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.
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.
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.
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?