Ravious over at Kill Ten Rats has a great piece up about how personal the customisation for Guild Wars 2 characters really is, as part of the GuildMag Blog Carnival. As he says – the character is special in our own eyes, but we are possibly going to be the only ones that can see the uniqueness that we have created. He makes a point about how we aren’t going to see that much difference when it comes to ‘seeing’ other characters.
Choices in numbers
As Rav points out, you’d have to play the starting areas thirty times to get all the race/starting story and choice combos that are possible. According to a commenter at ZAM, there are approximately 87,000 different ‘builds’ per profession when one includes traits and weapon choices.
Of course, would all those possible builds be viable? Entirely different question, and one I will leave to the GW2 theorycrafters to work out.
My character, my protagonist
In many ways, the invisible uniqueness that Rav talks about is simply a reflection of life. We all have our unique experiences and journey, our own internal narrative that is impossible to share in it’s totality with anyone else. No matter how close our life partners, parents, family, and friends are – at best they only experience a small percentage of our lives. We’re all different, but narratives of life share common keystones and emotions. Moments in our life that we share with others, some that are intensely private when experienced but are something that millions of others will experience one day too. They just won’t experience it in the same way as you, or the same place.
These shared but private experiences help to create empathy and a shared sense of community, for all that we are innately alone in our own heads.
Even in Warcraft, which is starting to look relatively uncustomisable, there are hundreds of thousands of artefacts from the lives of individual characters out there. Fan fiction, fan art, twitter accounts, blog posts, moments shared on vent about the time when that warlock did that thing that one time. The personal story in Guild Wars 2 is unique to each individual character, but the players will create their own artefacts and ways to share the immense diversity of experience that ArenaNet has enabled. Just look at the discussions about FemShep – there are thousands of FemSheps out there, and yet I see so many discussions about ‘my FemShep’. The possessive.
And Guild Wars 2 will allow us a more immediate way to share our character’s uniqueness. You can act as the host for your personal story, and share progress and join in with the stories of your friends who may have made different choices. A way to share personal narrative in-game? Sign me up! One of most fun features of SWTOR was the ‘shared’ conversations when in a group with another player, getting the chance to see them answer according to the whims of their player and creating a shared narrative for that version of the Flashpoint (or the quest.) While this is not precisely the same as teaming up for the sake of personal story, some of the principle holds true.
As with Transmogrification in Warcraft, one of the key elements of Guild Wars 2 will be the huge range of armour dyes and vanity gear. One of the fab things about Transmogrification has been the number of players blogging about how they’re using the feature and the looks they are creating. While Rav thinks only the garish colours will stand out, I think I might turn back to real life for my response here. When we chose our clothes, no matter with how little thought that goes in, we both express and create meaning. Sometimes it’s sub-concious. The man who likes outdoorsy clothing will pick up clothes from climbing and hiking clothing manufacturers to wear casually. Another will dress in the geek uniform of black t-shirt and blue jeans. A more fashion concious one may add hi-tops and an unusual haircut. Clothes are both who we want to be and who we actually are.
The digitial avatar is an expression of something – perhaps a wish to be a mean charr with a longbow, or the wish to be a powerful human who can stealth and kick butts. Or more complicated things that are to do with escaping who we really are and our everyday lives while we kill (or flee from) internet dragons. The clothing choices and cosmetic gear ties into it. While the garish colour scheme of a cobra-starship fan may draw attention, outfit looks will also depend on the character that one wishes to portray. Many of these will fall into the stereotyped archetypes that Rav mentions, but I suspect well done ‘looks’ and outfits will sit alongside a well crafted build and play style, and stand out more fully in our minds than might be expected when one considers the silhouette design of Warcraft characters.
Some unique characters are just so well expressed, that they stand out despite sharing a silhouette and armour look with every other main-tank on the current tier of content. The diversity available in Guild Wars 2 is truly exciting to me. I cannot way to see how players express themselves with the thousands of variations available to them.
Although, you know, I could do with more ways to express my character that didn’t necessarily involve bared midriff or inner thighs. Or boob windows. Thanks.