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Strange Sands

Strange Sands is a place for ideas about the game industry, both tabletop and online. I'm interested in understanding how game writers can make better stories while allowing players to create their own interactions within the game world.

Author: Ortwig

Heroic Archetypes and Character Beauty in MMOs

Posted by Ortwig Saturday July 7 2012 at 10:48AM
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One of the things that had me laughing most when South Park did an episode on World of Warcraft (“Make Love, Not Warcraft” in Season 10) was just seeing their Warcraft characters onscreen.  You had Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman all playing these prototypical fantasy types – burly warrior, stout dwarf, and so on—but with the crew’s “real,” squeaky voices.   It’s probably the thing that folks who don’t play RPG’s laugh most about – the geeky kid playing Conan the Barbarian, but in this case it was also cartoons playing cartoons.

Of course, anyone who watches TV or movies, or reads comic books likes these heroic molds, the archetypal hero with the chiseled, perfect body.  But then I think back to shows like the 2nd run of Battlestar Galactica, and more recently, Game of Thrones, who had folks like Adama, with his weather beaten, harried look, or like Tyrion, the “bastard” dwarf of House Lannister, or the giant Brienne of Tarth in that same series, and I wonder if we can get to interesting rather than beautiful as the look for our heroes in these games.  If we wanted to go back a little further we could point to Friar Tuck in the Robin Hood Stories, and of course the hobbits of Lord of the Rings, all rather non-heroic looking characters.
All MMOs have the initial character setup screen, where you have the options to choose the look of your character.  More recent games have really increased the number of choices here—everything from eye color to facial expression to eyebrow arch and goatee type.  Skyrim, especially, although it’s a single player game, has a huge number of character options.  I note, however, that most of these options are for facial features alone – nearly all games pick the well-known body type of Western culture perfection. 
One of the latest and most anticipated MMOs on the scene, Guild Wars 2, is asking this question for its character creation screens, and others have been picked as particularly innovative here (e.g. Star Wars: The Old Republic actually allows overweight characters).  It would be interesting to have a slider to scale your character’s age, girth, height or bust size to something that fits your concept of character personality.  What if you could give yourself especially long legs or arms?  Small or larger hands?  Or, another idea – giving characters a starting point based on a personality trait – “brooding,” “jovial,” “cunning,” “studious,” “savage” – and then letting folks tweak their actual features from there.  You’d end up with a lot more variety in the game, and perhaps characters that better fit your idea of who you want to play.  And why limit it to just humans?  All races should have the options, although perhaps each racial type might have different upper and lower limits on the scale.
I’m guessing that, from a development standpoint, one of the challenges of doing all this is scaling all the clothes and equipment to the various sizes.  All these games have literally thousands of pieces of gear which need to scale correctly, and the more options you have here the more work you have on your hands – that piece of work among the thousands of other tasks needing to take place as part of building a game.  But it is a question that comes up regularly, and more players are asking for less “cookie cutter” looks in their character classes.  In an MMO, it especially rankles to pass a character on the street that not only looks exactly like you, but like every generic fantasy stereotype you’ve ever heard of or seen.
arcanist writes:

brienne isn't a giant and tyrion isn't a bastard.


and if you want interesting characters why limit it to character creation. a character that fights a lot could build up a lot of muscle and collect a few interesting scars. a merchant might show off wealth with exensive vanity items and some weight. stereotypes may affect how npcs see you.


interesting characters should come from play. not character creation.

Sun Jul 08 2012 1:44AM Report
Ortwig writes:

I'd love to see more interest in roleplaying as ways to define a character, and I'd like even more the ability to change the look of your character after character generation during the course of the game based on how you are playing him or her. Best, too, if the player controls that rather than the game. But you have to start somewhere, and what I'm arguing for is a bit less stereotype up front to get folks at least thinking in that direction.

Hope to see more roleplaying in MMORPGs, though the day it matches tabletop may be a ways off.

Sun Jul 08 2012 5:10PM Report
Trionicus writes:

I remember SWG allowed overweight character models as well, I liked the idea. Even going the opposite direction (emaciated) would be nice.


lol @ Arcanist, true enough, Tyrion the "Imp" isn't a bastard, that would be Jon Snow, or is it John? I haven't read the books yet but hopefully it won't matter and they all die from whitewalker massacres *EVIL LAUGH*

Mon Jul 09 2012 2:45AM Report
Ortwig writes:

I've since heard about Neverwinter Nights 2 and Saint's Row as examples with lots of body types over the facial settings.  It makes a lot more sense in an MMO where other people will see you -- I'm surprised at some of these options in a single player game, given that no one except the player will see the avatar.

Tyrion is a virtual bastard due his dwarfishness, but yeah, Jon is the acknowledged one....

Mon Jul 09 2012 7:11PM Report writes:
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