Monday, September 5, 2011

The Great Equalizer

In the two years since we've been running this blog, ol' Redbeard has started to turn into Greybeard.  Although I'm sure that my family has had something to do with it, streaks of gray can now be seen on the sides of my facial hair, extending up into my sideburns.  Every morning, I peer into the mirror and see evidence of my mortality staring back at me.*  All the crueler, I suppose, in that my toons never seem to age or show any evidence of previous wounds.

A toon's appearance is the great equalizer in WoW.  Until you get on Vent or Mumble, you never know who is actually running the toon.  The players in your pug could be grandparents or tweens, male or female, gay or straight, and unless they make it obvious, you'll be none the wiser.

In a very real sense, this is how it should be.  We can gripe about racial design or (lack) of armor, but in the end, the toon is an idealized artistic version of an arbitrary race in a virtual game.  The toon isn't us; it is merely the vehicle in which we play.

And yet there's so much wrapped up in them.

If you don't think so, I point to the rejoicing at the vanity armor announcement for Patch 4.3.  Or how some people refuse to play certain races and/or classes, based on how they look. 

We invest so much time in these toons, it's only natural that we look at them as an extension of ourselves.  I suppose I'll always look at Q or Neve as Sindorei, Q with his Blood Knight tabard and polearm (evoking the Blood Tempered Ranseur) and Neve with her Kirin Tor tabard** and refusing to wear a helm.  Tom seems to have that Ramkahen tabard permanently stapled onto his chest, and will favor a 2H sword over anything else. 

Even when we aren't really roleplaying, we notice when things just aren't right with our toons.  Whether some gear makes sense or looks halfway decent does matter.  It's kind of hard to take a Dwarf or Gnome tank seriously with the Ulduar horned helm that looks like a giant codpiece.  Or the people who wield a specific weapon because that was what they leveled back in the pre-4.0.1 era when you had to level individual weapon skills.  Or whether your toon prefers to hang around Dal or Shat in the Cataclysm era.

I'll freely admit that one of my toons --Neve-- came out of a long running D&D campaign I was in.  She died in one of those freakish rolls of three '20' results on a d20 in a row, not more than 7-8 sessions after I'd spent all the time and effort to get her into the campaign.***  I'd been thinking about trying out a mage in WoW, so I went with Neve's name, hoping that she'd last a wee bit longer than her D&D counterpart.  In a sense the name was perfect, because I'd played her as a snarky, academically oriented Elf who thought she knew more than she really did, and that overall attitude is what the Blood Elves exude in spades.  At the same time, I don't play on an RP server, so I never really play Neve 'in character'; she's just, well, 'me as Mage'.  But I never forgot where she came from, and that kind of influences my attitude toward her.

Maybe we are all roleplaying, albeit unconsciously. 




*Unlike, say, my knees, which haven't been really right since college.  Yeah, I know, I could lose some weight, but three years of running hurdles in high school haven't exactly been kind to my knees either.

**She's not too proud to use her Illustrious Guild tabard to get rep with her guild, however.

***Our game group had no Wizards or Sorcerers --no magic wielders at all, really-- so I campaigned to take on a second character just so we could have some magic to round out the party.  I don't think I'd have minded her dying so much as the manner in which she bit it: killed by a fellow party member who'd been mind controlled by a Harpy.

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