Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Half-Naked Elf Problem

Shamus Young | 20 Apr 2012 21:00
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You might remember that I played Lord of the Rings Online a while back. That game had a system where you could wear two outfits: The one you appeared to be wearing for the purposes of fashion, and the one you were actually wearing, for the purposes of protection and stat-bootings. If you found a really sweet hat at level 20, you could still appear to be wearing it at level 30, even if you were really wearing an uglier, more powerful helmet.

A "dress yourself" system also solves the ongoing MMO problem where everyone is dressed like a mismatched vagabond until they reach the endgame, at which point everyone is dressed the same. It lets people personalize their look, which greatly boosts the self-expression aspect of these games. (So many people fuss over their avatar during character creation, only to have all of their hard work covered up by a dumb helmet.)

I think this would also make a great money sink for in-game currency. (And if you're listening developers: This could be a chance to make some sweet microtransaction money.) The regular "armor" can look somewhat bland and neutral, while the cosmetic items you buy will look more exotic, revealing, or badass.

I anticipate some objections:

It's completely immersion breaking for me to be wearing two different things at the same time! This makes no sense! You're ruining the game!

First of all, if "immersion" is a priority for you, then maybe MMO's shouldn't be your go-to genre. When I find myself in a pickup group with Boba Fat, xxbadazzxx, Bob_bob_bob, and Gandulf, my sense of immersion is pretty much gone. Moreover, is the "wearing two outfits" thing really more ridiculous than going into battle wearing an iron thong, which is what we have now?

What if you con foes in PvP and you want to see who is tank spec and who has blues?

What?

I want to see what the enemy players are really wearing!

Oh, ok.

You can solve this in a few ways. You can strip away the cosmetic facade and have people appear in their "real" gear when they enter PVP. You can add icons to their names to indicate what level of equipment they have. This isn't much of a stretch, since you can already click on someone and magically know what level they are relative to you. You can have player gather enchantments, which they can place onto any cosmetic item they like to make it behave like "armor". You can just leave the gear level unknown, forcing players to figure things out themselves without meta-gaming.

And now a two-fer:

I don't like this because people will still be able to objectify women with skimpy outfits!

Also:

I don't like this because it means some people would play as half-naked dudes, and that would be, like, totally gay.

You get your fantasy when you dress your character. If you need to dictate how other people should dress in order to sustain your fantasy, then multiplayer gaming is probably not a good fit for you.

Doing this would let the developer wash their hands of the entire debate. They could have their underwear models on the box art without forcing people to play as underwear models in the game. Everyone gets to have their own fantasy character. Isn't that one of the goals of roleplaying games?

Shamus Young doesn't want to catch you trying to look up his skirt. Also, buy his novel, which has a magic-casting woman in practical clothes.

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