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(Post submitted for Blog Carnival 3. Check out all of the Blog Carnival 3 participants here!)

The face behind Belzan

Hello everyone, my name is Jason. I am the voice behind Belzan. In less than 6 months I will graduate with my doctorate in Psychology. This Blog Carnival’s topic of Character Diversity is one that is personal for me. It resonates with how I create and play my characters and also with issues in psychology and mental health that I believe are important.

I am writing this article about character creation and role-playing, though I will be emphasizing how this relates to GW2. I promise not to stray too far from that or climb on any soapboxes along the way. I have written a few articles on this topic before. If you’re interested, click on the “role-playing” tag. The most pertinent one is probably the one on personality. I also wrote an article on the subject over at Talk Tyria.

Introduction

What are you going to take into consideration when you make your Guild Wars 2 (GW2) character? We have a lot more options this time around. We can choose our race, gender, and profession for starters. From there we have been given a variety of sliders to play with to manipulate our character appearance. We have armor and town clothes. We have an intricate dye system. We have several “personal story” questions to answer. We can create a name for our character. And finally, we have our playstyle to consider. One thing we are likely to overlook, however, is who our character is.

Nick Yee has done a lot of research, mostly in WoW, on MMORPGs and Psychology through the Daedalus Project. You can find a link to his work under “sites of interest” on my blog. One article that is particularly relevant to this discussion is The Character Creation Process. Go ahead. Read it real quick. I’ll wait. (If this sort of research interests you, give his site a visit. I recommend searching by category and reading the “meta-character” articles first.)

Done? Ok. As you can see, we have a wide variety of motivations when creating our characters. I also want to talk briefly about role-playing, as this is often overlooked by the casual gamer. GW2 helps to facilitate this a bit by emphasizing personal stories and encouraging you to get to know your character, but a lot of people don’t have the time for this style of play or don’t know how to get started. It can be rewarding to consider your character’s history and motivations and I believe it enhances your play, whether or not you actually interact in-character with other people while playing the game.

Character Appearance

Human Screen (From GW2Live)

This is the first stop in character creation (unless you’re like me and you have a story in your head for everyone and that is what leads you to create your character). This is you interfacing with the game itself. What does your character look like? What race and profession is he or she?

Nick’s research states that class (profession) accounts for nearly 45% of this decision (that’s from the article linked above). Race accounts for about 16% (~21% if racial appearance is a factor). ANet has stated that no racial abilities will give one race an advantage over the other and that an asura warrior is just as skilled as a norn warrior, so perhaps race in GW2 has more to do with appearance and role-playing than skill.

We have a lot more options for character appearance in GW2 than we did in GW1. From skin color to hair styles to sliders that affect ear, nose, and jaw length. We are able to personalize our characters more this time around. This will allow us to make our characters more unique and more closely to what we envision our characters look like. All good things. See the links at the bottom of the article for character creation videos from gaming conventions and recent media betas.

Character Role

Goodbye Holy Trinity. Hello Soft Trinity.

Going along with Nick’s research, professions in GW2 are likely to be a major deciding factor in character creation. There have been many discussions and articles about the “Holy Trinity” of Heal + Tank + DPS. GW2 offers the “soft trinity” of Support + Control + Damage. This allows for each profession to be more versatile.

Every profession can fill each of the three roles of support, control, and damage. Granted, some are better at certain roles than others, but that doesn’t mean that they must fill that role. Gone are the days where groups require a healer to get started.

This means that we have more flexibility in playing the type of character we want. Whereas before we were limited in our profession choices due to game play restrictions (my necromancer sat out of a lot of groups because he didn’t fit neatly into the holy trinity), now any profession will work in any situation.

Traits

Additionally, we have our healing, utility, elite, and racial skills and traits to consider. These further allow us to customize our playstyle and fill the role we want to fill in our group. A lot of people are already considering what “builds” they will make with their trait points and weapon selections (myself included).

I personally enjoy playing the support role, but I’m not at all interested in the “heal” role of old. In GW1 I supported my group by applying conditions to enemies more than applying boons to allies. While I will be playing Belzan as an elementalist in GW2, I could easily pick any other profession and still play him as a supportive character. I chose ele not because I had to, but because I wanted to and because it fits with his story.

Character Story

Now that we know what our character looks like and what role(s) he/she is likely to play, we can focus on his or her story. GW2 does a great job creating a foundation for this with our personal story. Even if you aren’t interested in coming up with your character’s story on your own, it is a part of the GW2 experience. It starts putting the RPG back into MMORPG.

For some people, that is enough or perhaps more than enough. Function over form is common in competitive games. PvP characters don’t really need a backstory. PvE characters get one as a matter of course in GW2, but you needn’t stop there.

Personal story (TenTonHammer)

For me, this is the bread and butter of gaming. I have a character story for every character I play. In part, it is because I like to write fiction. I like to have a base for how I role-play my characters. I like to explore certain aspects of the human condition through my characters. Avatars (your in-game character) are a small part of ourselves. They are a way for us to explore ourselves safely. They are a way for us to anonymously act out fantasies. They are a way for us to compensate for something about ourselves that we are unhappy with. At least this is what I found out in my own unpublished research on the subject.

I am a person who helps people in real life. My characters tend to reflect this. I don’t take too many risks personally, but Belzan plays with the power of life and death daily. I have a large and loving family, but many of my characters are orphans or have tragic histories where they are on their own. I don’t put a lot of stock into what other people think of the characters I play, or more specifically, why I play the characters I play. I mean, really, I’m in mental health and my two favorite characters are the necromancer and mesmer. Read into that whatever you’d like folks. It has nothing to do with why I like those characters or professions.

Sometimes a character is just a character. It is an avatar devoid of personality that participates in the game and kills bad guys. It is the most convenient character for your gameplay purposes or it is the most efficient combination of race/class/etc that gets you the most bonuses. Sometimes a character is created to experience the fantasy world as a traveler telling his or her own story. This is where most people are likely to feel comfortable.

In most cases a character is made that is a part of ourselves that allows us to act out our fantasies and be someone or something stronger, bolder, more attractive, angrier, or more powerful than ourselves. I’m here to tell you that a good chunk of this is healthy behavior folks. No worries. We all do this sort of thing. Whether it is escaping into a video game, into a good book, in our music, or by participating in a drama program, we all do this to some degree. Just make sure that this isn’t your only outlet for such things and you’ll be a-ok.

Role-Playing

Finally, there is role-playing. This is advanced gaming in a lot of ways. It is not required for playing MMOs (even the character story isn’t required) but many people, myself included, find it enjoyable.

This stacks on everything talked about up to this point. Another good article by Nick Yee talks about RPing and character styles. Most people build a backstory and use that to interact with other people in game. People post their stories on blogs or forums or guild webpages so others can have something to respond to. There are several common styles to role-playing and Nick mentions three that I frequently see. The first is “tragic.” This is the one where you are an orphan and/or bad things have happened to you. You are a survivor and that is your starting point. The second he calls “zany”, which encompasses a more humorous character or someone with an interesting, and oftentimes unlikely background. The third is “interaction-scripted”. This style focuses on building a character based on the role-playing you do with others and the in-game decisions you make. I tend to do a bit more of the third one myself.

There are lots of ways to role-play and lots of resources for learning. Click the role-playing tag on my page to find more articles I’ve written on the subject. GW2 offers a lot of opportunities that, while not new to the RP community, are likely more obvious. Racial interactions are a good one for starters, especially considering animosities between humans and charr as well as sylvari and asura. Guild versus guild social conflicts are more likely now that we can be in multiple guilds. Characters can role-play crafting professions (something I did in GW1 by inscribing items for people and such) and participate in other roles such as business owner through the auction house and crafting skills.

Another hot topic lately is sexuality. While role-playing a gay character is nothing new, the sylvari were created with much more flexibility in this area than other races. See this article and read the comments for more on this discussion. Again, it is not new, but it is more obvious and, in my opinion, more “acceptable.” Most role-playing groups don’t bat an eye at this topic–it’s part of who your character is–but occasionally you have someone who pitches a fit. In many ways, playing a “gay” sylvari character is a safe way to explore this trope in-character around people who are likely to have a problem with it otherwise. I could write a lot on this subject, but I promised to stay on point.

Role-playing can be fun and rewarding and can enhance your gameplay experience. It adds a sense of community and it makes you care about your character. These, in my opinion, are all good things.

In Closing

Guild Wars 2 offers a lot of options for making the character you want to make and playing that character the way you want to play it. You can set yourself apart during character customization by moving sliders and picking a race/profession combination that you like. You can make yourself more unique through your customization of facial/body features, armor/clothes, and overall playstyle. You can further enhance your character by writing character stories and getting involved in role-playing. Whether you are happy with your personal story in GW2 or you want to get more involved with knowing who your character really is and making decisions based on how he/she would react in the situation (rather than what cool stuff you get to see in-game), then the options are there.

I’m not typically an advice-giving kind of guy, but I’ll leave you with this: Take your time and make your character unique. Consider writing a brief story about your character. Above all, try new things. Getting to know your character and making him/her unique to you is one of the best ways to improve your gameplay experience in a role-playing game, massively multiplayer or otherwise.

Character Creation Videos:

Human Female, Human Male, Charr Female, Charr Male, Norn Female, Norn Male, Asura, Sylvari, mix of several.