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Avataritis — On the Abundance of Customizable Game Characters 78

Martyn Zachary writes "The Slowdown has posted a new critique, 'Avataritis,' that attempts to portray the utilization of character customization as a pandemic, emotional response on behalf of publishers and developers to finding the easiest, most efficient solution to the very unique dilemma presented by the enlarging, widening player base of video games. 'No mechanisms are in place stopping developers from writing and designing heterogeneous yet fully structured, narrative-based computer games with carefully constructed and immutable, unchangeable characters.' The article discusses the emergence and role of gender criticism and research in relation to the recent proliferation of the customizable avatar. The story also dissects the very act of character creation, subsequently aiming to clarify several semantic distortions related to the terminology utilized in character creation, and in turn breaking apart the concepts of relatability and understandability, wholly differentiating the two. The overarching analysis is finally related to examples from the gaming marketplace, where many continue to corroborate apparent falsehoods and misunderstandings in relation to the utilization of the avatar. Ultimately, the writer hopes to dissuade readers, developers and players from believing that written narratives are going away as customization and emergent content are entering video games with full force."
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Avataritis — On the Abundance of Customizable Game Characters

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  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) * on Saturday October 17, 2009 @07:59AM (#29776713) Journal
    One reason I purchased CO was to see what people make with the Avatar customization. It breaks what we think is standard for MMOS. You think if you find armor, your avatar should change, but they don't do it this way. They let you pick what your avatar looks like and you stick with it. It makes sense anyway considering most games have an OP Armor set that everyone wears and looks the same end game. I give them points for thinking outside the box.
  • Standardize Avatars? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RyoShin ( 610051 ) <tukaro AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday October 17, 2009 @08:17AM (#29776753) Homepage Journal

    Reading his writing (but ignoring his conclusion), I got wondering why we don't have some sort of standardization for avatars. All three major consoles now have some sort of system avatar, customizable to various degrees. These don't always make it into the games you play on them, but even when they do they tend to be very basic avatars, whereas many games have a huge number of options (and combinations thereof.) Considering how many games are giving us customizable avatars, and the rate with which they are coming to represent us online and in-game, it would seem the next logical step to create a method whereby someone can import a custom set into a game, and then tweak it from that base template, ensuring a mostly heterogeneous style over all the games they play.

    This doesn't mean that developers would be limited by options, nor that they can't do micro-customization. For instance, a game that offers your character a Fu Man Chu would mark such a beard style as part of the "Small Beard" class/group. If a game does not offer that style, it chooses the default "Small Beard" style. Along with this standard, which would incorporate as many customizations as possible (and likely keep updating its database), there could be a set of open-source models based on the standards, which developers could then import into their game, customizing as desired. This would increase the potential of having a similar character from game to game.

    There are some sequels that read on older games, and thus would likely incorporate customization, but I'm surprised this doesn't seem to be on even on a developer/publisher level--standardizing such a thing would seem, at least to me, to save a lot of time developing, as well as be supportive of return business.

  • by rujholla ( 823296 ) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @08:33AM (#29776793)
    4. You make a hot character so spending an hour day looking at her run around the screen is at least more visually stimulating than #1.
  • by Chemisor ( 97276 ) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @09:23AM (#29776969)

    4. You make a naked hot girl to wander the wasteland and fight supermutants with her bare hands. Because it's no fun to spend hours upon hours staring at some guys ugly butt.

  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @09:46AM (#29777141) Homepage Journal

    Hopefully, once they get a couple releases under their belts, they'll have more costume options. Right now there's a lot of option areas, but not a lot of options in each. And a somewhat unhealthy percentage are beast/animal options. Were I a furry with delusions of heroism, I'd be in heaven. But...

  • by strech ( 167037 ) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @03:24PM (#29779295)

    The short version of the argument is that allowing a lot of character customization
    a) Can't fully achieve the goal of having the player "become" the character, as the gameplay and narrative of the game provide their own limits;
    b) Doesn't really solve the problem of the interaction of race and video games; and
    c) Limits the games, because it prevents them from using meaningful character details as driving the narrative, gutting it.
    This misses the point to a great deal;

    For (a) All creation has limits but that doesn't make it valueless or not an act of creation; even if the limits are that born within a game system.

    For (b) it's true but character customization was never really aimed at solving the interaction fully.

    For (c) not all details of a character limit the story of a game (would it really matter if Gordon Freeman was black?) and if a game is anything other than a railroad it needs to branch at some point anyway, so the branching of a game in response to character creation (see Dragon Age's multiple origin stories) is not a meaningful limit of narrative.

    In longer form, his argument is full of holes in general; he starts off by begging the question, complete with passive-agressive "I'm going to get modded down for this, but" bullshit:

    Now, to offend half the blogosphere offhand: For the purpose of this article, we will consider avatar customization a convenient narrative cop-out. We shall also assume that no mechanisms are in place stopping developers from writing and designing heterogeneous yet fully structured, narrative-based computer games with carefully constructed and immutable, unchangeable characters.

    So he assumes the practice he's complaining about is the only thing stopping him from getting the games he wants (it isn't, but I can see the assumption as useful for purposes of argument) and then assumes the practice he disagrees with is valueless (it isn't). He even admits that in terms of narrative etc he's dismissing the value with nothing more than the word "seems":

    (Obviously, there are occasions wherein the “tabula rasa” scenario is a fully motivated one, either by its ludic or narrative function, but assuming this to be a default state to be aspired to seems ultimately misguided beyond the MMO.)

    As he asserts this without evidence, I'll dismiss it with little more (At very least, games in the line of Fallout or (from what I know about it) Dragon Age are clear examples in opposition to this).

    He goes on for a while about minorities and gaming, nothing that minorities are underrepresented in gaming, and that the common approach of reading % of characters as a measure of this is a bit of tokenism and misses the point – that the experience of growing up white and growing up, say, Latino are different and this affects a lot of things in subtle ways, and just changing a character's skin isn't going to reflect these ways. And that making this irrelevant works against both the white and Latino's experience. This is true as far as it goes, but it really doesn't have much to do with character creation:

    a) I've always thought the % studies as a quick and dirty measure of how much of the creators are working to take those experiences into account. If the numbers are heavily lopsided, then it's a sign the probably aren't; if the numbers are more even there's at least a chance they are.
    b) More importantly, the ability of a trait to help someone connect with a character isn't necessarily connected with the importance in the game world. To paraphrase from a shadowrun sourcebook, “Who cares about the color of someone's skin when the guy over there is a rock with hands as big as your head?” This is even true for characters set initially in our on world (c.f. Gordon Freeman). So the race of the character could end up being meaningful for the player and not meaningful for the game world.
    c) Even where it is relevant, it can be bra

  • Re:Skinning (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @05:41PM (#29780129)

    JWZ is a software engineer writing about usability. He's not writing about video game characters.

    Do you seriously think those two things are equivalent?

    As far as I'm concerned, any time spent customizing a character and not playing the game is wasted.

    And I think crafting in MMOs is boring, and thus wasted effort on the part of the developer. But guess what? I'm not the *only* person who plays the game. Ditto with the alchemy system in Oblivion, but I'm sure there are thousands of gamers who really appreciated it.

    This is going to blow your brain, but Champions Online released their character creator as a demo, and I spent ages doing nothing but customizing characters, and enjoying it.

    So in short, you're wrong and also an ass.

  • by Swanktastic ( 109747 ) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @08:15PM (#29781001)

    Although the applications are somewhat limited, I really had fun with the concept in some EA Sports games (Tiger Woods in my case) where you could upload a picture of yourself and skin the character. It was pretty easy and looked mostly like me. It was a heck of lot easier than spending 3 hours trying to tune an avatar with sliders. I suppose there's too much opportunity for mischief however for this to make it into MMORPGs.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.