace the other.|
Of course, when you're looking at a three-foot tall fox that walks on his hind legs and wears clothes then the gender of the fox is perhaps the least of your concerns. It's different, and quite strange, when the picture on the screen is a sexualized human (or at least humanoid) female, which is why my female human characters tend to dress relatively demurely (or, in the case of my Norn Elementalist, like an actual nun).
Ravanel mentions that she doesn't make many "curvy" characters and one thing I don't often do is play characters who are overweight. It's not so much an aesthetic choice. It's less political or sociological than it is practical. I had a traumatic session quite early in my MMO career, playing an Ogre Shadowknight in EverQuest, when the group decided to go to Lower Guk and I spent most of a three hour session with my head stuck through the geometry of the walls.
|These are small...but the ones out there are far away...|
Now I come to think of it, that was his backstory. In those days I actually went to the trouble of creating backstories. Hard to believe.
My ogre had been found as a baby by gnomes. He'd been abandoned in some unspecified and ill-explained fashion and they adopted him and raised him in Ak'Anon. He did know he was an ogre but by inclination and upbringing he always felt and acted gnomish.
I do quite a lot of that. I have an EQ2 character who has always carried a stack of gnome bones, a clickable item that casts Illusion: Gnome. I wanted to play a class that, at the time, gnomes couldn't be, so I made a half-elf and had him look like a gnome, and indeed claim to be a gnome. Mrs Bhagpuss ridiculed him mercilessly.
For some reason I can't explain rationally I like half-elves. Yes, there's that elf thing, you can't really deny it, but half-elves traditionally have difficulty being accepted by either community and somehow that undercuts the elven heritage in a satisfying manner. I also will play humans on occasion on the spurious logic that, in a full-on fantasy setting, Human is the funky, "cool" race.
|Snuffkin? Nah, mate. Nivver 'eard of 'im.|
All of this does have a material effect on whether I decide to try an MMO in the first place, as well as how long I stick with it. The annoying trend of recent years to offer very limited choices - usually something along the lines of Human, Big Human, Slightly Feral Human, Elf - has put me off quite a few titles.
If the game is good enough, as in Black Desert for example, I'll usually find a compromise that works. Often that will be a female human scaled down as short as the sliders allow. I think the reason I have so many characters like that has as much too do with the limited racial options as it does with any strong positive preference on my part. Or maybe I'm just telling myself that.
|Blue cat for a blue day.|
Either way, I think one of the key reasons I've stuck so long and so loyally with GW2 despite its many faults is that although it only has five races they are all very strong, distinctive and different. In the Charr and the Asura the game has two of the best-defined and detailed non-human races I've seen in the genre. I've come a long way towards appreciating the Sylvari, too, especially given how strongly I took against them at the start.
I do hope that as new MMOs come along they will continue the great heritage of the genre, where in games like EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, Vanguard, Warhammer Online and, of course, WoW, players could expect to fight alongside and against a wide array of races and body types. I'd hate to think we'd all end up in a world like Landmark's, where you can be anything you want so long as it's a normal sized human or one who's just a teensy bit taller.