What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this! Thulsa Doom, Conan the Barbarian
What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this!
Thulsa Doom, Conan the Barbarian
Besides being an excellent scene in which Thulsa Doom makes an innocent girl commit suicide to prove both his point and that he is one bad dude, James Earl Jones was also pointing to what I feel is an eternal debate in RPGs.
Of course the most recent and prevalent RPG is the MMO. The riddle of steel that Thulsa is discussing is the question of what is more potent, the steel of the sword or the hand that wields it? In RPGs there has always been a tension between what is really powerful, the character and his own skills or the gear he gets. What really makes the character a hero? Most MMOs (following in the tradition of early games like Dragon Warrior as I mentioned last time) fall squarely in the camp of the warrior’s accoutrement. Though there have been a few expections such as CoH, but that was more for adherence to the genre rather than to answer the riddle of steel. Certainly no naked max level character in most MMOs would stand a chance against a fully epic geared 1337 d00d in a spar, duel or whatever your particular game calls a one on one testosterone showdown.
In fact, I think at this point, after almost twenty years of playing video games where "phat lewts" are your ultimate reward, it had become ingrained upon an entire generation of gamers that they are to be judged based on the quality of the gear above all else.
But does it have to be this way?
Certainly gear plays an important role in legendary epics and stories. King Arthur drew Excalibur from the stone and Hercules had his club, but more often then not, it seems to me that the truest heroes from these stories succeeded through skill and talent. Beowulf was a legendary warrior; he did not rely on a set of uber gear. Acheillies, Odysseus, Gilgamesh and many more were all great because of who they were or the things they did. Even in the cases where a piece of equipment was vital, such as in the case of Excalibur, it was still the character of Arthur that allowed him to wield it and that was his only piece of vital gear. Not a full resplendent set of gear he got from raiding the "grail instance".
Now I realize that people enjoy getting things, who doesn’t love the feeling of ripping open that wrapping paper on Christmas morning? Or winning that random roll for a sweet item? But it all begs the question, are we making heroes or loot whores?
What got me thinking about this was the relaunch of D&D in 4E. They are taking the focus away from equipment and trying to focus more on the strength and talents of the heroes themselves. You still get gear, we like the idea of having magical items and I don’t think that can ever be truly removed from games, nor should it. I simply feel as though the real decisions being made about your character at high level are not what skills he should focus on or what power separate him and make him a hero, but rather the toys and shiny baubles he has managed to accumulate.
Keep in mind I am not claiming games don’t give you any good skills or such at high level. Certainly you have some powers and perhaps they are even somewhat modified by traits, talents or another tweeking word beginning with the letter "t", but it seems to me at least, the gear becomes of prime importance, the ultimate treadmill that all characters, whether they raid, PvP or whatever, eventually must run on.
So I will end this with a question? What do you all want? Do you want to see the collection of gear continue and be the defining aspect of your character or you would rather have your skills and powers be what set you apart?