Why do you play another race in MMOs?

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.


  1. Players creation for me is the exact opposite. In real life i am a male human. Thats the last thing i would ever pick. I equate that to loging on and playing as a tax accountant(I think im already asleep). This is something i do for fun, Its a fantasy world, so i want something thats less like me.

  2. I play a gnome and actually I think identification might have to do with it. OK, I don’t have pink pigtails in real life, but I’m fairly short (not gnome short though.)

    However I’ve never ever been able to identify with the human females. I was the opposite: completely alienated from them – their long legs, their huge boobs and – above all – their blank, empty, expressionless faces. To me they looked about as soulful as one of those plastic figures they use in cloth stores (don’t remember the English word for it.)

    I think that if the human females had been differently designed I might have picked one. But as it was when I started to play – I just couldn’t. They didn’t feel like “me”. At all.

    This said: I hope you don’t take it as an insult, being so fond of the human race. I can understand if you can identify with them – especially if you have a body type that is closer to them. They just don’t speak to me personally.

  3. I totallies here ya on the subject of reasons of identification and immersion, and feels the same way. Is why I would never plays nuthin’ but an orc.

  4. I usually pick the most animal-like race I can, as long as I can stand the looks. It may sound dumb, but as a pet lover, I really like playing dog/cat races. I’ve always kind of felt like they were separate yet familiar enough to help me “slip in” to the game. That being said, I’ll usually go with some variation of human if those aren’t available.

    Funnily enough, I usually don’t go for the monster races, such as trolls in WoW or the goblins in WAR. Unless they’re sufficiently close to human, or at least workable with the mentality of the character I’d like to play, I find it hard to identify with them. Then, they’re like a tool rather than an extension of oneself.

  5. I chose a female tauren because I identified with the body type more than anything else.

    I also have to identify with the characters I create. And for me (male human har har), its usually large female characters.

  6. Identification with your character is quite important, but I usually pick my characters based on their class/race combo abilities > immersion.

    The exceptions are the shorter characters (dwarves/gnomes). Although I’ve rolled them, I have a really hard time playing them in raid settings because I can’t find myself and /panic.

  7. For me it was a gradual development actually. My first ever character was a human female with a blonde ponytail – fairly “me”, though I’m a lot pudgier IRL. I didn’t know anything about all those other strange races, which is why human felt “safest”. (I thought that there would be a lot more roleplaying in the game and was worried about being caught ignorant about my own race!)

    Then I rerolled night elf with some friends – one of them wanted to be a druid and that was the only option on Alliance side. I also didn’t mind those because they were pretty similar to humans, only a bit taller and with pointy ears.

    When those same friends coaxed me into trying out Horde a few months later I was out of pretty and conventional options however – this was before blood elves were introduced. I became a tauren and she grew on me with her deep voice and large, muscled build.

    Since then I’ve tried out nearly all the races and the more fantastic ones have really grown on me. The thought of playing human again really bores me now. Why play a fantasy game if you want to be ordinary?

    That said, there are two races that I still can’t get into to this day: gnomes and orcs. The thing that bugs me about orcs is how their noses are near non-existant, for some reason I can’t stand the sight of that – even if I think that orc ladies are gorgeous otherwise.

    And as for gnomes, I rolled a level one gnome once and deleted her again before she even reached level two. I think their tiny size just looks odd in relation to the screen… and they seem to move awkwardly compared to all the other races. I’m a bit worried that I’ll have the same problem with goblins when they come out, even though I’d really like to play one.

  8. My “main” in WoW is a Tauren Druid. I wanted a Druid for mechanical reasons, and I thought the Tauren was a better fit. It’s that simple.

    If I were picking something to role play, well… I’d probably choose a Dwarf. They seem to best fit my acerbic wit that I sometimes release in RP situations.

    I’m not really trying to extend myself into these MMO worlds, I’m trying to explore them. I don’t identify with an avatar because to me, they are just tools. Of course, that works both ways; I’m not really opposed to playing any particular race. Well… except the Forsaken, but that’s just because their questgivers, lore and questlines are creepy.

  9. @Calandris
    I can see why you wouldn’t wanna feel like a tax accountant in a game, haha! x) it never occurred to me to think of myself in terms of my profession though.
    How is it for identifying with your character then? do you still get that (if you care for it at all)?

    Hehe no worries, it’s a matter of preference after all. I can see why you can still identify with a gnome or even dwarf or nightelf, they’re all still fairly ‘humanoid’-looking after all and if you’re a short person, a tall human is not exactly representative. I’m not 100% happy with the humans of course, but as far as faces go I find all races equally ‘blank’ if thats what you wanna call it. facial expressions would be nice indeed but thats rather elaborate to create in an MMO.

    LOL I feels ya 😉

    there’s definitely another step between more humanoid-looking races and horde / more beastlike races, yes. I can play such characters no problem, but then it’s not my avatar.

    MMmmm, you identify most with the tauren female body type – am intrigued now!

    haha, yeah the little’uns just look all the same from up here, don’t they? 😉
    I mostly have this issue with the armor looking the same nowadays or standing next to someone with same race and sex sharing your hairdo….I wonder how the trees do it?!

    maybe I should just try it sometime too – but nobody will roll horde with my I don’t think.
    As for races i’d never roll it’s belves at the very top.

    yeah I see. I don’t actually chose a human because I want to ‘role-play’, I’m very much my avatar, also personality wise. I think I’d actually chose another race for RP, seems easier to me that way.

  10. OH, yes, I understand that it’s not always about RP. 😉 It’s just… I don’t really identify with my avatar. I know those who do, and I think it’s pretty cool, it just never clicked for me. *shrug*

  11. I identify with all my chars (at least the ones I played for more than 25 levels) – in a way they feel like they represent different aspects of me. And yet they have a life of their own. Doesn’t make sense, does it?

    Oh, and when I played my share of Zelda and such games back in the days my toon was always named Mono 😀

  12. I love dwarves – always have done. No matter the genre they have always appealled to me. Whether the characters are from Tolkien, Forgotten Realms, Azeroth and so on, they all share the same characteristics that i love: they’re surly, disagreeable, biligerent, stalwart, stoic but generally good people. They also have a love for violence and drinking which makes my heart warm!

  13. @Tessy
    actually that makes a lot of sense.
    and you have a point, we were actually able to rename Link in zelda, weren’t we.

    this comes as no shock 😉
    and dorfs are indeed awesum, every proper fantasy world has at least one grumpy old male dorf wielding an axe. aside of LotR and FR, there’s a really great one in the Dragonlance chronicles as well, you’d like him.

  14. @Tesh
    Good point, thanks! =)
    and indeed it looks like it. i wonder if the fact that it’s especially those 3 more ‘attractive’ races, doesn’t also tell us something about the majority of players wanting to be ‘goodlooking’ in a game, rather than just ‘fun’ or ‘grumpy’ or something else.

    As for gnome dorfs, that just always felt like an unnatural combo to me too tbh! I think our general idea of a dwarf is a heavy–built, clumsy Gimli alerting all the elves in Lothlorien. 😀

  15. I chose a draenei and a human. The draenei because i was making a paladin and I find the race to be regal in appearance.

    Moreso than race I tend to give certain other characteristics to my toons. My melee toons always have short hair. When you are hitting something with a sword or axe, the last a woman wants to worry about is cleaning the blood out of her hair!

    I too find the human females boring, but I soon realized that it was more the design of my fellow players that gave me that perception. So my priest is an older lady. She has lines around her eyes and on her face from age and a somewhat sad look about her. She looks wise to me though and someone I would trust to heal me when needed. My mage is angry and you can see it in her eyes. I have no clue what happened to her, but I see her as wanting revenge. She’s a bit of a sadist and likes lighting people/animals/undead on fire.

  16. @Barrista
    I actually played a bit with an enhancement shaman for a while and chose to give her short hair too, because it seems wrong that a melee should have a ponytail!
    The ‘evil’ face is usually cool too, but am not sure human females really have one.

  17. I achieved the evil/angry look by giving her a big nose and eyes that seem to go down in the middle. So it looks like she is scowling most of the time. I really had to play with it to get it, but I got it.

  18. Syl – Flint Fireforge ftw!!

    I knew there had to be a Dragonlance reader out there somewhere.

    Back on topic – I love gnomes, and have a few; a gnome tank with pink pigtails as I love the irony of something short and cute-looking sticking baddies with a sword bigger than she is. I also have a couple of locks, one 70 and another 20ish, where she will stay until after Cata.

    On the horde side I have an undead and an orc, neither of which I have played for ages – my main is a female blood elf mage (Tahliana on Argent Dawn in SAN), with a lower level belf pally which I am levelling very slowly.

    I don’t feel the need to identify with my characters, I just like them to look good (from my point of view!), and sometimes spend more time customising them than I do thinking about what to call them!

  19. Oh hey! I think there’s many of us Krynn dwellers hiding in the blogosphre actually! =D

    and I agree, chars need to look good. I can spend ages on character creation myself and usually make a ton of chars I’ll never play!

  20. It is also about the interaction with others. seeing people a different race brings up lot of differences and fun situations. In everquest there is a dwarven town, running through it as an orge is a pain because everything is made to size for dwarfs, so you have to use a shrink potion. there is none of this anymore and it is the most enjoyment in contrast to different races ever, from 10 years ago there is nothing to top that situation. If everyone is human. that is just vanilla, gnome is bubble gum flavor, night elf mint, ect. just dont mix mint and bubble gum flavor ice cream?

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