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Avataritis — On the Abundance of Customizable Game Characters

Soulskill posted about 5 years ago | from the forty-nine-precisely-placed-freckles dept.

Games 78

Martyn Zachary writes "The Slowdown has posted a new critique, 'Avataritis,' that attempts to portray the utilization of character customization as a pandemic, emotional response on behalf of publishers and developers to finding the easiest, most efficient solution to the very unique dilemma presented by the enlarging, widening player base of video games. 'No mechanisms are in place stopping developers from writing and designing heterogeneous yet fully structured, narrative-based computer games with carefully constructed and immutable, unchangeable characters.' The article discusses the emergence and role of gender criticism and research in relation to the recent proliferation of the customizable avatar. The story also dissects the very act of character creation, subsequently aiming to clarify several semantic distortions related to the terminology utilized in character creation, and in turn breaking apart the concepts of relatability and understandability, wholly differentiating the two. The overarching analysis is finally related to examples from the gaming marketplace, where many continue to corroborate apparent falsehoods and misunderstandings in relation to the utilization of the avatar. Ultimately, the writer hopes to dissuade readers, developers and players from believing that written narratives are going away as customization and emergent content are entering video games with full force."

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OP can't get a date. (2, Funny)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 5 years ago | (#29776577)

Good Grid! Somebody has WAAAAAY too much time on their hands.

Re:OP can't get a date. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29779729)

I know! This article reads like "blah blah blah I'm smart lookit me... Blah blah blah dysfunctional... Blah blah blah semantics blah gender dysphoria" I mean cmon, who would *not* like their avatar to be customized? They should have called this article: "Food: humanity's new addiction?" or "the dangers of air consumption" ~kuleiana

Re:OP can't get a date. (1)

Shamenaught (1341295) | about 5 years ago | (#29780081)

I'd prefer the time and money spent on avatar customization to be spent on improving the game itself, or possibly adding extra game modes, thankyouverymuch.

Seriously, avatar customization not only takes the developers more time to implement, but also more time for me to make an avatar. Take Oblivion as an example. Practically limitless options for how your character looks, but 99% of your options are hideously ugly, the remaining 1% is spread so thin that the chances of actually being able to make a character both look vaguely like you want it to and not be ugly is pretty-much nil. In the end, you just click randomize until something that's not ugly comes along, change the hair to how you want it, and wonder why you just wasted your time when you effectively got nothing better than a stock face would have given you.

Re:OP can't get a date. (1)

Cyrus20 (1345311) | about 5 years ago | (#29785963)

99% of your options are hideously ugly, the remaining 1% is spread so thin that the chances of actually being able to make a character both look vaguely like you want it to and not be ugly is pretty-much nil 99% ugly and 1% decent looking, yep! sounds like the real world.

Re:OP can't get a date. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29791401)

l2quote pls

ok.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29776607)

Same fellow that write EULAs?

It's a bad article due to linguistic elephantiasis. Too much words, too little content.

Or like Monthy Python says: "Get on with it!".

Summary reads like a mess. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29776627)

"The story also dissects the very act of character creation, subsequently aiming to clarify several semantic distortions related to the terminology utilized in character creation, and in turn breaking apart the concepts of relatability and understandability, wholly differentiating the two"

Who wrote this? The Architect?

Re:Summary reads like a mess. (1)

StickInTheMud94 (1127619) | about 5 years ago | (#29777119)

As you read this, did you expect to see the word "concordantly"? I sure did.

Re:Summary reads like a mess. (1)

m.ducharme (1082683) | about 5 years ago | (#29777437)

The article embiggened my mind, no question.

Re:Summary reads like a mess. (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | about 5 years ago | (#29777527)

Please. Call me Larry.

I've read physics papers by business majors... (4, Insightful)

topham (32406) | about 5 years ago | (#29776683)

that made more sense.

1. You make a character look like you, so you can feel like 'YOU' are part of the story.
2. You make a character like you wish you were, to make 'YOU' feel like some sort of hero (or anti-hero)
3. You make a character unlike yourself and not like you wish you were to give yourself a different perspective and to act out a roll.

If the characters look (color, shape, accent, etc) has no direct bearing on the story then it's just window dressing.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (3, Interesting)

rujholla (823296) | about 5 years ago | (#29776793)

4. You make a hot character so spending an hour day looking at her run around the screen is at least more visually stimulating than #1.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29777233)

+several millions points for having Mithra as a race in Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV. Cute AND hot = win!

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29778899)

My Karma's shot. Someone mod this guy up as Insightful.

After playing MMO's for months on end, a guy gets a little tired of staring at his avatar's rippling, chisled ass, and might like to have some "softer" scenery waving in his face for a while.

I'm getting to be an "older" gamer, and while I know that a lot of kids need to identify with their character in order to really get immersed in a game, I don't really need that to enjoy a story. But what I do like is to personalize my character, and if I can do so in a way that prevents my eyes from bleeding after staring at a thong-clad Masculine God so much the better.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

Doggabone (1025394) | about 5 years ago | (#29783001)

After playing MMO's for months on end, a guy gets a little tired of staring at his avatar's rippling, chisled ass, and might like to have some "softer" scenery waving in his face for a while.

Absolutely. I had a friend who only played Dark Elf female characters on EQ. Best butt, was the reason. He knew that was inane, but as long as he had to stare at a cartoon butt, it was going to be one he liked the curves of. Plus the whole "play a female character, get free stuff" thing.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

Masami Eiri (617825) | about 5 years ago | (#29793359)

I wish I had mod points.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 5 years ago | (#29776799)

4. You make a character that fits the role you want to play. Unless you really look like an ogre, that is.

Also, uncustomizable characters really only go with an uncustomizable story. If you can be anyone from Conan the Barbarian to Conan the Librarian it makes no sense. Most MMORPGs or even RPGs are rather open-ended, you choose your skils and classes and party members and whatnot, even in games like Neverwinter Nights or Oblivion. Having an uncustomizable character is really only good for a linear game like Tales of Monkey Island - you're always Guybrush Threepwood, but it's a comical character in a comical game, it's not supposed to be you. There it works well, but most other places I'd like an avatar.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | about 5 years ago | (#29776839)

WoW has this superficially, in that NPCs treat you different depending on your reputation, race, and faction. Some of it is just "Glad to see you here, noble $RACE $CLASS", and some of it is NPC X won't give quests to RACE Y or characters who have a standing with FACTION Z.

Maybe MMOs need to D&D it up a bit, have a CHA(risma) score or something like that... the prettier you are, the more likely some people are going to help you and the less likely some others would (i.e. a girl might be lovestruck with your elf, but the thug in the tavern doesn't wanna work with no pretty boy). It would bring up interesting opportunities for variance in game design...

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

Thiez (1281866) | about 5 years ago | (#29777089)

Actually, in DnD Cha != Looks. Unless you think the average Mummy (Monster Manual, Cha 15) or Gibbering Mouther (Monster Manual, Cha 13) is more attractive than the average human/elf/gnome/halfling/half-elf/whatever (Cha 10). A Nalfeshnee (Monster Manual, Cha 20, http://www.wizards.com/dnd/images/MM35_gallery/MM35_PG45.jpg [wizards.com] it's the big monster in the background) would be prettier than even the prettiest (3d6 = Cha 18) humans!

Besides, elves don't even have a bonus to charisma so they are no more likely to be attractive to the girl in your post than a kobold (who also has +0 Cha).

Charisma may make you more attractive but it doesn't make you pretty. DnD doesn't have an ability score to indicate physical beauty unless you use one of those third party books that all players will deny having read.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | about 5 years ago | (#29777667)

It's the best equivalent I could think of. Charisma is more the innate charm one has than anything else. But yeah, you get the point.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (2, Insightful)

phoenix321 (734987) | about 5 years ago | (#29777929)

What made you think charisma is like "charm"? Then why is it called a different word then? :)

Wiki-Grandma says "One who is charismatic is said to be capable of using their personal being, rather than just speech or logic alone, to interface with other human beings in a personal and direct manner, and effectively communicate an argument or concept to them."

When I remember where charisma checks were usually encountered in various RPGs, it was always in persuading or influencing other characters to do your bidding. Which works pretty well if you're a hot nympho female or a 500 pound gorilla concerning the result: people will subconsciously yield to you. Fear or attraction doesn't matter, the results are the same.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

mabinogi (74033) | about 5 years ago | (#29779759)

why would he think charisma is the same as charm.

I wouldn't have a clue

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | about 5 years ago | (#29779989)

Adolf Hitler was extremely charismatic, but definitely not charming. Unless you find angry yelling charming.

"Charisma" is a very well-established concept, long before Dungeons and Dragons adopted it. I'm not sure why you're having trouble with it.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (3, Interesting)

Chemisor (97276) | about 5 years ago | (#29776969)

4. You make a naked hot girl to wander the wasteland and fight supermutants with her bare hands. Because it's no fun to spend hours upon hours staring at some guys ugly butt.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

Lucidus (681639) | about 5 years ago | (#29778223)

Speak for yourself!

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

Sgt. B (926642) | about 5 years ago | (#29777481)

I agree with your points but I don't think that's what the article is about. The article is questioning character 'creation' making players feel God like. It also asks if the unique characters take away from a good story because you can't write a "one size fits all." I think these ideas are simply wrong. I don't think I'm giving birth or creating a new life form. I'm playing myself in the game much as an actor is playing a role in a movie.

As far as storyline goes, look at Guild Wars and Aion. They render their cut scenes with your character so you are a part of the developing story rather than just watching a character from the story. And both World of Warcraft and Aion have moments where you play in an instance (solo or just your party) where you participate with a few NPCs as key elements of the story unfolds. Your character speaks to the prince, your character is cheered for saving the town and it's your character that fights side by side with Thral. The story is just as deep and you get to play a part in it through your character.

Rather than think storyline is dead because of unique character creation, the author should consider how these interactive stories improve on standard story telling. I've played enough "you are Dr. Freedman" games. I like what is being done.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29779583)

I've played enough "you are Dr. Freedman" games.

In all fairness, in Half-Life, Dr. Freeman was you. You look through his eyes at all times and are never taken out of the game. Hell, the man never even talked.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (2, Insightful)

Nekomusume (956306) | about 5 years ago | (#29778115)

4: Making the character up to be a hot guy/girl of "your type", so that you can stare at eye candy that actually suits your own tastes. ("If I'm going to be staring at this character for the next 50+ hours, it might as well look good")
5: Making the character up to be a fashion doll. ("screw the stats, I want the awesome looking armor")
6: Making the character up to look like anything other than a standard video-game hero(ine), who tend to be carbon copies of each other.

Re:I've read physics papers by business majors... (1)

Keill (920526) | about 5 years ago | (#29780029)

I was tempted to write another really long post about this in relation to the paper I'm working on, (Story Writing in Computer-based Role-Playing Games), but I'm afraid I really can't be bothered.

So instead I've been trying to think of a good analogy instead...

This is like someone complaining about the instruments used in a variety of movie soundtracks, saying it badly affects the story the film tells if the viewer has a choice about what type of soundtrack they wish to hear.

(Not sure if that is the best analogy tbh?)

Tsss... (2, Insightful)

Jerry Smith (806480) | about 5 years ago | (#29776685)

And all that time I thought people were going for a funny picture, silly me!

Best customization I've found is Champions Online (2, Interesting)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | about 5 years ago | (#29776713)

One reason I purchased CO was to see what people make with the Avatar customization. It breaks what we think is standard for MMOS. You think if you find armor, your avatar should change, but they don't do it this way. They let you pick what your avatar looks like and you stick with it. It makes sense anyway considering most games have an OP Armor set that everyone wears and looks the same end game. I give them points for thinking outside the box.

It's a carryover from City of Heroes. (2, Interesting)

Chas (5144) | about 5 years ago | (#29777141)

Hopefully, once they get a couple releases under their belts, they'll have more costume options. Right now there's a lot of option areas, but not a lot of options in each. And a somewhat unhealthy percentage are beast/animal options. Were I a furry with delusions of heroism, I'd be in heaven. But...

Re:It's a carryover from City of Heroes. (2, Insightful)

Blakey Rat (99501) | about 5 years ago | (#29780025)

Yah I noticed that too. They seem to have some furry artists on staff or something, because they put a *lot* of attention into the werewolf/cat-person/antlers/etc options. Or it might have just been a lack of creativity elsewhere, "I can't thing of any other style of legs... well, let's put in the werewolf option I guess."

The part that bugged me is that the only textures available were (IIRC) "Metallic", "Leather", "Cloth." That's it? You have 40,000 werewolf options, and you didn't even bother making a "Fur" texture? (You can make a metallic werewolf, though. Whee!)

Re:Best customization I've found is Champions Onli (2, Interesting)

Swanktastic (109747) | about 5 years ago | (#29781001)

Although the applications are somewhat limited, I really had fun with the concept in some EA Sports games (Tiger Woods in my case) where you could upload a picture of yourself and skin the character. It was pretty easy and looked mostly like me. It was a heck of lot easier than spending 3 hours trying to tune an avatar with sliders. I suppose there's too much opportunity for mischief however for this to make it into MMORPGs.

"The Slowdown" IS Martyn Zachary (1)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | about 5 years ago | (#29776715)

...and after reading that summary -- a good chunk of it anyway, the coherent, least pretentious parts -- I'll be happy never to see anything about the site or him posted here again. This is the stuff which gives geeks and nerds a bad name, even among geeks and nerds. Christ Almighty, makes me want to go outside and toss around a football while tivo'ing American Idol.

Re:"The Slowdown" IS Martyn Zachary (2, Insightful)

platypussrex (594064) | about 5 years ago | (#29776851)

I concur.... my first thought upon (trying) to read the summary was that perhaps April Fool's Day had come sooner than expected, but then I realized that even the worst April Fool's Parody couldn't touch this guy... he's in a league of his own. My brain still hurts from the onslaught.

Re:"The Slowdown" IS Martyn Zachary (1)

debrisslider (442639) | about 5 years ago | (#29777083)

Every field has its jargon, and writing about writing is no different. These words are used for specificity, as well as to avoid repetition, and boredom (on the author's part, at least). People write like this to show off, yes, but it also takes a lot of effort to be so precisely complex. If this was a serious academic paper rather than a blog entry it would be edited to read a little more efficiently, but at some point you can't break down concepts any further without either watering down the idea or taking so much time to explain your vocabulary that it becomes more effort than is worthwhile. When a person writes like this, he is writing for a specific audience, one that would understand the name-dropping and the true import of words like 'verisimilitude', pointers that refer to entire conceptual frameworks rather than strict dictionary definitions. That the author submitted the story here demonstrates an almost comical misunderstanding of the average reader here.

Re:"The Slowdown" IS Martyn Zachary (2, Insightful)

m.ducharme (1082683) | about 5 years ago | (#29777355)

Hopefully if it were being edited for an academic paper, he would not get to assume the points he's trying to prove.

Re:"The Slowdown" IS Martyn Zachary (2, Insightful)

pjt33 (739471) | about 5 years ago | (#29777899)

People write like this to show off, yes, but it also takes a lot of effort to be so precisely complex.

Precise writing looks a bit like this. People who don't have the ability to write precisely but want to look intellectual also write like this. I think this article falls into the category of "trying to appear intellectual" rather than "writing with precision". To illustrate, consider the definition of "avataritis":

the video game industry’s highly emotional, pandemic response to finding the easiest, most efficient solution to the very unique dilemma presented by its ever-widening player base.

So we get from this:

  1. The player base of video games is ever-widening. Simple, plausible.
  2. This presents a very unique dilemma. "Very unique" isn't really a hallmark of precise writing, but more to the point he doesn't tell us what this dilemma is.
  3. The industry is responding to finding the easiest, most efficient solution to this unspecified dilemma. He doesn't tell us what the solution is either.
  4. The industry's response to finding this unspecified solution to an unspecified dilemma is predominantly driven by emotion on the part of the industry and is a widespread infection.
  5. We are left to infer the precise nature of this response from the etymology of his neologism*. Perhaps I shouldn't have used the word "definition" earlier, because while he tells us what he's using "avataritis" as a short-hand for, he doesn't spell out what it actually consists of.

I'll grant that "pandemic" isn't an inappropriate word given that he's painting avatar usage ("utilization" in the summary is pure pomposity), but the rest makes me far more strongly inclined to believe he's being pretentious than precise. The use of similar language and of self-reference as "the author" in the summary reinforces that view.

* Yes, I'm being pretentious too, but at least what I'm writing makes sense.

Re:"The Slowdown" IS Martyn Zachary (1)

pjt33 (739471) | about 5 years ago | (#29780563)

Missed a few words there. "He's painting avatar usage" as a disease.

The aforementioned is necessarily a neophyte (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29782445)

Translation: He must be new here.

Re:"The Slowdown" IS Martyn Zachary (1)

GradiusCVK (1017360) | about 5 years ago | (#29781037)

Seriously.
Gayest. Article. Evar.

What language is this? (3, Funny)

NoOneInParticular (221808) | about 5 years ago | (#29776723)

Can someone please translate the summary into English?

Re:What language is this? (5, Informative)

debrisslider (442639) | about 5 years ago | (#29776953)

Basically:

Remember how Time's 2006 Person of the Year was YOU? And everyone hated it and thought it was a terrible choice, because user-generated content is often idiotic, base, lowest common denominator, whatever (not trying to be biased, that's just how I remember this place reacting)? That no one cares about your stupid band, your podcast, your profile, or your feed? That the average web user's narcissism might not be the best method of content generation, that social networking concepts were being shoehorned into places for sake of bandwagon jumping, at the expense of added noise and reduced quality content?

In other words: do you really need to put your face on Mario's body? Does that truly enhance your game playing experience? Should game storylines be written around a shallow method of providing a surface-level customization for added 'personalization'? The article takes issue with inappropriate uses of character customization, a trend that has begun to spread from its traditional place in choice-and-consequence RPGs (Fallout, not Final Fantasy) to pretty much any kind of game (often, seemingly randomly), a move that has begun to change the manner of storytelling in video games. The author thinks that this customization, in attempting to bring players further into the narrative, is actually alienating them by presenting them with meaningless choices, confusing identification with understandability, distancing the player from whatever intent the storyline has by introducing surface-level similarity at the cost of a more coherent characterization of the game's hero. Think of the Time cover writ large; a mirror over the face of a video game's protagonist. If there were a technology to easily switch your face with that of an actor's in a movie, would that help you understand the film or extract any additional meaning from it? Does every story need to be turned into a choose-your-own-adventure with branching paths, at the cost of a greater unifying vision? And what purpose does customization serve in the cases where there are no branching paths, when it is thrown in because of market trends?

Assuming you care about video game narratives at all, let alone as any sort of art, of course. I don't think slashdotters are the right crowd for this kind of article. You need a few years of undergraduate literature and film classes to write like this, I don't think this place has the background in narrative theory necessary to be interested in the points this guy is making. Frankly, you guys should consider yourselves lucky not to understand this guy's writing, it probably means you are gainfully employed.

Storms in teacups, mountainous molehills. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29777719)

Thanks for your summary.

Frankly I think the contention of this article is much ado about bugger all. Really, if you don't like to customise characters, fine, use one of the presets.

Does having a few in-game dialogs with substitutions for "he/she" and "human/orc/elf" etc really result in a less coherent narrative? Maybe, in some contexts, but I just don't see it being a big enough deal to wax verbose about. Mass Effect had customisable characters. Did it hurt the storytelling? I'd say no. If you want to create a different looking character, you can. If you don't, you don't have to. Whining because game developers are offering you *options* smells like ingratitude, and I think that perhaps this guy doesn't have a legitimate gripe, he just likes reading his own written word.

The argument seems especially flimsy, given the number of excellent story-driven games with compelling narratives that have been coming out lately. Some have character customisation, others do not. Whatever. It's really not all that important.

Way to cry "wolf", TFA.

Re:What language is this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29778977)

Assuming you care about video game narratives at all, let alone as any sort of art, of course. I don't think slashdotters are the right crowd for this kind of article. You need a few years of undergraduate literature and film classes to write like this, I don't think this place has the background in narrative theory necessary to be interested in the points this guy is making. Frankly, you guys should consider yourselves lucky not to understand this guy's writing, it probably means you are gainfully employed.

Then you have seriously underestimated many of us.

I will start by saying that the idea of character customization can be traced all the way back to the high score board on the old nickel arcarde machines. It was a way for you to leave your mark on the game. While it's true that many early pc/console games had rigid characters, there were many even early on that allowed you to rename your character, and some of the earliest games had full character customization.
What the writers of the article fail to understand in their thesis is that gaming is an active event, where the person viewing the story is part of the story even if just on a cursory level. They should have been questioning the place and value of the cutsceen element itself, not the impact of character moldability ON the cutsceen process.

In any case, I think it's mostly just a reactionary "omg I saw a recent trend & decided to mouth off about it" type of paper. Sure there are bad games or even decent games with poor character systems. But there are many, many good ones. Look at the Grand Theft Auto games recently, there is a lot of customization you can do that doesn't hurt the scenes or the story at all. There are also many games that allow little or no tampering that do quite well in sales and playerbase. Examine the pro sports console games for a great example- they come with pre-made players that are matched to real sports pros, but often have the ability to make a custom player as well... most people who play those games almost never use the custom player option. My point simply being that it's pretty much moot; just because the authors noticed a recent short-term trend in some games they happened across, they are making a lot of false assumptions on the future. Expect to see plenty of rigid and moldable games hit the shelfs in the next year, and both types of systems will sell well if the game is fun... which is what really matters most in the end.

Summary of article (1)

Z8 (1602647) | about 5 years ago | (#29777253)

I'm a comp lit major so I'm wordy and like to argue about other people's words mean and even my own. I'm concerned about racial/gender stereotyping like all comp lit majors.

Despite this, I'm not sure allowing character customization is a good idea. First, there is the familiar tradeoff of depth vs breadth, so customization leads to shallower stories. Second, customization is a cop-out in the war against stereotyping. It feels like I can't call a game racist if I can choose my race, but this isn't very satisfying for me---I wish there were more games like Resident Evil 5.

Re:Summary of article (1)

m.ducharme (1082683) | about 5 years ago | (#29777417)

I think that this depth/breadth dichotomy is misleading. It's not a given that a game with character customization necessarily leads to shallower stories. In fact I can definitely think of examples where the customization enriches the narrative. WoW, Oblivion (and other Elder Scrolls fare) and to a lesser extent NWN are all heavy on the narrative, while having rich customization controls. In those games, the avatar you create impacts the nature of the narrative you as gamer experience, and playing multiple avatars allows the player to experience a complex, multi-layered world, as well as a detailed and complex meta-narrative.

Do you think that having one avatar in WoW or Oblivion would make the story richer?

The reason for the appearance of this dichotomy is much simpler: it's easy to make content creation engines, because the work's already been done. It's much harder to create a good narrative in a gamespace. There is no philosophical reason why you can't have both.

Re:Summary of article (1)

Z8 (1602647) | about 5 years ago | (#29781099)

Do you think that having one avatar in WoW or Oblivion would make the story richer?

Assuming you don't play through it multiple times, why wouldn't it? To take an example, if you can only be a dwarf male fighter, the writers would only need to write dialog based on that instead of contemplating every possible combination of race, gender, and class. The developers could then shift those resources (which the male dwarf fighter player gets no benefit from) to writing deeper dialog.

I see what you're saying if you require multiple play-throughs. But if you do that, there's really not customization after all—everyone's total experience ends up the same after they finish their multiple playthroughs.

Re:Summary of article (1)

m.ducharme (1082683) | about 5 years ago | (#29781221)

Assuming you don't play through it multiple times, why wouldn't it?

Many people do play through those games multiple times.

The developers could then shift those resources (which the male dwarf fighter player gets no benefit from) to writing deeper dialog.

They could, but really, often they don't. I don't think the story line in any of the first person shooters is any richer than the story lines of MMO's like WoW or games like Oblivion. Quite the opposite in fact. My argument isn that character customization leads to richer worlds, just that the thesis of the article assumes that it necessarily leads to narratively impoverished worlds, and this is demonstrably false.

I see what you're saying if you require multiple play-throughs.

Keep in mind that it's often the players who want a game that's playable multiple times, with different characters. Any multi-threaded game can be played once with marginal damage to the meta-story and no damage at all to the story that one player experiences.

But if you do that, there's really not customization after all—everyone's total experience ends up the same after they finish their multiple playthroughs.

Be careful not to confound the two types of customization -- character customization is not the same as story customization. You still really do have character customization, even if players who play all threads get the same story. And really, in a game like WoW (or even Oblivion) few players play all the threads, and thus most players traverse the meta-story in different ways.

Character customization is also a gift to role-playing characters. I often imagine my own back-story or narrative elements, and find that a custom character helps this. It's hard to add anything of your own to a game when you play the same old master chief each time through. Much easier when you can customize a character, and let your idea of that character determine how you play the game. The best games anticipate this and structure the gameplay accordingly.

Many (but obviously not all) players use character customization for things other than psychic armor. And many game designers rise to the challenge of creating a rich narrative while also offering character customization to the players. Gamers use customization as a catalyst for their own imaginations, or as a determinant or complement to their play style, or simply as visual variation. Game designers use character customization as a source of more complex, nuanced story lines, and deeper, more detailed back stories. Why throw away what can be (and often is) a greatly enriching component of gameplay?

Re:Summary of article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29829851)

While character customization is not the same as story customization, it doesn't mean the story won't be shallower. If there is no character development at all except in your own imagination, it defeats the purpose of a roleplaying game. If I wanted to create and develop my own character I would go and play D&D or write something like a novel, not play a game which is more like a simulation of a magic world. I prefer a game which has a message, much like a novel. True, it may lead to linear gameplay, but, with effort, a good roleplaying game story with multiple endings can be made. This is nothing new at all, however character development (too much "for fame/honor/gold!") seems to be much more uninteresting in many recent RPGs.

Re:Summary of article (1)

Dr. Impossible (1580675) | about 5 years ago | (#29778141)

Despite this, I'm not sure allowing character customization is a good idea. First, there is the familiar tradeoff of depth vs breadth, so customization leads to shallower stories

This makes even less sense than the article's summary.

It is written in academition... let me translate: (1)

Saysys (976276) | about 5 years ago | (#29777415)

"Some people you don't care about are saying that character customization is used to keep from having to write story, we don't HAVE to have customization. Some gender studies people are looking at video games. Relate-ability and understandability are two different words! Game markets sell you the LIE. Stories can't and won't be replaced with customizable avatars and content."

Even from an academic paper standpoint this is a bad abstract/introduction. An abstract should say what the objective of the paper is, why that objective is important, to whom the objective is important, when the research does and does not apply and what the findings are... this paper = fail

from a human stand point.. The re-defining of words to mean something that no one else understands is the stupidity of academia. The more I read about this the more I believe this guy time cube [timecube.com]

Standardize Avatars? (3, Interesting)

RyoShin (610051) | about 5 years ago | (#29776753)

Reading his writing (but ignoring his conclusion), I got wondering why we don't have some sort of standardization for avatars. All three major consoles now have some sort of system avatar, customizable to various degrees. These don't always make it into the games you play on them, but even when they do they tend to be very basic avatars, whereas many games have a huge number of options (and combinations thereof.) Considering how many games are giving us customizable avatars, and the rate with which they are coming to represent us online and in-game, it would seem the next logical step to create a method whereby someone can import a custom set into a game, and then tweak it from that base template, ensuring a mostly heterogeneous style over all the games they play.

This doesn't mean that developers would be limited by options, nor that they can't do micro-customization. For instance, a game that offers your character a Fu Man Chu would mark such a beard style as part of the "Small Beard" class/group. If a game does not offer that style, it chooses the default "Small Beard" style. Along with this standard, which would incorporate as many customizations as possible (and likely keep updating its database), there could be a set of open-source models based on the standards, which developers could then import into their game, customizing as desired. This would increase the potential of having a similar character from game to game.

There are some sequels that read on older games, and thus would likely incorporate customization, but I'm surprised this doesn't seem to be on even on a developer/publisher level--standardizing such a thing would seem, at least to me, to save a lot of time developing, as well as be supportive of return business.

Re:Standardize Avatars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29776957)

Why stop there? [ietf.org]

Re:Standardize Avatars? (1)

Sporkinum (655143) | about 5 years ago | (#29777553)

I didn't want a damned avatar for Xbox360, but the bastards ground me down with the annoying pop-ups everytime you'd turn the damn thing on. I ended up making the most non-descript avatar I could.

Re:Standardize Avatars? (1)

khallow (566160) | about 5 years ago | (#29778631)

I can see the advantage of importing a custom avatar. There are certain things, names, and characteristics that I often import into a game anyway. Bundling them together would be an interesting feature. But at the same time, I just don't see a good way to do that without crippling the freedom of the game designers. After all, if they come up with a far better avatar creation system, I might rather just start fresh than import my stuff.

Re:Standardize Avatars? ART (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29779575)

Some of us play games pretty much for the art and visuals. The avatar is a huge part of these; standardizing it for anything but the most banal games would be counter-productive and jarring.

Re:Standardize Avatars? (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | about 5 years ago | (#29780073)

You'd have to define some sort of "base set" of attributes and props, and game makers wouldn't be able to add their own-- otherwise they'd ruin the portability. For example, say Xbox adds a Halo logo shirt, and you put one on your avatar. Now you buy a PS3, and try to port that avatar into Home... what happens to the shirt? Most likely it'd just turn into a generic one, meaning your avatar isn't portable after-all.

You could *potentially* standardize the format that clothing/props/expressions/facial features/etc takes, so that the PS3 could download the Halo shirt from a server somewhere, but that would be a nightmare to implement with and provide very little benefit. And even if you did pull it off, Sony would still ban the Halo logo because they're Sony.

"Very unique"? (1)

schon (31600) | about 5 years ago | (#29777195)

No, this is not a very unique dilemma. It's only a little bit unique. I've seen many dilemmas which were much more unique than this one.

In fact, on a scale of 1 to 1, where 1 is only a little bit unique, and 1 is completely unique, I would say this particular dilemma rates only a 1.

Re:"Very unique"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29782609)

Being as how I can't make out the scope of this dilemma, I must defer to the author and insist that it is in fact *very* unique, and on a scale of 10 to 10, it's definitely a 10.

Is it me or was the summary a pain to read? (3, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about 5 years ago | (#29777219)

I got the feeling this guy is in marketing. There was something being said, but it was lost in all the frills.

The english language is not a wedding gown, it doesn't get better the more lace you add. It is instead a thong. Less is more.

Re:Is it me or was the summary a pain to read? (2, Insightful)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about 5 years ago | (#29777263)

The english language ... is instead a thong. Less is more.

Wt u say, lss is more. R u sum prof of English thn? I thk u r wrng, more is ok fr a lang tht expands all t time. :)

Re:Is it me or was the summary a pain to read? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29777465)

Less language != less letters.

No, it's not just you. (1)

argent (18001) | about 5 years ago | (#29777925)

I was reminded of Richard Feynman's story about how he couldn't make head nor tail of what his literature and philosophy professors were writing about, so he wrote about what he wanted to, dressed it up with some of the jargon, and got A and B+ on his papers anyway. There's no content there, it's all about making the psychobabble sound right.

Re:No, it's not just you. (1)

TempeTerra (83076) | about 5 years ago | (#29779075)

With all respect to the fantastic Mr Feynman, none of my philosophy lecturers cared what I wrote in my essays as long as they were intelligent and intelligible (I imagine his were). Regurgitating the textbook was a sure way to get a C.

Re:Is it me or was the summary a pain to read? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 5 years ago | (#29779101)

It's more in the tradition of literary criticism or comparative literature. For whatever reason, those people feel the harder to understand that writing is, the better it is. Simple writing is just for when you want to communicate with the masses. Seriously, I've had that conversation with them.

Re:Is it me or was the summary a pain to read? (1)

Reapy (688651) | about 5 years ago | (#29795431)

I've observed this too. I think it is why I used to stay away from 'the classics' where people seemed like a story could only be good if it was difficult to understand. The summary of this thing read like some 17 year old's AP english paper. He knows a lot of SAT words and what they mean, but just doesn't quite know how to lay them together in a readable format.

On top of that it seems like his point is the usual academic BS where they think that people treat their entertainment seriously and there is some deep psychological meaning behind the character choice, when it is probably just up to how the person was feeling at the time they made the avatar.

Meh academia, good riddence :)

Re:Is it me or was the summary a pain to read? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29781157)

Clearly if ever he read Strunk and White, it didn't take. "Omit needless words!"

Re:Is it me or was the summary a pain to read? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29781639)

The asininity of your argument is glaring in your metaphor:

Does your wife wear nothing but a thong in front of your family and friends in the wedding of your dreams?

Plus, given the number of thongs with lace on them these days, I'd say you're full of shit and you shouldn't make snappy catch-all phrases just because you're too fucking embarrassed that something didn't come as easy to you as it might normally.

Just as an aside, have a Terry Pratchett quote:

"As for The Mapp... I suspect it'll never get a US publication. It seemed to frighten US publishers. They don't seem to understand it.
That seems to point up a significant difference between Europeans and Americans:
A European says: I can't understand this, what's wrong with me? An American says: I can't understand this, what's wrong with him?
I make no suggestion that one side or other is right, but observation over many years leads me to believe it is true."

Skinning (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 5 years ago | (#29777645)

Customizable characters are essentially a form of skins. I wholeheartedly agree with this thought on the subject from jwz.org [jwz.org] :

Makali wrote:

            Whenever a programmer thinks, "Hey, skins, what a cool idea", their computer's speakers should create some sort of cock-shaped soundwave and plunge it repeatedly through their skulls.

I am fully in support of this proposed audio-cock technology.

As far as I'm concerned, any time spent customizing a character and not playing the game is wasted.

Character is not user interface (1)

argent (18001) | about 5 years ago | (#29777877)

The character is not a "skin", not part of the user interface. A character is part of the content. The user interface, the skin, is in the controls, the dialogs, the framing of the game. Skins don't need to be customizable by the user interface, either. I've used the programs JWZ is talking about. Creating a new skin is like creating a complete new UI from scratch. Nobody bothers with it... they still have to suffer from the restrictions and limitations built into the UI to support skins.

All video games are skinned applications, they all have a unique UI. I don't know a single video game that uses the native OS UI, and I don't recall a single video game where I haven't some time or another wanted to apply Makali's audio-cock technology to the author.

Re:Skinning (3, Interesting)

Blakey Rat (99501) | about 5 years ago | (#29780129)

JWZ is a software engineer writing about usability. He's not writing about video game characters.

Do you seriously think those two things are equivalent?

As far as I'm concerned, any time spent customizing a character and not playing the game is wasted.

And I think crafting in MMOs is boring, and thus wasted effort on the part of the developer. But guess what? I'm not the *only* person who plays the game. Ditto with the alchemy system in Oblivion, but I'm sure there are thousands of gamers who really appreciated it.

This is going to blow your brain, but Champions Online released their character creator as a demo, and I spent ages doing nothing but customizing characters, and enjoying it.

So in short, you're wrong and also an ass.

Cost (1)

Spazmania (174582) | about 5 years ago | (#29777659)

No mechanisms are in place stopping developers from writing and designing heterogeneous yet fully structured, narrative-based computer games with carefully constructed and immutable, unchangeable characters

The mechanism in place is called a "cash register." Stories with immutable characters are worth $7 to $20 whether it's a movie in the theater or a book at the store.

For me to cough up $50, the story must adapt to me. Starting with the characters.

I'm going to have to disagree (2, Interesting)

strech (167037) | about 5 years ago | (#29779295)

The short version of the argument is that allowing a lot of character customization
a) Can't fully achieve the goal of having the player "become" the character, as the gameplay and narrative of the game provide their own limits;
b) Doesn't really solve the problem of the interaction of race and video games; and
c) Limits the games, because it prevents them from using meaningful character details as driving the narrative, gutting it.
This misses the point to a great deal;

For (a) All creation has limits but that doesn't make it valueless or not an act of creation; even if the limits are that born within a game system.

For (b) it's true but character customization was never really aimed at solving the interaction fully.

For (c) not all details of a character limit the story of a game (would it really matter if Gordon Freeman was black?) and if a game is anything other than a railroad it needs to branch at some point anyway, so the branching of a game in response to character creation (see Dragon Age's multiple origin stories) is not a meaningful limit of narrative.

In longer form, his argument is full of holes in general; he starts off by begging the question, complete with passive-agressive "I'm going to get modded down for this, but" bullshit:

Now, to offend half the blogosphere offhand: For the purpose of this article, we will consider avatar customization a convenient narrative cop-out. We shall also assume that no mechanisms are in place stopping developers from writing and designing heterogeneous yet fully structured, narrative-based computer games with carefully constructed and immutable, unchangeable characters.

So he assumes the practice he's complaining about is the only thing stopping him from getting the games he wants (it isn't, but I can see the assumption as useful for purposes of argument) and then assumes the practice he disagrees with is valueless (it isn't). He even admits that in terms of narrative etc he's dismissing the value with nothing more than the word "seems":

(Obviously, there are occasions wherein the “tabula rasa” scenario is a fully motivated one, either by its ludic or narrative function, but assuming this to be a default state to be aspired to seems ultimately misguided beyond the MMO.)

As he asserts this without evidence, I'll dismiss it with little more (At very least, games in the line of Fallout or (from what I know about it) Dragon Age are clear examples in opposition to this).

He goes on for a while about minorities and gaming, nothing that minorities are underrepresented in gaming, and that the common approach of reading % of characters as a measure of this is a bit of tokenism and misses the point – that the experience of growing up white and growing up, say, Latino are different and this affects a lot of things in subtle ways, and just changing a character's skin isn't going to reflect these ways. And that making this irrelevant works against both the white and Latino's experience. This is true as far as it goes, but it really doesn't have much to do with character creation:

a) I've always thought the % studies as a quick and dirty measure of how much of the creators are working to take those experiences into account. If the numbers are heavily lopsided, then it's a sign the probably aren't; if the numbers are more even there's at least a chance they are.
b) More importantly, the ability of a trait to help someone connect with a character isn't necessarily connected with the importance in the game world. To paraphrase from a shadowrun sourcebook, “Who cares about the color of someone's skin when the guy over there is a rock with hands as big as your head?” This is even true for characters set initially in our on world (c.f. Gordon Freeman). So the race of the character could end up being meaningful for the player and not meaningful for the game world.
c) Even where it is relevant, it can be branched; this can help the narrative in a way that it doesn't work with books. Flipping back to Dragon Age – the plan for the game is you select one of several “origin stories”, which set the first few hours of the game and have impacts through the rest of the game. This allows them to examine more of the game world – improving the narrative/story of the game as a whole rather than weakening it - while giving freedom in character creation. While it does it in context of class and species rather than (say) race and gender, which are rendered irrelevant, there's no reason it couldn't be used for the latter.

Then he gets tripped up on language for a bit:

Yes, the act does resemble that of “creation” in that players apply their imagination to a restricted set of tools, much in the same way one would other forms of art, but a process of “birthing”, like Alexander calls it, it is not.
After all, the word “birth” is far removed from the tangible actuality of the interfaces to which our creativity is ultimately tied to

I dunno, people get pretty creative with the interfaces used in birth. (Well, people that aren't slashdot readers.) But I'm really not sure what he's getting at here; yes, it is a restricted set of tools for creation. And? It seems like he's trying to confuse himself with terminology while knowing what people actually mean by it:

In video games, then, we do become one with our character – at least as much as acting out a role in a play allows us to vicariously experience being an another being.

Well, yes, but this doesn't actually lead to the rest of his point:

audiences often demand protagonists to whom they can relate, whom they admire, to motivate gameplay and enhance immersion – so isn’t the best way to “get it right” to allow players to build their own.

For designers, writers and ultimately companies to seek to “get it right” in this manner, from my narrative-obsessed standpoint, is what I mean by avataritis.
.
This is the dualistic fallacy of the avatar: Customization may seem to offer developers and players alike a chance to mask, to separate an avatar from its perfunctory position and move it closer to the player, bridging the gap between various players of different origins, but due to the avatar’s function as a literary element, a character never does become perfectly liberated from its original environs and place of creation.

The idea that an idea (character creation) allowing a character to move towards the player rather than the creator is fallacious because it's not perfect is absurd. That something isn't imperfect doesn't mean it's valueless; customization does not always weaken the narrative (as I noted above) and even when it does the tradeoff may be worth it.

He goes on to say we can connect with people that aren't like us, which no-one has ever disagreed with. Skipping past the first 2 summary points, a note on the third:

Third, I sought to explain how offering players avatar-based customization can lead to beautification, stereotyping, archetyping and the ongoing perpetration of an established discourse of the avatar that allows companies to purport and rely on the assumption that players (or viewers) only want to relate, desire, admire or be themselves.

So I'm an elf, robot, alien, human, and talking cow-person of various genders? Alternately, avatar customization can also be used to put yourself in someone else's shoes and experience them, or just mess around with different characters in general; while avatars allow us to make characters like ourselves they don't require it. And often they lead away from it; if customization and the game are sufficiently robust, they can even encourage it, by playing as multiple characters. If you're replaying a game on a different path, you may as well make a different character as well.

Re:I'm going to have to disagree (1)

DavidTC (10147) | about 5 years ago | (#29781167)

He goes on for a while about minorities and gaming, nothing that minorities are underrepresented in gaming, and that the common approach of reading % of characters as a measure of this is a bit of tokenism and misses the point – that the experience of growing up white and growing up, say, Latino are different and this affects a lot of things in subtle ways, and just changing a character's skin isn't going to reflect these ways. And that making this irrelevant works against both the white and Latino's experience. This is true as far as it goes, but it really doesn't have much to do with character creation:

It's actually not really true at all.

Perhaps someone wants to play someone who grew up Latino, and actually attempts to make roleplaying choices based on that.

I am, of course, assuming that we're talking about a roleplaying game based in this world. In, say, a zombie-infestation FPS there might not be much distinction at all, you have a grand total of five people you interact with, whereas in a Forgotten Realms game without 'normal' racism, it wouldn't make any difference at all.

But in RPs set in this universe, at least nominally, someone might want to sit down and say 'Okay, I just roleplayed the white guy that I am, perhaps next I will roleplay a woman, or maybe a black guy who's from a poor urban area.'.

Granted, many people are not that skilled, to actually get inside the mindset of other people, and will end up either being somewhat stereotypical or just playing as themselves with their history erased and written back different, but the same personality.

But poor writing is still writing, and, at minimum, it makes people think about 'If I were someone besides me, how would I react to this', which is good even if they get it wrong.

The only (very minor) point of his is a good on in that allowing wide variety of avatars restricts gaming options, in that (presumably) the entire game must be completable by all option, and hence 99% of it going have to be 'generic'.

This mainly applies to gender, though, not race or appearance.

But, the thing is, game creators have no problems making the player character male or female when the story requires it. Like in adventure games.

OK... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29794521)

I enjoy character customization. It's actually a selling point to me, and I've bought games I otherwise would have passed over because they've had a really robust character creation feature.

Dissect it all you want. I enjoy it. That's good enough for me.

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