Character Appearance and Identity

I thought about writing a post a while back on whether or not I was an MMO role player although now I can’t remember what initiated the idea originally. Still, it came up again in my musings this week, so here we go! I’ve only attempted to RP in the traditional sense once, in WildStar. It started off okay; I went to an RP housing plot and “sat” at a bar table observing and listening to other conversations while the owner and I engaged in some light RP. She was kind enough to help me get started once I confessed OOC that I had never gone to an RP event before and I wanted to observe. However it ended with me going outside for what I thought was going to be a card game but turned into something vulgar so I kindly dismissed myself (in character, of course) and RP walked my butt off the plot.


I was enamored with the Radiant Legion in WildStar, which is why I tried role playing with this character. It didn’t pan out.

So I don’t join other people regular in spontaneous or planned storytelling of that nature, nor do I come up with elaborate back stories about my characters covering every detail of their present and past experiences, but I do think about who my characters are generally speaking and what their reactions might be in the situations they find themselves in. It’s never all that different from how I would actually respond but it is a type of basic role play; enough to keep the “RPG” in my “MMORPG” experience anyway. I don’t think I’ll ever participate in RP activities more involved than that, though I’m not opposed to it. Not entirely, anyway.

Still, there’s another aspect of playing an MMO in which I would describe myself as a role player, albeit moderately so, and that is with character creation. How my characters look matters to me, and especially with alts I want them to be diverse; to actually have distinct character. And once I’ve made a decision on how a character looks I rarely change things later on. When I do I often change them right back. It may only be a different hair style or color but it’s often jarring enough that I no longer feel like I’m playing the same character.


The first iteration of Sevenfalls had no freckles, darker make up, and a mouth that was too small. These things I changed early on because I didn’t like how they looked in game.

This happened most recently in The Secret World, when after 200+ hours of time played I changed the hair and lipstick color of Sevenfalls, my main. In TSW changing your character’s appearance— even superficial changes like hairstyle, color, and make up—is quite expensive so it’s not something you do willy-nilly on a regular basis. Appearance is meant to be semi-permanent in this game which is why I kept my character the same for so long (which by the way is silly, considering it’s a modern day setting and changing hair color, style, and makeup should be as common or infrequent as the player desires.) So when I tell you that I changed my character’s style, then changed it back to the original, then once again back to the new version, know that it was kind of a big deal and expensive.

What caused the back and forth were two conflicting emotions; on the one hand I wanted a change in my character’s style and that included hair and cosmetics while on the other hand she no longer felt like my character once the changes were complete. I tried to make it as realistic as possible. I kept her freckles even though they are tied to make up options (which is silly and restrictive, by the way), and I even kept her eyebrows the same as her original hair color so that it would be as if she dyed her hair but not her eyebrows to match. In other words, I was trying to approach it from an RP perspective but in the end she still felt foreign to me.


This is how I’ve come to know the character for some time now, down to the costuming. Just looking at this screenshot makes me want to change her back again!


Since I’ve paid three times now to make these appearance changes I’m leaving the new look for at least a week or two to try it out; maybe in time she’ll start to feel familiar again. But it’s interesting to me that despite the fact that the changes I made were those similar to what someone might do in real life I still felt disconnected from my character. Is that how I respond when a friend or family member cuts their hair or changes the color? I don’t think so but I guess most people don’t make these kinds of drastic changes on a regular basis so perhaps I don’t have enough examples to compare it to. However from what I do remember, when my wife cut her hair short I didn’t suddenly feel like I was married to a different woman.

Is it different because I’ve personally identified with the in game character, or perhaps because this digital avatar has no real personality, facial expressions, or mannerisms of her own for me to latch on to and so when the one thing that does define her changes, it affects how I relate to that character? I’m not going anywhere particularly deep with this line of thinking, but I am curious how others feel. Do you freely change the way your characters look and if so does it affect how you think of them? Does that make you a role player, or at least something similar? Or does it make little difference to you whether they keep a beard or are clean shaven; whether their hair is purple or brown?


And here’s how she looks now, although I’ve tried a couple of different approaches with the outfit. Will I keep the change? I’m still not sure.

4 thoughts on “Character Appearance and Identity

  1. I’m like this as well. When I get my character with a look I really like, I’m pretty hard press to change it. Would be like they changed into a different character. I’ll look at new options once in a while to see if there’s a new option that matches closer to the feel of the character, but most often I don’t like to change them. I do change clothes if I feel I really just need a change for the character.
    The three pics of your character is cool, like a young to older look, but totally understand if you really want to change her back again.

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  2. I don’t like changing my characters’ looks either. I can probably count the occasions that I’ve done so in the past ten years on my fingers, and even then they were never very drastic changes, more things like changing a character’s hair from one type of braid to another. Just doesn’t feel right most to me most of the time.

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  3. Big warning: I got carried away typing this, it’s only vaguely on topic still… but I still like to post it, if you think it drifts off too much, just dispose of it. 🙂

    First on RP: there’s many kinds of them, but most of them seem to only really work in a limited community. Once you get too many people, too many names to forget, etc. interaction looses a lot of meaning and people tend to go to extremes, just to be “the one” to be remembered.

    The other thing is that while i saw good RP in some games where numbers were visible, most MMOs are so much dominated by the numbers game that it obscures or breaks any RP. I started online games with a MMO where the only numbers you saw were things like the number of coins, arrows and other items, while character stats, damage and any other thing which present day MMOs give you numbers for were covered behind descriptions. That environment was very RP-supportive.

    But even in that game, i was aware that part of the community was all about barebody physical interaction.

    Though, i for a long time escaped their attention. Only when the leader of the political organisation i was working for retired and decided to lift me up several ranks at once and install me as his representative for his absence, the cyber crowd put their sights on me and i have to admit that it took a little effort to ignore some of the advances. Still i think i did the right thing. After all, we even years later had the fun of one or another woman turning up and demanding that we’d install her as Queen, after all she formerly was together with the King for who i acted during his absence. (In the end it became our standard answer: Once we sorted through all the relationships our King had, we can decide who would be the rightful queen and we’d install her. In the meanwhile, all the possible queens had to wait… *grin* )

    That being said (excursion over), i also don’t really care too much for RP in my present MMOs. And while my girl is very much into different forms of online-RP, i don’t see much in for me in those.

    Playing my part in a pre-planed storyline contradicts everything i like about RP, and for any other RP, it would just take too much time and effort to get into such a community and establish myself to an acceptable degree, i am not ready to invest into that. (Especially since my experience is that many RP communities are landmines. )

    If i stumble into RP, i get along with it. Every Monday in TSW i spend an evening amidst of roleplayers as my girl runs her radio show and i am along. Actually from my observation, while they fall short of my old MUD times, they might be among the best RPers (not necessarily in quality, but in manners) i have experienced in MMOs. Despite that, i just casually play along, but the RP doesn’t captivate me.

    In my personal case i think a big part of that is that you can’t actually affect anything of significance in any MMO. In the MUD i refered to, we ran a region. Each region had its own law, it was player written and our had the size of about 15 A4 pages. We had court trials, we had diplomatic relations to other regions and to guilds. We had player driven and developer driven events which were able to really change the world. Actions and decissions in RP mattered.

    But realistically seen, this only worked due to the limited size of the games population. Any MMO these days would die with so low player numbers, while no such system of the scope and quality i experienced there could ever be possible in a present day MMO of sufficient community size.

    So i guess unlike a miracle happens, i’ll mostly be a bystander next to present day RP.

    Despite all of that, i also care for the appearance of my character, but usually i have less problems in changing small details. I mean, for my character in TSW, the only change i ever did was making him a little shorter once the size slider was implemented into the game. But that’s because of how i see him, he should always have been smaller than average, the game just didn’t support that from launch, so I fixed the “problem” once the game allowed me to do that.
    Out side of my characters size, his baldness prevents me from changing the hairstyle. He doesn’t use makeup and the beard stays grey, as he’s is confident in it and doesn’t feel the need to “hide” it. This is some kind of RP, not of the text/chat type, but on a purely appearance side.

    At the same time, this is “convenient”. I mean i also don’t understand why TSW demands so much money (in-game money, mind you) for changing your appearance. It’s a money sink, but a badly placed one, as most people disregard it. I guess it this somehow is connected to other games asing a lot, usually real money, for appearance changes, which is again unfortunate for some of my characters in those games. They would change their hairstyle and other things often, would that be possible with reasonable effort. But if change of hairstyle in an online game costs almost as much as a haircut in real life, i just conclude that the present hairstyle of my character definitely is good enough.

    So to finally get to the point: as long as the changes are plausible, I don’t mind them at all. Hairstyle, makeup, fine for me. Changing the facial structure or the complete physique is a no-go, that would break the character for me, but small changes which everybody can do are generally fine. My problem would not be being disconnected from my character, but being disconnected from my money for something which I just don’t consider to be worth the price.

    And to finish this with a positive example on how to do things (from the players point of view): the clothing system of TSW. Freely changeable at any time. I have the addon “Valet” installed, which allows me to save and load outfit sets, and by now i have over 90 of them saved. [A clear win for FunCom. Thanks to that system, I bought a lot of clothing stuff from their item story. Games which want actual money for each time I would change an outfit, e.g. GW2, effectively block me out of giving them money for clothes. 😀 ]

    So while my (bald) character for some reason doesn’t care much for a new haircut, he sure cares for being dressed properly. 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Link Dead Radio: Connection to Characters - Healing the Masses

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