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Player Perspectives: Confessions of an Altoholic

Columns By Isabelle Parsley on February 18, 2011

Confessions of an Altoholic

I have a confession to make: I’m a terrible, terrible altoholic.

I cannot suffer an empty character slot to live. It’ll nag at me and nag at me, especially if I’m trying to “save some space” for new character classes, expansions, or just to be more restrained once in a while. And, while some games are worse than others for encouraging rampant altoholism (I’m looking at you, City of Heroes/Villains!), they’re all bad if you happen to be predisposed. Hell, I had three accounts in SWG at one time just because back then, when Jedi characters were just a wild rumor, you could only have one character per server on each account.

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Altoholism appears to be genetic: people either are, or they aren’t. We’ll call the other camp, those who aren’t, monochars. Monochars usually look at my legion of characters with some puzzlement, wondering why I would waste my time in this way. It’s not a divide that rages as hotly as the hardcore/casual debate does, but there’s a definite lack of understanding – I don’t think I could ever have just one character, even though in most games I have a definite “primary” character, or main.

I don’t generally call any of my chars my “main” though, because to me it sort of implies the others are all secondary appendages, created only to serve the needs of the main. That’s the reason lots of people make alts – bank alts, crafting alts, whatever – but those people aren’t real altoholics. You can tell an altoholic by the fact that they’ll usually tell you “Oh, I don’t really have a main. I play them all!” My alts are all definite characters, rather than just names and faces to whom I send my excess stuff. Some may be shorter-lived than others if I’m experimenting with character creation options, but there always comes a point where they gel into their own individual entity, and from then on I can’t just delete them without a second thought. I’m actually very rarely able to delete a character without a second thought, because I get actively fond of them – to me, they’re more than just containers or wrappers for what I, the player, want to do in game.

And we altoholics really do play them all. In my case I don’t always play the alts very much, or not equally much – it really depends on my mood and the kind of play I’m after for that gaming session. Because I’m not a methodical altoholic, I’m a sampler altoholic. I like to try out all the playstyles and options a game offers, which is generally why I’ll end up making as many alts as I’m allowed to. In WoW, if I fancy smashing stuff in the face rather than pew-pewing it from afar, I’ll play my paladin; if I want to melt faces, I’ll play my warlock or my priest. Sometimes all I want is to play some lowbies, because lower-level gameplay tends to be easier, cheaper and a lot less complicated for the brain – and I always have lowbies.

As I said, I’m not a methodical altoholic, though I do know several: they have as many alts as they’re allowed to have, just like me, but their alts are generally max level or close to it, well geared, high-level crafters and just as useful as the main. Okay, to some extent that’s because those guys have been in Azeroth for all the intervening years while I was off gallivanting in Paragon City, Middle Earth, Telon and elsewhere – but to be honest I’m not sure my alts would all be max level even if I had been playing continuously these last 6 years. Well, maybe, but it wouldn’t be intentional.

From what I hear in guild chat these days, a lot of the players who have been playing since launch and have high level alts have them mostly because there wasn’t all that much else to do once you’d sampled everything with the main. This seems to be a problem that affects achiever-type players more than the slacker-type (okay, explorer/socializer), like me – they get to a stage where they feel they’ve “done” everything, so they’ll start a second character and play that for a while. In some cases it sticks, but in many cases I know it doesn’t, or not with any pleasure. You can’t be an altoholic if you don’t enjoy playing the alts.

That’s partly because monochars just aren’t cut out for having multiple characters, just like it’s cruel and unusual to force an altoholic to have only one character. One of my bestest friends is a monochar, and every time he finds me on an alt I feel vaguely like I’m cheating on  my main, if only by extension – because although he does have an alt or three, I’m not sure any of them have been logged on in the last several years. They’ve probably died of starvation by now.

Crafting is a big part of the reason I’m an altoholic: just like with adventuring, I like to try out all the different things the crafting system offers, even when it’s a crafting system that, like WoW’s, is mostly just utilitarian. EQ2 and Vanguard were awful for that, though the original culprit was SWG – in EQ2 I might not have had any max level adventurers, but by the time I stopped playing in early 2010, I did have five or six level 90 crafters. I have fond and terrible memories of SWG and crafting – the only game, so far, where player skill and intelligence could actually make a difference in the final product (I’m talking AAA titles here; yes, I’m aware of ATITD). It came into play more during the resource finding and selection process than during the actual crafting process, experimentation notwithstanding, but still: a smarter or better-prepared player could produce stuff that was superior to other people’s. Hell, it’s one of the few games I’ve played where crafting output wasn’t 100% cookie-cutter.

But I digress. Being a sampler altoholic I will always have alts in any game that allows them, but I’ve been pondering what I’m going to do in some of the games currently in the pipeline – or, in the case of RIFT, about to be released – that don’t restrict a character to a single, narrowly-defined role. If you can experience a number of different types of gameplay all on the same character, will I still need alts? The Secret World is another game that claims players will be able to decide the role they want to fulfil based on their skill/power selection – which means I won’t need to make multiple characters just to be able to experience healing, tanking, DPSing or hybrid play. In theory, I should be able to make just one character and customise her to suit whatever I want to do that day.

The problem is, I’m not entirely sure that’ll stop me – because I’m not entirely sure whether I make alts to experience alternate playstyles, or whether part of me just likes making new characters. Sometimes one just gets tired of looking at the same backside day in, day out.

And sometimes – though I probably shouldn’t be revealing this deep, dark altoholic seekrit – we just want to be left alone. That’s when altoholics make “hermit alts,” characters that one’s general circle of friends and acquaintances doesn’t know about and who won’t be slammed with tells as soon as they log in. Don’t get me wrong, friends are great and lovely, but some of us need quiet time. That’s probably the main reason I haven’t really gotten into WoW’s RealID business – well, that and the various privacy and security concerns, but that’s a topic for another day – because when someone has your RealID, they always know when you’re online. Some people aren’t bothered by that, some don’t even understand why I would want to log in if I didn’t want all my friends to know I was there, and some people just get it – but that too, is a debate for another day.

So, are you an altoholic or a monochar? Whichever you happen to be, just remember – gamers with other playstyles are people too!

Isabelle Parsley / http://stylishcorpse.wordpress.com