Saturday, 21 May 2016

Who Says Looks Aren't Everything?

Ravanel raised an interesting topic, almost in passing, in her Friday Fashion post yesterday.
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
Small
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?
Strong negatives would be:

Very tall 
Overly muscular, especially Viking or Charles Atlas types
Hyper-sexualized
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...
I did go on to play that Ogre Shadowknight for a long time. Although he remained a big lad in theory, whenever he went indoors he would drink a shrink potion or ask a shaman in the group to shrink him, so it ended up being more like playing a weird-looking gnome.

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.


12 comments:

  1. I had the opposite problem tanking in EQ2, I had an Arasai SK and generally all I could see were legs or her wings:). I usually play female elves by default, but I've really enjoyed playing the male Musa in BDO, been a nice change.

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    1. The Arasai must be about the smallest playable race I can think of in any MMO. I remember when they were introduced but I've never tried playing one. Maybe I should...

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  2. I always find the topic of what we like to play in MMOs interesting. We're somewhat similar in that I will generally try to make characters that have as little to do with my real self as possible. On the rare occasions I do play a human male, I'll generally make them a different ethnicity. For example, my main in TSW is black.

    I prefer non-human races, but I'm more interested in their lore and backstory than their appearance, so I'm not bothered if they look mostly human (like Norn or some kinds of Elves). Elves are always my preferred option. I like anthropomorphic or "beast" races in theory, but I don't often end up playing them much for whatever reason. Maybe I like them less than I think they do. Maybe it's because a lot of armour never looks right on them.

    The looks I most avoid are small or cutesy races, and overly-muscular meat mountains. My preferred body-type is slender yet athletic, which may be one of the main reasons I play female characters so often, as most games make that look much easier to achieve with women than with men.

    These days I have kind of an established archetype that I'm always falling back on. Did a post on it aways back if you're curious: https://superior-realities.com/2015/01/15/the-saga-of-maigraith/

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    1. The Norn are interesting in that they are supposedly some kind of off-shoot of giants rather than just big humans. They look and behave exactly like Barbarian races in other games, though, so, unlike Vanguard's half-giants for example, I never really think of them as anything other than human.

      It's certainly true that armor tends to look more awkward on the really non-human races but then again almost every MMO I've ever played has had such horrible clipping issues that it scarcely matters. Tails are another clipping nightmare, of course.

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  3. I tend to like differentiating charatcers as well, things that are a little different than the average. Gw2 defintely had some of the more interesting races out there, all so unique.

    It's interesting too how we all seem to have our own style, to creating and cultivbating characters

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    1. Comment posting is totally borked at the moment. I have no idea why. I didn't change anything so I guess it's Blogger. I am clearing up the duplicates as they appear. As far as I can tell the first one always goes through regardless of what error message you get. If you just refresh the main page you should see it.

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  4. Fashion posts are inherently superficial, so I'm always happy if it's possible to connect a more universal theme to them, even if it's hard to fit within the post's format. Everyone loves designing their characters, but the results are so different. It's interesting to see what ideas lie behind those decisions.

    Really cool to read your thoughts in a dedicated post!

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    1. It started as a comment on your thread but I realized pretty quickly it was going to overrun :)

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  5. "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."

    Amen to that.

    There are many, many games I would have liked to try and play, but besides the commitment issues of MMORPG's the limited Racial (to use the Gygaxian term) choices is what puts me off playing or even trying them (primarily sandbox-y titles like RuneScape).

    The whole notion of female heroes and your racial preferences sound eerily familliar ;)

    I also have a soft-spot for 'big lug' types as well, but the practicality factor in confined spaces makes them less handy for dungeons (small races have similar issues - having to swim through puddles while others can wade, that kind of thing, but at least you can see where you are going).

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    1. The other thing about small vs large characters is the well-documented "speed" effect. The nearer the ground your point of view, the faster you seem to move and vice versa. I found ogres and trolls in EQ seemed to run so slowly compared to gnomes and dwarves (even though they were in fact going at the same speed) that it put me off playing larger races for good. As you point out, though, the reverse of that coin is that you seem to run faster but you can't always see where you're going.

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  6. As our relationship with the medium matures, having just recently come out of its infancy, our sensibilities change as well. Winged goddesses hew closer to the Japanese and Korean notions of such things nowadays with aesthetic sensibilities that are closer to FF14 than they are to TERA or Blade & Soul.

    I play slim (body type idealization) female (self-identification) humanoids (I'm boring).

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  7. I find that the contribution by the animation team has a large impact on my racial enjoyment, personally. The GW2 Asura have an animation style that increases my enjoyment and brings a smile to my face. :)

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