The Daily Grind: Are MMOs inherently ageist?

    
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I don’t like throwing “isms” around that often in conversation (it’s a different story with “sims”), but a recent office discussion over Black Desert’s new ultra-young-looking Shai got me wondering if MMORPGs are, even unconsciously, ageist in their approach to character design. As a follow up to that, I wonder if we help encourage developers to design in that direction.

It hardly started with MMOs. Most pen-and-paper RPGs and CRPGs that allow you an age typically defaulted to somewhere around 18 to 25, which apparently is the prime demographic for an adventurer. A middle-aged mom going dungeon diving is not often seen, and the only time we get an elderly person it’s (a) a guy who is (b) a secretly strong and mighty wizard clearly modeled after Gandalf.

Very few MMOs offer much in the way of showing character age beyond young adult perfection, or if they do, it’s usually the one token “super wrinkly face” that looks weird on an otherwise spry body. What say you? Has ageism crept into MMORPG character design and kept our options more limited than they should be?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Yaner

I mean, I don’t know why your average gamer would be wanting to play a 12 year old girl in a MMO. I find it an odd bit of creepy. I generally have an issue with loli type characters because I think it’s just an uncomfortable thing to see. Especially if they are thrown in revealing clothes are adult scenarios.

I don’t mind younger ages showing up in games if they make sense, but “lolis” are not one of those situations.

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Armsman

MMOs are fantasy worlds. In a fantasy I doubt there’s many (I will never say there’s no one) of the ‘old’ crowd (and BTW I’m currently 56) who want to ‘play themselves’ as they currently are since honestly in many respects, getting old sucks in that mentally you often still feel young and remember what you at one point could do would ease and would still like to do – but your body will no longer capitulate because of various changes over the years.

It’s not all bad, BUT again, in a fantasy world, yes, I want to be the hero who can do amazing physical feats so, yeah, I’m not going to model it after how I look now at 56. In a Fantasy world, most will want the idealized version of themselves, and in most cases, that’s not Grandpa. ;)

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rafael12104

Meh…

It’s all in the eye of the beholder. I mean these aren’t supposed to be real worlds we play in. These are fantasy worlds. And fantasy usually means idealized.

Some games have age sliders or methods to add wrinkles etc. BDO and Bns do which is ironic given how “idealized” both of those games tend to be. In BDO I made my Wizard look like worn out old leather left out in the sun to shrink. Heh. And yet my Archer is a vibrant red-headed beauty in her 20’s. Works for me.

And I guess that’s really about all I expect; to have the option. If most want the ideal physical specimen, so be it. If there are some who, for RP or other reasons want to look ancient or pre-teen, so be it. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.

And yes, that means I have no issues with Lolis. You want to be a badass that looks like a little girl? Have at thee!

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Carebear

I am 37 but even if i get to 67 i will always chose to play a young good looking character :)

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Dane Ford

Hey, 35 here.

I don’t see the benefit in having the art/asset team spending time on character features, or models that only a handful of people will play. It’s a cost/benefit scenario, and that time could be better spent elsewhere.

If people were, in sufficient numbers, clamoring to play 35-65 year olds, we would see those assets. We aren’t, so they don’t.

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XK

I play an old man in real life… I don’t need to play one in game too.

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Xell

If you give people the choice of looking at beautiful or ugly faces many people will choose the beautiful ones

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Maggie May

“You want someone who can devote a lot of time and money to your game; that’s not going to be an old person or a person with a disability who can’t work. Thus these games are designed to primarily target young, generally able people who’re both healthy enough and appreciative of the norm’s beauty standards.”

When I started playing mmo’s I would say that was true, no one could believe I was female or older …. now its become more diverse demographically and I am not the only elder female playing online games. Also I know of a lot of people with
disabilities playing, its pretty common to find all ages, abilities and genders
playing the same game.

Its true that many of the gaming companies have not recognized this fact but doesn’t remove the truth of it. That said, sometimes I like to play an idealized form of character. I also would love to play a me toon, running through the dungeons smiting those pesky monsters with whatever my old self can come up with.

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Fenrir Wolf

I feel that MMOs are many -ists and that that’s just inherent in the nature of the beast. Which is not to say that it’s a good thing—quite to the contrary—but rather that it’s undeniably omnipresent within the genre.

I suppose that if you have to develop so much content, representation isn’t the first thing on your mind. It should be a consideration, but how often is it? Furthermore, just in the general sentiment of how the genre is designed I feel anyone other than the young & healthy aren’t especially valued.

You want someone who can devote a lot of time and money to your game; that’s not going to be an old person or a person with a disability who can’t work. Thus these games are designed to primarily target young, generally able people who’re both healthy enough and appreciative of the norm’s beauty standards.

That means that the resultant effort can be Stepfordised, homogenised, and filtered to allow more to be done with less.

How often do you see fat characters in video games? How often do you see unusual races in them? And even if they dared to risk an unusual race, how often is the sexual dimorphism ridiculous or the race troped in some overly simplistic, shallow way?

We can name rare examples (such as ESO allowing for chubby characters, less so for women), but for the most part, there is a push towards genericism and homogenised systems because they’re simply easier to get a lot of people designing a lot of content for whilst staying on the same page. It’s one of those reasons why I’ve never gotten behind the standard model of MMO development.

Could you imagine an MMO that had vastly diverse races, culturally and visually? You’d need a much smaller game for that, one that isn’t an open world. It’d need to be a more contained experience.

This is why I often opine my desire for smaller scale MMOs, as they could be more inclusive than the archetypical form we’re so familiar with.

With MMOs designed for young men with jobs and free time (so middle-class or above, then)? The end result of each of them is going to be obvious. Anything outside of that will be a risk to see what the publisher can do to generate even more revenue.

Often straight, white young men too as they’re the largest demographic and thus easier to find an audience with for a project so large.

This is why races in MMOs are the way they are.

It’s why in WoW you have a machismo-fuelled musclebound male orc, but a svelte, green-skinned human as the female option.

Nature of the beast.

We need a new beast, really. Something that would change the paradigm and allow for MMOs with a smaller scale to exist in the first place, as opposed to everything trying to be WoW as it was for so long.

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Baemir

I wouldn’t say the female orc is svelte. If anything that looks like pretty realistic sexual dimorphism to me.

Michael Cowan
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Michael Cowan

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Fenrir Wolf

See, as someone of a ripe old age myself, I’d value being able to play an older character, and having representation of age. I feel that representation is incredibly important. This is exactly what I’m talking about in my post and why you’re the perfect demographic for what they’re offering.

It’s targeted at those who either are young, healthy, and beautiful or desperately want to be thanks to cultural conditioning. This isn’t any different to the way society forces binary gender on trans people, for example. It’s the pigeonholing of sapient beings, eagerly showing that the ideologies behind horrors like Stepfordisation are alive and well today.

Anyone who exists outside of that overly homogeneous box doesn’t really feel welcome.

I can understand the desire to be able to have a diverse range of options to play as—but the idea here is having a diverse range of options to play as! What you’re talking about is being limited to being young, because you’re culturally conditioned to think that age isn’t at all desirable.

Wanting to play as a young character occasionally could be a healthy exploration so long as you actually had other options to choose from. You don’t.

To value that lack of choice is incredibly pathological and problematic.

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DeadlyAccurate

It’s The Daily Grind. Every morning they ask a question for the community to answer. They’ve done it for years. It can’t be easy to come up with 365 unique questions every year and then do that for many years. If the question doesn’t interest me, I just skip it.