Note: This post has actually been sitting in my drafts for a while, but then thanks to The Secret World I’ve been waylaid by fighting zombies and solving mysteries for the past couple weeks.
When it comes to MMO characters, I think we can all agree that your avatar’s appearance matters; pretty much every discussion anyone has ever had about games and character customization is a testament to that. But there are also important things that go beyond things like face type, hairdos, and make up — what my character wears. Like, I don’t even want to talk about how much in-game pax I’ve spent on new outfits in TSW.
In a completely different way, another game that really underscored that for me was TERA Online. By the way, this was a game I held off on getting for a long time, but finally caved when it went on sale for 50% off last month. You’d be amazed at how quickly my willpower crumbles when faced with a new game at half-price.
Well, I must say the game itself is very fun. I discovered my affinity for the combat mechanics and controls, which surprised me. Getting used to them was what I initially thought would be the biggest obstacle preventing me from getting into TERA. Alas, it was not.
What really distracted me at the beginning, and continues to do so even now, are the character and costume designs. Don’t get me wrong, I mean I think they’re gorgeous, and just about everything in the game is too. But every time I look at my character, I just think UGGHHHHWEJJSAGAG.
This discussion isn’t just about the hyper-sexualized clothing in the game (though it certainly doesn’t help) as plenty of people have already voiced their complaints about it (and they’d all be right). If only it were just that. No, when it comes down to it, this is about me not wanting to run around the world looking like a fashion crime and not having enough choices.
I’m talking about the general style of the models and gear, which obviously has a huge cultural component. Ironically, I spent most of my life growing up in Asia being bombarded with this highly caricatural art style often featuring a pastel palette, elaborate hairdos and ostentatious outfits on animated characters, but I must say it’s never really rubbed off on me.
Anyway, leaving aside the fact they’re completely impractical for adventuring and monster slaying, the clothes in TERA look ludicrous! I can’t even look at my character or some of the NPCs both male and female and think this is someone I can take seriously, rather than that they belong in some early 80’s glam rock band. By the time I got around to looking like a fool in my third pair of “half-pants”, I’d just about had it; I didn’t think I could look at one more person running in five-inch stiletto heels (a personal pet peeve of mine) or yet another exposed shiny male-elf navel while keeping a straight face.
This is the sort of stuff that falls into the same category as my dislike for the over-large and cumbersome shoulder pieces in World of Warcraft, or the fact I like to hide my helm on my SWTOR Jedi Consular so I don’t look like a BDSM enthusiast or a milkmaid. You might think, “Geez GeeCee, they’re just clothes in a game, as long as you’re wearing some, what’s the problem?”
Well, the problem isn’t as trivial to me as I thought. Maybe, there’s just too much of the old RP’er in me? I tend to like to do things like name my characters in accordance to the game world’s conventions, and likewise customize their appearance to fit the personalities I give them.
I’m sure you can argue that clothing items like half-pants and weird abs-revealing-armored-jackets are considered “normal” in the world of TERA, but still, is it too much to ask for the things I wear to look good but also make sense, i.e. like I actually dressed myself this morning without being under the influence of LSD? Not that other MMOs don’t have their fair share of incongruities like armored thongs or ridiculously over-sized weaponry, but out of all the games I’ve played recently, I think TERA takes the cake. I mean, freakin’ half-pants.
In the case of TERA, I understand the art style is culturally influenced and may come down to a simple matter of taste. And I’m just sorry to say it’s not for me. To a lesser extent, I think I also felt the same way when I played Aion, which could be another explanation as to why that game never stuck.
It’s a shame, because the dynamic, kinetic combat in TERA is the most fun I’ve had in an MMO in ages. I also find the creature designs unique and amazingly detailed, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is not to be beating down on yet another wolf or common bandit in a fantasy game. Like I said, the graphics are incredible too, and I am awed each time I log in to survey my surroundings.
I never thought something as superficial as art style or the clothes my character is made to don would affect my enjoyment, and in a way that galls me about myself. But then again, people have left MMOs for much less.
I can’t deny that I’m torn. I like the gameplay of TERA very much, am glad I gave it a chance and want to keep playing, but at the same time the art style frequently becomes too distracting. At times, my brain also cannot handle the dissonance created when one moment I’m looking at my boobs practically popping out of my chestpiece and the next I’m staring at something so sickly sweet and cuddly like a Popori or Elin. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve never truly understood the appeal of kawaii.