Friday, December 12, 2008

Blizzard Announces Paid Sex Changes

There has been a lot of interesting stuff to post about recently. There's the feral druid gear/tanking debate. It's a hot-button topic right now as exemplified by Kalon's recent blog post. There's the upcoming Hunter nerf. That one has me torn. I love my OP Hunter, but damn I'm OP.

Then there's the issue of the evil quests of late. Nord's recent post here is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The other day, the wife and I were killing what looked like American Bald Eagles for their eyeballs. Then we were cutting down all the remaining trees in a Harpy zone. Anyone else wonder if the reason for Harpy harpy-ness is the way we treat them?

Oh and let's not forget the growing feeling by a lot of long-time WoW players that the game is becoming a bit too easy (unless Blizz doesn't want you to kill a specific mob, then it becomes uber-powerful no matter what level you are...stupid Ruined Stone Giants!) Let's face it: Has anyone really been truly challenged? Remember when you first got to Ramparts in HFP? Remember Karazhan? Northrend is cool and different, but challenging? Grab yourself a good tank, a decent healer and AoE instances 2-3 levels higher than you. Seriously, who hasn't?

But today's topic is about none of that. Instead, I want to talk about paid sex changes. Oh, I'm sorry. I mean "character re-customizations." How insensative of me. OK, I'm a gaming snob. I get all snotty about people with stupid names like Imaboomkin. Real name! Search the armory if you don't believe me. Heck, QSS is filled with names like that. Some are good players, and even great people, but completely lame names. I hate it. Maybe I should move to a Role Playing server. But I digress...

So, now you can get a quicky "recustomization" for only $15. And why not? Beroth & Rhus have switched roles (main vs alt.) Maybe Beroth should get a quick snip. And Rhus spends 99% of her time in cat or bear form. So would it really matter if she was male or female? Blizz makes no gender distinctions for shapeshifting. Heck the only real "wood" in the game is resto-druids.

I put perhaps too much emotion into the idea of identity into characters. My image of people I know, in game, is shaped largely by their mains. Karthis is a bear. Poortyr is a hunter. Their personalities are often reflected in their toons and the way they play them. Sure, a lot of my friends and guildies often play toons that do not share their gender. This leads to hilarious moments when you see a "sexy" female rogue and then hear a baritone voice for the first time over Vent. Intentionally or not, it shapes a reality just as much as the quests.

This isn't a social commentary on gender identity, but instead a question about the nature of identity in the MMO world. Is a person's character completely irrelevant? Is the game just a game? And if so, why not let me change everything? Screw it. I don't want to play a male night-elf hunter anymore. Instead, let me pay to be a female forsaken priest. Aside from the issues of faction and ease of leveling, why not? If the game is "balanced," *snicker* then it makes no difference.

And yes, I know the answer to that question. Gender is cosmetic in WoW. Everything else has real "rules" issues including factions, purchased skills, etc. So, is the cosmetic part of the game important? Even on a pure PvP or PvE server, isn't the game an RPG? And if so, do these "character re-customizations" mean something?

This isn't to knock folks who simply rolled up the wrong character and have been suffering with a crappy name and the wrong look for 2 or 3 years. It's about what drives us to the game. Doesn't our character shape the experience? If you don't like your character's gender, doesn't that have the potential of shaping your game-play? Sure, you may just abandon your toon. But who hasn't abandoned toons? Heck, I've leveled more toons to 30 and gone "meh" than I have toons over 70.

Remember when I said this wasn't a social commentary? Yeah, I lied. Art can reflect and inform life. Remember the scourge plague and the debate that caused? WoW is, in many ways, one massive social experiment. Questions of fairness, equity, morality, and even sexuality are all playing out in front of us. The game is just a game. And yet, opening ourselves up to the game within the game, makes things a lot more interesting.

The one really interesting take-away here is the possibility that the game reflects a growing understanding that race, gender & gender identity can also become less important in the game of life. Wouldn't that be a great take-away?

Still, I hope that this doesn't lead to a generation of gamer-parents who come up with crappy baby names.

"Have you seen the pictures of their new baby 'Imaphilliesphan'?" Ugly kid, but man...what a name!


Cainam said...

I was not suprised to see the option to change sex and facial expression.

I tend to agree that we roleplay a little more than some other players we know and I have considered trying out life on an RP server. (What they did duringthe Zombie invasion rocked!)

I have had great fun playing a gnome with pink pigtails as my main. I'm almost bummed now that I could change it because it was funnier when I was stuck with my toon like this.

Nord said...

I looked over the character customization options and I too have my issues. Changing gender for an old school role-player is pointless to me. Facial expressions? Well, maybe. To me, that's not enough.

I heard about this stuff coming down the pike a while back and I was hoping and praying quietly that race and faction change would be a part of the process. We don't play Horde any more on Malfurion, but I've invested a good bit of time into a lvl 60 troll shaman there. Would love to make him draenai, swap him to Alliance, switch him to Garona, and have him join the merry Ordo band.

Nope, guess that kind of customization is too radical for Blizzard.

Mardigilian said...

Yeah, can't let Allies get a bitching fishing pole til 62.