Sunday, May 16, 2010

Beauty is in the eye of the account holder

The first character I made in Aion looked happy - permanent smile, upturned bottoms of the eyes, raised eyebrows.  She looked like she was enjoying every moment of her virtual existence.

That was in the open beta. Since then, they've toned down the squinting of the eyes and the degree of the smile, so the most I can manage with my tweaking of facial attributes is a lukewarm, semi-surprised expression.

Every character I've made since has looked sad.

I don't mean this in a 'they stuffed it up' way.  I mean that I have purposely made my characters look sad, with a neutral mouth, and eyebrows that are close together and raised in the centre.  I tilt their eyes to make them look downcast, and give them soft, feminine features.  I find them beautiful.  They look vulnerable - like someone who might have actually endured some hardship in their life.  Other people find it strange that I like my characters to look miserable.  But I would rather my character had some expression - any expression at all - than be a blank face that I never want to look at.

So many MMOs let you choose the face, but not the expression.  That's all changing, I know, what with all the facial slider tools cropping up in every game like clowns in the Louvre.  Sometimes it's just unnecessary.  If I can't customise my player experience story-wise, why should I be able to customise it on the outside?  But that's another post entirely.

Only a couple of games give me the freedom to determine not only how my characters look, but also how they generally feel.

My Dragon Age character is concerned.   

My ranger in Aion is approval-seeking. 

My mage in Aion is, well, emo.  I should have changed her hair colour.

I think all of them are beautiful.  But none of them look happy.

I guess what I'm aiming for is something that evokes a feeling.  When I play my character, I want to feel.  It's easier to feel something for someone who has a facial expression.  It gets a little strange, yes, when my sad characters are cheering after a great victory, but the rest of the time, if I spin the camera around to take a screenshot of some stunning scenery, or a new piece of exceptionally pretty armour (Aion makes me like clothes more than I like clothes in real life), at least my character looks like they're thinking.  They look like they're alive.  They don't look like any empty vessel waiting for me to log in.  They look like someone who might have a life, and happens to be controlled by some weirdo in another dimension, perhaps when they fall asleep.  It's the Fahrenheit theory.  Will I ever catch myself?

I wonder if someone will take away from this deep meanings of my inner psyche.  Perhaps.  I would probably feel just as weirded out by someone who made all their characters look ecstatic.  I'd feel pity for someone who made all their characters have neutral facial features.  It's all part of the customisation process, but does it really tell us anything about each other?  Do we even ever look at other characters' faces?

Sometimes, and often they're bland.  Maybe I'm just trying to Mary Sue my way into being noticed.  I don't think so, but perhaps I'd better go start writing a book about sparkly vampires, just in case.

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