It's All About the Look, Baby!
In this article I explore the age old arguement of Stats Vs Looks in all aspects of RPG's. Why do we feel the need to have avatars aesthetically pleasing to ourselves? How do we solve the problem? In fact, should we even have the right to make such a demand?
All I want is to be pretty.
Fashion. Style. Aesthetics.
As a gamer these are actually very important words to me and I know I’m not alone in sharing this view. My avatar is an extension of myself and just as I would never be seen alive in a zombie apocalypse wearing a saucepan on my head I therefore do not expect my character to either.
Let’s face it. I’m the type of gamer who likes to explore every last little nook and cranny. I will backtrack through levels with the intensity of determination only seen from a dog digging through the laundry basket for that prize sock to chew the heel out of. I want to make sure I’ve been everywhere, done everything and picked up as much as I possibly can. As you can imagine this means I spend a very long time staring at my character.
The same character I spent hours on in the initial character creation tweaking every slider until I got it just right. If a game gives me so much freedom over the physical assets right down to how much point I find acceptable on the ears of an elf then why not go the whole hog and let me have a damn say over what dress - sorry robe - they’re in?
This brings us reeling into the old territory of Looks Vs Stats. It is a well known, unwritten law that the better items get in RPG’s the more your character starts to look like they were attacked by the contents of their wardrobe... in the dark... and lost the battle. It’s especially chronic while getting through the mid-level ranges where full sets are still few and far between.
For those of us with any taste we are either forced to cling to the gear we have found that looks pleasing but lacks in stats or upgrade and cry with shame every time we roll into town looking like a blood spattered collage done by an Orc with its eye’s plucked out.
Indeed, with certain game types like MMORPG’s, often we simply don’t have the choice of altering the difficulty setting to allow us to wring as many miles as possible out of our beautifully co-ordinated armour. Pulling a stunt like that will get you shunned quicker than a leper showing up to an orgy. Gamers have been dropped from Guilds and Raids for a lot less and to me this is completely unacceptable.
Games are about immersion and while I admit the designer has every right to determine the aesthetics of the world and style of clothing and armour it’s occupants have access to, it still doesn’t excuse badly matching pants and shoulder pads. Not only this but nothing is more jarring to me than running through a tropical environment in full hulking plate mail or traversing frozen wastes in little more than a couple of belts. No one is ever that hardcore. Seriously.
The real question here is how do we address such an issue without someone sitting down and undertaking the impossible task of trying to ensure every armour item and stitch of clothing can match everything else? Well, I believe there are several ways to implement a structure that will satiate even the pickiest fashion diva.
Firstly, there is the obvious method of having a wardrobe inventory or item transmogrification process. Lord of the Rings Online is probably the main name that comes to mind when considering this premise and other games have begun to follow suit in some way or another. You are basically given a specific inventory for changing the look of your character by “equipping” the items that you like the look of. In this way no one has to realise that you look like a space gypsy and can make your avatar unique and appealing while not worrying about the stats of your visual pieces. This process can be done by either having an inventory available to you at all times through your character tab or by visiting a specialist NPC. This has even been expanded upon in some games allowing you multiple preset looks that you can switch between for varying situations and dyes/enchantments to give you even further customisation of you gear.
As much as I am a fan of this method there are others who still claim this is immersion breaking in the purest RPG sense. There is no logical way of wearing one set of armour you’ve picked up while convincing everyone you meet it actually looks like another. This transmogrification process needs to be linked into the story and world somehow for it to be a viable option to such gamers.
There is a solution and I don’t see why it would be difficult to include. Why could we not have highly trained artisans with the ability to change the appearance of pieces - or indeed craft new ones as long as you provide them with the template to work from, materials and the right fee? I also don’t see why it couldn’t work with a stat transfer process also. Surely a Master of the Arcane could study the enchantments of those new slippers you’ve acquired and replicate it on a pair of your choosing? Naturally there would be things that they couldn’t do. A warrior, for example, cannot go running around in a dress - I meant robe - while still having the stats and protection of something made of plate. Sorry people, having a g-string of power was never a good idea... especially not on a male barbarian.
I’m not a games designer and I will be the first to admit I have no idea about the work that goes into creating these wonderful playthings. Perhaps I would then be wrong in thinking the implementation of either of the fore-mentioned solutions should be an easy thing. If a game can be coded to allow players to enchant stats on items and graphically alter them to show this why not give us our beautification options? Why could we not make this as much a genre standard as the vendor or the quest giver?
I would also like to take time to mention the hard work and dedication of the modding community. I’ll admit, modifying your game is way more easy for PC gamers and I have lost hours of my life scrolling through aesthetic customization options for avatar characteristics and armour. MMORPG’s are nowhere near so easy. However, it gets the job done and helps enrich the gaming experience for us in ways we wished the original game content did. Many developers would use this as a way to gloss over their lack of enthusiasm on the matter by saying it helps support this community but even a perfect game would still attract their attention.
The point I’m striking at is no-one should ever feel the need to go out of their way to modify a game to enjoy it. It should be a bonus, not a must. The fact that there is so much call for these kinds of mods though gives validation to the argument, in my opinion. All the developers need to do is embrace it.
Perhaps I am being too nit-picky. If we are to follow the evolution of the games industry and try to impress upon people that they are as much an art form as a painted canvas or a printed novel then us, as the player and viewer, may need to accept we cannot have it all as we want. It is up to the games designers, or artists, to chose how we see their vision. After all, Van Gogh would never have changed his sun flowers to roses because the masses demanded it. Even if we don’t like sun flowers it doesn’t inhibit us from seeing what a beautiful, well-painted piece it is and enjoy it.
And yet... I’m sticking by my guns on this one. It may well be their world but it’s still my character and I selfishly want to express them as I choose and I think we should all have the choice to.