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MMOWTF: Interchangeable Alternate Lives and Stuff

Dan Fortier returns this week to talk about Alternate Accounts in MMORPGs.

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

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While playing some of these new-fangled interweb games on my electronic typewriter, I started thinking about of some of the things we take for granted in our surreal second lives. Most MMOs share lots of common features, but usually we are too busy grinding out XP, running instances or camping corpses to really give much thought to the them and how we use them to keep the stupid grins on our faces. This time around I'm talking about alternate characters or Alts, as they shall henceforth be called. Put on your bifocals and have a damp cloth ready for your monitor during this trip.

Most games typically allow you to roll anywhere from a few to a dozen extra toons and those that don't usually encourage folks to have multiple accounts to serve the same purpose. The idea is that when you get bored of the same stale content for one class, you can jump to another and spend the next month leveling him/her up to max level. It also allows the achievers among us to thoroughly test every class to find whichever one is currently overpowered and kick ass on everyone until it's nerfed. In general, having alts lets us enjoy a wide spectrum of a game's flavor without having our old characters fall on their sword.

The real twist on this is that some players choose to use alts in completely different (and sometimes utterly mischievous) ways. Roleplayers, for example, are said to enjoy using their favorite races from other games and immersing themselves in the ongoing storyline. Many different characters are useful if you enjoy creating machinima like the World of Warcraft version of Avenue Q's, "The Internet is for Porn" or want to stage plays while staying faithful to whatever backstory canon you hold dear. Through the use of alternating alts, griefers, scammers and RMT traders can ply their trade with an acceptable level of anonymity. So as you can see, alts can be used for good or awesome, but either way, it brings up an interesting question: How much should people be aware of which account is behind the characters they meet?

Games which allow players to have several alts typically force them to choose one faction per server to mitigate the damage done by spies and to force people to use third party tools to truly gain an unfair advantage. Games like EVE Online actually encourage players to have numerous alts/accounts for spying/market sniffing/logistics and there is no way to know who is on the other side of that rigor mortis face. While this adds a bit of realism, it also creates an atmosphere where people can create a new character for griefing and then delete them at their leisure and no one would be the wiser. I'm all for a little wanton destruction without consequence, but how much freedom is too much?

If any of the older psychologists were still around to see the way we play MMOs they would all diagnose us with acute Dissociative Identity Disorder. I know that I personally don't use a different voice for each of my avatars (In fact, I never yell at the NPCs in games.), but there is something enjoyable about having a different character for my different moods. Whether you want to listen to "The Doors" and chill out while crafting or go on a homicidal murder binge you should have an alt for every occasion. I'm sure there is a lot deeper meaning for all of this, but it should suffice to say that having an Alt is a right everyone should have and not being able to judge an elf by his ears isn't such a bad thing.

Once again I leave you shortchanged with little to do but gape and protest as I merrily open up a can of worms and let you, loyal readers, to do what you will with them. Perhaps the best thing to do in this case is roll an alt and catch me at my /bind point. Fare thee well till next week.

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