Following several discussions on ‘gnome representation’ in WoW the other week, I ended up noticing how different some MMO players choose what race to play from myself. Since it was gnomish debates that got me thinking about this, I’ll take the gnome race in WoW as an example:
I would never roll a gnome in WoW. And while I agree that the gnomes are rendered somewhat goofy and ‘a-sexual’ (or childish) in this particular game, that has nothing to do with it. Even if gnomes were testosterone- and estrogen-pumped starlets of human sexuality, I wouldn’t roll one (or rather that would be one more reason not to roll one). And I actually think gnomes are awesome, some of my alltime favorite NPCs are gnomes and I’ve loved the whole theme of gnomes as tinkerers and engineers introducing more ‘modern’ technology (steam-engine zeppelins!) to the fantasy genre, ever since Mount Nevermind of the Dragonlance series back from the 1980ies.
But no, I would never roll a gnome, no matter how cool and fun they are. I wouldn’t roll a dwarf either, nor a nightelf or any other race for that matter, simply because I don’t feel “represented” by them. In almost every given MMO I’ve played for longer in the past, I have played a human female if such was possible. I need to identify with the character I play – I am that kind of player. Now I know that race and looks are very superficial and cosmetic: if I was to chose the WoW race that is most likely “like me” in humor or lifestyle (the way it’s presented by lore or NPCs), I would probably roll a troll. But then I don’t care so much about lore and NPC representation; I believe that my char is more of a vessel that’s gonna get its personality from me, if that makes sense. The way I’m playing MMOs, my character is just a projection of my real self and so I will fashion my ingame looks after the real thing if I can. All the Syls in the past, be it in Final Fantasy Online, Age of Conan, WoW or some other MMO, have had the same hairstyle, color, complexion, height (if available) or whatever other cosmetic aspect. I am also rather particular about my ingame name like that.
Am I just boring?
I bet there’s a fair few of you thinking now: Wow, how boring! And in a way I agree, it IS really boring, isn’t it? Maybe if I played alts (which I don’t), I would roll another race, I have mules in WoW that are grumpy dorfs or dashy nightelves after all, it was fun to create them. But the character I mean to play and spend most of my ingame time with needs to be “me”. Identification is closely linked to immersion and immersion in MMOs is a very big deal to me.
So, I realize that we do not all pick our characters in the same way; there are many WoW gamers that choose races like gnomes and nightelves (or horde races) exactly because they like to play someone else in a game. And I can totally understand that – it’s fun to assume a different race, it’s a change from being a “boring human” all the time, right?
It just doesn’t work for me that way. I “like being myself” as silly as that sounds and what I’m looking for in MMOs is taking myself into fantastic realms that I can share with others. And different races are so very much a part of that experience for me too: what would the fantasy genre be without them? I love racial diversity, I’m just not looking for escapism from myself when I pick my character. Maybe that’s self-fixation, or narcissism if you will, I certainly wouldn’t call it race-fixation however. What I like too about this, is that when I look back on my past ventures in all the MMOs I’ve played, it feels like the same character, me, has journeyed through all of them which makes my experiences and memories feel much more like a consistent story (and humans are usually always available as a race choice).
Coming to think of that, I feel this is mostly important to me in MMOs where we are so deeply invested in our alter egos: I have played a lot of Japanese console RPGs when I was younger and as the hero was usually set there, I’d be a male teenager called ‘Ryu’, ‘Link’ or ‘Crono’ (sleepy head!) without experiencing any loss of story because of it.
Still, if I am able to choose, I will always choose to play a female character and most likely a human. If an MMO featured male characters only, I probably wouldn’t play it. It’s why we get so much character customization in this particular genre of games: our alter egos are our avatars, our manifestations and developers account (sadly in various degrees) for this demand for customization which is all about identity and individuality. That said, I would draw the line at playing human models that look simply hideous for the same reasons and I’d choose to play an Arisen in Allods (for reasons of awesumness).
So I wonder, how is it for those WoW players that have been running around as shorties, elves, tauren or trolls for years? Did you instantly identify with your character, no matter how different it looked from you? Or do you feel some of the non-human races of WoW actually represent you a lot better?
Or is this maybe not what you’re looking for at all, are you looking to role-play in a way (not in the sense of you rolling on an RP server), getting some time off the real me?
Why do you play another race in MMOs?
I’d really love to hear some views on this and whether I am the only person playing a human character for reasons of identification and immersion.