When you play a single-player game, you automatically feel quite special and unique. You are, after all, the very centerpiece that the entire game revolves around and caters to. Your ego soars high like the eagles and cannot be tamed.
This all changes when you step into a massively multiplayer environment. Suddenly we’re one of a crowd, a fish swimming among other fish made of the same templates. We’re part of the swarm of Chosen Ones destined to save the world. In that environment, it’s easy to lose that sense of individuality.
Happily, MMORPG designers have long given us ways to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the crowd if we so desire. There are plenty of avenues to express our creativity, inject our own personality and desires, and otherwise reclaim that sense of individuality in these virtual spaces. Today we’re going to march through a list of 10 ways that players can express individuality in their MMOs.
1. Character creators
With most — but not all — MMOs, this effort begins right on the character creation screen. Very rarely are these systems as complex and flexible as single-player CRPGs, but they usually do offer a modicum of choice in visual appearance. Maybe you’re a ponytail kind of gal or someone who wants to create a bald-headed brute. With so many players tempted to make the most beautiful and idealized toons, there is plenty of room to go a different direction if so desired.
Your mode of personal transportation isn’t just a functional nicety, it’s a way to adapt the ride that fits you the best. Many of the items on this list are paths to broadcast to others what you find interesting and attractive, as well as what echoes the type of person you are. Of course, a mount could just be something to show off, especially in the case of a very rare or expensive one, but you can learn a bit about who that person is by the mount that he or she selects.
3. Cosmetic outfits
Probably one of the most significant systems to express yourself is in the clothes that you wear. Cosmetic outfits weren’t always a staple in MMOs, but now you see them most everywhere. With the large variety of fashion, players can whip up most any outfit and separate themselves from the pack. Even better are games that let you save multiple outfits so that you can choose one based on your current mood and whims.
Also, tell me that I’m not the only MMO player who has changed outfits mid-dungeon run just to impress those in my party!
While technically a part of wardrobe system, I wanted to list this separately because I think that the acquisition and application of colors is an understated skill. It’s amazing what a pairing or selection of colors can do to make an outfit really pop, and those players with an eye for it have a special channel for their creativity.
Open world or instanced, player housing is a feature that I consider essential to any MMO that wants to make players feel included and invested. Not everyone is into pretend dollhouses, but players like me who love them find that they allow for a great amount of imagination and freedom as we carve out a little niche in the game world and make it our own.
Honestly, I’m not huge into titles that hover above heads in the name plates, but I know some people really do. Not only are titles another potential reward and collectible, they can be a mark of a player’s personality. If I’m broadcasting that I’m a slob, or a great warrior, or have pickled 5,000 slugs, that tells you something about who I am and what I’ve accomplished. Shameless self-promotion? Sure, but that’s OK.
7. Roleplaying tools
MMOs have varying degrees of support behind roleplaying systems (why can’t my character sit in a chair?!), but I do admire those that reach back to the true roots of RPGs and offer ways to live in the world rather than merely move through it and fight in it. Emotes, music, toys, and interactive settings are all useful to get into your character’s shoes/boots/slippers and act the way that you see fit.
8. Player-created content
For the rare and truly ambitious MMORPGs, there are always paths to creating actual content for others to experience and enjoy. Some include mission creators (which, to our industry’s shame, is in the vast minority), while others allow us to build our own structures and vehicles by hand. Player-created or -generated content should be the focus of a smart development team that understands harnessing gamer creativity is key into building an ever-expanding, never-boring title.
9. Customizable effects
Once in a while we do see an MMO that extends player individuality into combat itself, mostly by offering different ways to customize spell and weapon effects. Maybe it’s merely a different color of sparkles or a completely changed visual, but that tends to draw the eye (and envy!) of others.
One of my personal favorite features, vanity pets may seem to serve no purpose to some, but in truth, they are key to personal expression. You can tell a lot about someone by the pet they’re dragging around, from the quirky to the cute, the terrifying to the sublime.
What’s your favorite way to express your individuality in MMOs (other than your awesome attitude and actions, of course)?