The Daily Grind: How much should an MMO’s source material restrict player customization?

    
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MOP reader Tanek recently pointed us to a thread on Lord of the Rings Online forums where players have been debating the merits of allowing characters in the game who don’t currently have a full range of skin tone options to do so.

“Combined with the recent announcement of the Stout Axe Dwarves having a female option in character creation, it made me wonder how much the source material should be able to restrict player customization,” he writes. “LOTRO lore has certainly been bent if not broken before to suit the game, so how much of a defense is it to say such-and-such did not exist in the books, so we can’t have it in the game? Not that I want to have eagle mounts like some have asked for over the years, but making your character look the way you want even if it doesn’t exactly fit? Maybe that should be fine.”

What say you? Is it really that much wackier to have dark-skinned Tolkien high elves than it is to have the Rune-keeper class – and lockboxes? How much should an MMO’s source material restrict player customization?

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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Nordavind

Be true. You are entering into that world, take what it has or go elsewhere. Also goes for running around in bikini social gear with heavy armour stats underneath.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

If you’re in a ‘dedicated’ IP, it should matter a lot IMO…

…but if you’re not, I actually would prefer to stop having these idiotic ‘character creator’ options where we ‘create a hero’ to our liking, and have what your character actually does in the game effect how they look…for example the people roaming all over mining/smithing/hammering away at stuff should LOOK like they are well-built physically…but if you roam around being ‘lazy’ sitting in auction houses or chatting in taverns or something drinking and eating…that should effect your character in other ways…like being heavier/more ‘fat’. A intellectual like a mage should look spindlier/frail because they spent so much time poring over books to become knowledgeable enough to be able to do the things they do. Go back to physicality meaning something…but yeah, I know my opinion is stereotyping and people would rather just dive into a pre-stereotyped role to begin with…

Mewmew
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Mewmew

A lot of old source material wasn’t really including females or humans of much color other than white doing very much of merit. I’m not saying all, or claiming even most, but a good amount of it.

The human heroes were mostly white, and except for a very few standouts most females were there for sexualization or servitude, the kind of stuff that flew back when much source material and old fantasy was written that doesn’t go as well today.

Considering the heroics that the male characters do and how unrealistic most of it is, there isn’t any reason the females can’t be doing it as well. It’s not realistic for either of them to do it, and while males are naturally stronger, the buff females on some competition shows are stronger than a lot of males.

It’s fantasy not reality. I wouldn’t mind a more realistic game in which your females needed to be buff looking and no character could be a skinny twig carrying weapons they couldn’t possibly lift. But the females could still be there even if they couldn’t be the skinny sexualized versions.

So when it comes to allowing genders and skin types to be different than the heroes of the source material, I’m all for that. If I’m restricted from making a skinny girl with a big butt and huge boobs, all the better. As long as she can be female I don’t really care about some limitations to be a bit more realistic for a melee warrior or what have you.

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zoward

Overbearing customization can be REALLY immersion-breaking, sometimes even without the formal IP constraints. The last time I visited World of Warcraft, I figured I’d give it another try. I downloaded the client Battle.net. It was the tail end of Warlords of Draenor. I started a new dwarven priest. I was leveling through the newbie section of Dun Morogh, when another low-level character sped by me in a motorcycle driven by a chauffeur.

I was like, WTF? Am I supposed to take anything in this game seriously after that? I just snapped. I logged out and deleted the client from my hard drive. Haven’t been back since. I’ve spent some time on private servers, and I’ll probably try Classic once it’s been up for a while and the crowds die down.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

That actually fits in the IP of Warcraft, as one of the races is basically gear-heads (Goblins? I forget)…and the engineering skill allows you to make things like that. But yeah, I can see how it would ‘immersion break’ without knowing beforehand about things like that. They kind of had similar stuff all throughout all of the Warcrafts…(I own them all…played em all through.)

Vaeris
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Vaeris

It makes the IP not the IP anymore. I’d much rather a brand new IP including all the things you want be made. Anything else shoehorned in feels just like that: forced in due to real world considerations and not plausible lore based reasons.

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NeoWolf

When it comes to skin tones and genders I find it frankly ludicrous NOT to include them all because what difference does it really make to an ip or its lore. for example, I know a ridiculous amount about certain I.p’s like Star Wars, Marvel, Lord of Rings etc.. as they are i.p’s I have spent my entire life of 46 years immersed in on a daily basis, way more than your average person. But I am not going to lose any sleep if a black dwarf shows up or an Asian looking elf or if a Jedi has a relationship etc..etc..

Now in terms of places, depicted cultures, languages etc.. those things I’m pretty much a lore purist but the incidentals like you refer too… doesn’t bother me by their stepping out of the i.p for the purpose of inclusion and freedom of choice at all.

Bereman
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Bereman

Depends on how much their MMO is meant to be a faithful adaptation of the source material, or something that is just inspired by it or uses a timeframe in which their is little confirmed lore.

Also depends on how clever they can be when introducing the new lore.

Interesting side note about LOTRO – the Dwarves have long not had a gender indicator at character creation, as the original intent was to follow what Tolkien had set down, that you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.

So your dwarf was male or female based on whichever you wanted them to be, and the only way other players could tell if you were playing a female dwarf was if you told them…cause they couldn’t otherwise tell you apart from male dwarfs.

So LOTRO has always had female dwarves, specifically ones that were true to the source material. Kind of makes me wonder if the developers have forgotten about that, and assumed their OG dwarf option was genderlocked to male.

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zoward

I haven’t seen the new race yet. Does the female avatar look any different than the male one? If not, does it really matter if they have a couple of buttons on the screen that read Male and Female? Dwarves have always been male or female in LotRO – we just couldn’t tell them apart. If you still can’t by looking at them, then nothing has really changed. I remember being on my Dwarven runekeeper and leveling up one day, and a passerby said “You go, girl!”. I did a double-take, as I’d always thought of my toon as male. but who knows? Maybe she is and I’d just never thought of her that way before.

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Zero_1_Zerum

Well…let me put it this way. I LOVE Lord of the Rings. It’s the first book I ever read, and this week I’m listening to the 1960s radio show. It’s a beautiful bit of fantasy fiction. But, there’s no denying that it’s very… Eurocentric. One might even call parts of it “problematic”. What literature from that time period isn’t, in some way?

Lord of the Rings was a major factor in my becoming a writer myself. I write fantasy and sci-fi, drawing inspiration from Tolkien, and like him, from mythology and legends. I’ve got elves, orcs, and dwarves, among others. But, I’ve made sure to give each race/species their own characteristics and range of skin tones, and not just human ones either. Just because it makes more sense to me than having everyone in a race be the same color. Like, so many of the alien species in Star Trek are just lazy. All Andorians, Bolians, etc, are one color. Vulcans and Klingons are the rare ones with more than one skin tone.

I’m not saying that Tolkien was lazy, per se. Or… racist either, at least not intentionally. But, it wouldn’t hurt to have more variety in the Elves and Hobbits and Dwarves. And maybe they don’t even have to have human skin tones. Elves could be green! Orange hobbits! Purple dwarves! Ok, maybe not purple dwarves. Don’t want to go against lore too much. But, like I said, more skin tones wouldn’t hurt.

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Dug From The Earth

If the game is less than 2 years old – Restrict it a LOT
If the game is between 2 and 5 years old – Restrict it a moderate amount
If the game is between 5 and 10 years old – Restrict it a little
If the game is over 10 years old – No restrictions

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IronSalamander8 .

I wanted to add what I said earlier as well. While some ideas are nonsensical in the setting, i.e. a Dalek in Star Wars, an Imperial Storm Trooper in LotRO, a half dragon/half demon secret agent in pretty much anything, and therefore don’t fit, some of the restrictions people come up with are definitely not in good faith to the setting’s lore but are just ways to be nasty and exclusionary.

Hikari’s post earlier about ‘dark skinned people are evil’ being thrown at her and Randomessa’s points as well, are exactly what I mean when I say unsavory biases and what I mean above. Yes, we shouldn’t go nuts and have Winston from Overwatch in EQ, but some of these are just strawmen anyway. Most of this I’ve seen from players in game and the RP community more than actual game devs though. The RP community in SWTOR had some great people but some were just horrible, acting like some of the worst elements indicated here.

So, I would say limits should exist to a point and I don’t think Utakata meant she wanted to see Cybermen stomping around the Shire, but limits should be as wide open as makes sense in the setting.

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Hikari Kenzaki

It’s those strawman type arguments that are generally the most offensive.

Saying “Yes, I want to be a giant robot pilot in Middle-Earth” when someone says they might like some other skin tones is on the same plain as “My gender identity is toaster” when someone dares suggest they might not want a gender binary character.

Taking a minor thing and treating it as an outlandish thing is where the bigotry and offense come in.

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Hikari Kenzaki

And yes, the horrible things you can do to Vette and several other characters in SWTOR attracted some… less than desirable RPers.