Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The News In Short

Massively linked a very interesting item today from the BBC's Science and Environment page. It seems that playing a child-size avatar can give you a childlike perspective on the virtual world you inhabit. The experiment involved motion-capture suits, not something MMOs usually provide even in the Collector's Edition, so any relevance to gaming is inferential at best.

Size of a Camel!
All the same, it does tally with my own experience. I strongly prefer to play short characters in MMOs and I would say I behave less like a grown-up when I do. That wasn't what I had in mind when I started rolling short, though. It had nothing to with wanting to relive my childhood. There's another well-noted side-effect of having a perspective closer to the virtual floor and that's a perceived increase in run speed. Ogres and gnomes move at exactly the same base speed in Everquest but Ogres feel like they have their feet stuck in Feerrot swamp mud while gnomes zip around like hyperactive mice.

Wanting to feel like I had SoW even when no-one was around to cast it on me was what got me riding the short bus back then but once I got on I never wanted to get off. My first choice in a new MMO is almost always a shortie - dwarf, gnome, raki, goblin, ratonga - although I shun the insect-sized sprites and fairies. In character creation I push the height slider almost to the bottom even when playing larger races. That the short races are almost always the most lighthearted, zany or frivolous choice is a welcome bonus.

Lantern? Check! Stick? Check? Comedy facial hair?
Casting my mind back almost a decade and a half to when I first stepped out into Norrath, comedy wasn't what I came looking for. I can say with complete honesty that I was never one of those people who gave their Ranger some mis-spelled variant of a Tolkeinian archetype for a moniker but I'd be lying if I claimed I didn't have some grim, taciturn woodsman's image at the back of my mind, right up until I fell off Kelethin the first time. About five minutes in, in other words.

After that I went for a Dwarf, not least because of the low center of gravity and the ground-level starting area. He had a silly name but he took himself very seriously, just like all dwarves do. That lasted a couple of weeks before he fell in the river in Nektulos Forest and got eaten by piranhas. Never did find his corpse.

We'll be the judge of that, shorthouse.
It was only when I made a gnome necromancer that things got rolling. Short races really do have more fun. Now I also wonder whether it has something to do with Bartle's famous profile as well. If we feel more childlike in a childlike avatar, does that also enhance our sense of wonder? (It's notable, too, that the experiment found that the avatar had to be childlike as well as childsize - a scaled-down adult avatar didn't encourage the same childlike mindset). And if so, wouldn't explorers prefer to be short?

All the focus on Achievements and the confusion that brought with it made me question my Explorer credentials so I went and took the test again over at Gamer DNA. I tried to be brutally honest this time, not always easy with many questions offering two choices both of which I would never, ever take in actual play and others offering choices both of which I would take equally happily. I came out Explorer, as I have every time I've ever taken it, this time with Socializer as runner-up and Achiever in third.

As the MMO genre matures there seem to be more childlike avatars than ever. Some, like the Asura, only look like children from a distance, resolving into vicious little leather-skinned aliens when they get up close, by which time it's probably too late. Others, like the Lalafell in FFXIV, resemble dolls of children more than actual children, making it quite the surprise when you find out just how foul-mouthed they all are.
Someone always has to take it too far.

In the experiment the childlike avatars were asked only to do childlike things, of course. Our childlike characters carry loaded firearms and sharp knives, swear like fishwives, play not just with matches but with flamethrowers and generally act more like psychopaths than pre-schoolers. Whether there could be any carry-over you'd have to doubt. All the same, I feel happier being short.

Harder to hit that way, too.


  1. So is that why SOE made so many locations in Butcherblock practically unusable to larger races way back in the old days in EQ? They wanted to push us to experience Norrath with a child-like wonder? Heh!

    I remember the SOW motion effect too. Even without it, my dwarf on a mount felt much faster than my barbarian.

    1. My first trip to Lower Guk was as an Ogre Shadowknight. I spent half the time stuck in doorways or with my head in a wall. When I was able to move the game forced me into crouch as often as not. I ended up playing that Ogre for years but after that I made sure to get Shrink from a friendly Shaman any time I went anywhere not built by giantkin.

  2. Heh, just took that test. Socializer/explorer, as expected.

    I feel with non-human races, developers overcompensate by giving them great cultures/lore/personality. This feels especially true in the short "runty" races like Asura/Dwarfs/Gnomes and whatnot.

    Asuras have by far the best emotes in the game. And some of the best lines too. I think that all contribute to short races being generally more "fun."

    I can seriously /threaten and /cheer on my Asura all day and be entertained.


    1. I like the /laugh one best - ROFL, quite literally. FFXIV's Lalafell have wonderful animations too.

      And yes, I think you may be right, although some of it is down to the fantasy traditions they all draw from for the taller races - I find elves generically tedious for a start and barbarians only slightly less dull. I have no idea where the mad inventor stereotype for gnomes comes from (and let's not kid ourselves, Asura are gnomes) but it has to be more interesting to work with than pointy-eared eco-warriors who live up a tree.

  3. I was interested in trying out that quiz for myself. Unfortunately someone didn't cater for IE10, so I can't. :P

  4. My own results have long been a mystery to me, as they clearly show that I am actually two people, one of whom is the mortal reincarnation of Uncle Traveling Matt.


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