Second Skin: The perfect MMO Gear and Impact on Longterm Commitment

The other day, I had a bit of an argument with my significant other concerning folk who like to transform themselves with help of expressive or more unusual attire, often in their private time. The topic wasn’t so much cosplay but people generally wearing clothes that come with a certain message of affiliation or membership, to name more flamboyant members of the goth/black metal scene as one example. This type of expression isn’t limited to the rock’n rollers among us though; it can be found anywhere, even for more conservative interests such as golfing or hiking. Dressing up for the occasion plays an important role in many social activities and for some people it’s an integral part of who they really are.

gothscene
Probably not on their way to the golf course. (www.timeslive.co.za)

At a first glance, this might strike you as a very superficial approach to identity. Why do you need to wear a certain style to feel part of a social group or (in some cases) to communicate associated belief systems? Isn’t our heart the place of true identity? Strictly speaking that is true – it doesn’t make you any more or less of a “punk” whether you’re wearing torn jeans and a mohawk or not. Clothes and looks are deceptive and they should never be a requirement for someone to belong to whatever culture or creed they relate to. I can be committed to a set of beliefs without looking a certain way.

At the same time, clothes can be a powerful catalyst of self-expression, even self-discovery and confidence building. There’s a reason why many actors, especially method actors require authentic clothing that goes with the character they’re not just playing but becoming. Inner and outer transformation go together. There’s also a more common phenomenon of someone cutting their hair after ending a longterm relationship or getting tattooed after a great cesura in their lives. Our body is a reflection of the things that are happening to us. Some people, not all people, simply choose to include that part of themselves more actively.

Loving variety, I hold a torch for people who go for the so-called deviant styles in our society, be it a part-time thing or fulltime commitment. It takes guts to go against social conformity and nobody deserves to be written off on account of green hair or piercings. That’s one of the criteria I try to push as a recruiter too, by recommending clients keep an open mind to more colorful candidates rather than blindly trusting another picture in a grey suit and tie. At the same time, I’m trying not to fall prey to inverted snobbery; I admit I have a soft spot for people who don’t fit the corporate cookie cutter.

The perfect MMO gear

I’m neither the most imaginative nor boring dresser in real life but when it comes to my MMO avatars, I’ve always cared a great deal about customization options and cosmetics. I don’t know if this interest is more prevalent among players that treat their avatars like an alter ego but I am guessing most of us have preferences regarding their MMO character’(s) looks and have things that can throw them in/out of immersion. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with the sub-par customization options of some games and the often lackluster or ill-conceived gear choices. And so I wonder: how have my past avatars’ looks, more specifically gear approach of the MMOs I’ve played the most, affected my playing longevity? Where and when did I truly feel at home gearwise?

World of Warcraft

wowclowns

I played WoW for over 6 years and would call my experiences with its gear a very mixed bag of hits and misses. WoW made me feel epic spellcaster and disco clown in equal amounts and even the better sets I collected over that time were more hyper-stylized than I would have wanted, glorified leotards with near-zero extra customization options. Transmogrification was added just after I left and to this day Blizzard haven’t added a dye system. I guess this means gear wasn’t an integral part of my character immersion in WoW despite a few definite favorites.

Guild Wars 2

unrealgw2

To this day I’ve never played an MMO with more beautiful, aesthetically pleasing gear than GW2′s, certainly none with a better dye system. While ArenaNet could’ve offered more variety in their initial character selection, there’s not much left today that you cannot do with cosmetic and town gear. And yet, despite loving the different looks of my Elementalist, I cannot exactly claim to have been immersed in my alter ego. This is tricky to explain: to me, GW2′s gear is almost too beautiful, like a painting or wonderful piece of art to admire from afar without wishing to take it home with you. I love looking at my character but she isn’t really me, not the way I think of myself as an adventurer. What can I say, it’s complicated!

LOTRO

humblelotro

I’ve never written a post on LOTRO’s gear. Instead, I’ve praised it frequently as my personal winner of immersion in so many ways – from scale to atmosphere, scenery and sound effects. There’s an authentic quality to online Middle-Earth that’s never been reached in other games. It’s therefore probably no surprise that my favorite MMO gear too, is in fact my Lore-Master’s humble Ferrier’s Robe with its leather straps, stitched pieces of fur and merrily dangling satchels (I imagine they would dangle). Combined with a simple hood and backpack, I never felt better dressed or more ready for adventure than in LOTRO. There is countless lovingly detailed gear in the game like that, with the kind of commitment to practicality that may only be found in ESO right now. I love my character’s looks in LOTRO – more importantly, this could be me tomorrow!

Sometimes less is more, especially where immersion is concerned. However awesome gear or not, it’s probably fair to say that it’s not our character’s looks or customization options that decide over the longevity of our commitment. That doesn’t mean they do not add a lot of enjoyment to the games we’re playing though or that there aren’t certain breaking points. Playing Wildstar right now, I am back to hyper-stylized but also practical gear. Mostly, I am happy that the game doesn’t make me run around half-naked.

What was your perfect MMO gear of all time? Do you feel your character’s looks have any bearing on how much you can enjoy a title longterm? I wager more customization is always popular in MMOs, no matter how much we love cosmetics. There are limitations to what I can wear or get away with in real life, so it’s all the more important my online selves enjoy that unlimited freedom of self-expession.

16 comments

  1. bhagpuss

    Each to his own and all that, but GW2′s gear is HIDEOUS!!! It’s my main problem with the game. The low-level gear and a few bits and pieces higher up are okay (never great, just ok) but the huge majority of it looks like something not even a circus clown would wear on a dare. I’d go as far as to say that, on average, it’s the worst armor and weaponry I have ever seen in a mainstream MMO. Every time they add new rewards they surpass the previous ones in utter tastelessness and crassness, too, so where it will be in a few years’ time god only knows.

    My favorite MMO for appearance by several country miles would be The Secret World. You can look utterly outlandish and surreal or completely conventional and anything inbetween. The clothes all fit perfectly too, which is a LOT more than you can say for many MMOs. My TSW character is probably my favorite ever in terms of appearance and I certainly played the game longer because of it and still retain an interest for that reason.

    In general, I like my characters to look as realistic as possible. Not photo-realistic but rational and convincing. Also, in games as in real life, less is more and understatement is a pre-requisite of cool. As a first generation punk I cleave to the belief that all you need are straight jeans , a white shirt and a black tie. Anything beyond that is overkill. As for deviant styles, in the height of my punk days (1976-78) I went onstage in white oxford bags and a postman’s canvas coat and I moshed in a three-piece suit and a beret.

    • Syl

      “As for deviant styles, in the height of my punk days (1976-78) I went onstage in white oxford bags and a postman’s canvas coat and I moshed in a three-piece suit and a beret.”

      Haha, pictures or it didn’t happen! :D
      I’m with you on the convicing gear – main reason why I grind my teeth in sexy asian games that seem to think everyone is too powerful to require armor or something. I want my chars to tell a story of who they are, what they’re doing, what type of class etc.

      We’ll have to differ on TSW and GW2! I find TSW’s armor ugly at best and really dislike the urban wear in general, also the one in the GW2 store which is totally out of sync there. Granted GW2 definitely has some silly flamboyant armor but there’s enough variety for me to collect great sets nonetheless (or are you saying my Elem Looks silly? :D).

  2. Jeromai

    I’m a big fan of customization. Have to be, right? Considering my first MMO was City of Heroes…

    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVaWYYlOfGU for a look at the character creator, revived via a player-created program. That reminds me I need to go dig up a backup of CoH and try out the program one day.)

    And probably why I celebrated the wardrobe function in GW2. Now you weren’t limited to what was immediately obvious to you, nor forced to go out-of-game to scan Dulfy’s galleries just to try and find something that looked good, but now just have to stand next to a banker NPC and stare at the entirety of the selection available in GW2 for each part.

    If you haven’t tried it out lately, you should. You’re no longer limited to the style GW2′s artists think a player in high-level gear should have. (Which for light armor females, appears to be half-naked, dressed in mostly feathers and wisps of cloth. :P)

    Perhaps what’s more interesting is that I still value customization despite not having one single avatar I use as an alter ego of myself. I tend to be an altholic, I contain multitudes. Perhaps it’s a writing or a GM thing, I’m more used to creating named characters that consist of some of me, and some other in them to turn them into their own unique being.

    But it’s still just as important to me that they all get to express what they are. My charr guardian main is a big ol’ fuzzy wuzzy – a wise explorer, but also a fierce Blood Legion member. He always wanders around looking like spiky Rhino Charr using recognizably Blood Legion cultural armor, just like an NPC, but when the Southsun desert rose came out, it was perfect to add it to him to symbolize some of his softness – what self-respecting charr carries a red flower on his back? Only one that’s fairly cuddly inside, like Tybalt, perhaps.

    My charr warrior is a bit more of an opposite, Iron Legion but a bit more flamboyant and party animal. He goes for iron and steel looks, but with a lot of glowiness and protrusions (*cough spikes/blade shard pack cough*) to them. (Looking absolutely like Bhagpuss’ nightmare, no doubt.)

    My sylvari necro inherits a name from an old character of mine that was a teenage rebel, a big disappointment to his mother (also another character of mine.) He was never good at heart and just a little bit rotten, possibly due to being somewhat spoiled from youth, attracted to magery and power, morals being a secondary concern. For him, I needed more of a Gothic look, classy, elegant and very undead-looking (but more in the vein of vampire dress-sense than zombie dress sense.)

    On and on, but I would bore you. Suffice to say that in any other MMO that doesn’t offer as much customization, it’s a negative mark in my book, but it won’t stop me playing it. I generally make do with whatever’s available. Worse case scenario: I just wear the best statted gear I can get my hands on and look like a clown and treat the avatar more like a tool for me to try the game out, rather than an expression of any character.

    • Syl

      Hmm yes, I make due as well but I have my limits too. I don’t think I could have played Tera longterm or Lineage2. Games like WoW have lots of good and bad, so at least you can collect a set or three eventually and stick to them. If it’s all full on crazy colors or nekidness from every corner however, I’ve a harder time setting up camp. Gear is also part of my reward satisfaction and bad looking gear is mehh.

      And I remember the rose backpack in GW2 :) That’s definitely a special choice for an ol’ Charr, hehe…

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  4. Electrolux

    Whatever force it was that made me an vain cyber-goth for 15 years is now expressed though playing dress up in MMOs. I don’t HAVE to look good in your MMO, it’s not a deal-breaker or anything, but I’m going to look as elegant as I can. Style>Substance.

    @Bhagpuss: It’s not entirely fair to say that all GW2 gear is hideous. I agree that all of the hideous gear is in GW2, however it also boasts some of the best looking gear I’ve ever seen in an MMO. Very few players wear any of it of course.

    And the legendaries? Well they’re legendary alright, just not for any of the reasons ANet may have hoped.

    Anyhow, folk have different styles, it’s subjective and we can all still be friends. I dressed like a noob when I was a 16 too, let’s not forget that either.

    • Syl

      I won’t go into the dark details of my teenage years dressing style :P The sins of our youth!

      And I don’t actually need stylish or ‘pretty’ gear so much in MMOs as I require sensible gear that tells a story about me. That’s the really important part for me personally.

  5. Redbeard

    The mini-Reds absolutely love the gear in LOTRO. And, to a lesser extent, SWTOR.

    Me, I think my rankings from top to bottom of the MMOs I play are as follows:

    SWTOR
    STO (of course, kind of plain with regular unis)
    Neverwinter
    Age of Conan
    WoW

    I decided to not penalize AoC (and, to a lesser extent, SWTOR) for the abuse of naked women by teenage boys. If I played GW2, I’d put it above AoC and below Neverwinter, and if I could claim to play LOTRO these days I’d put it right below SWTOR.

    WoW has just too much obviously impractical gear, but that follows directly from their commitment to cartoonishness. I have to admit that at least Wildstar is going completely over the top with cartoonishness, while WoW seems to try to straddle that line between cartoonishness and pseudo-realistic.

    • Syl

      Now thinking of my AoC characters…..I remember lots and lots of very boring similarly looking dresses and cuts. Overall I was underwhelmed with the variety but a few of the store items that came later were alright. I actually paid real coin in AoC just to look a bit more unique…

      LOTRO alllll the way! :)

  6. Shintar

    I think the thing that’s most important to me when it comes to gearing my characters in MMOs is that they look comfortable and appropriately dressed for what they are doing. I always thought that GW2 looked a bit ridiculous in that regard for example, as if the characters just escaped from the catwalk of a bizarre fashion show and shouldn’t be going out into the world with what they’re wearing.

    If I’m honest I kind of prefer it if a similar standard is enforced on other players, but at the same time I get that it’s about having fun and that people should be allowed to follow their own vision… That doesn’t mean that I have to like being grouped with someone pretending to be a bounty hunter in a bikini and with antlers.

    In terms of games, I’m quite happy with SWTOR as I feel that it has both some really good-looking and some really hideous gear, but since I can choose my look it’s all good. I would say the same about WoW except that I don’t think Blizzard has managed to come out with any new truly good-looking gear in several years. Neverwinter has been a positive surprise to me in how practical yet stylish a lot of the gear looks, even if it’s not very distinctive.

    • Syl

      I can see the point about similar styles too but then games like LOTRO or ESO stay true to this imo while still offering lots of variety (especially via cultures). If you take more of an RP approach to your MMO characters, it becomes very important to be able to create your own story and character via unique gear.

      For me, practical or believable gear all the way. I like variety too tho’ and a bit of shiny here and there is okay. :) GW2 definitely has a Moulin Rouge section but luckily also lots and lots of other items to choose from. I was pretty put off at first until I discovered the overviews at GW2Guru that include more than just popular screenshot-bait.

  7. John

    How my character looks is the most important thing in my MMO. If I don’t like my character I just cannot play the game and gear plays a big role to this. Although that does not mean that I am pixel/polygon addicted. If the character is well designed, it doesn’t matter if the graphics are top. For example I do like wow characters and some the gear sets even if it is a 10 years old game, while I did not liked the TESO characters and Wildstars.

    My characters:

    wow: http://i.imgur.com/aFpxbUt.png
    swtor: http://i.imgur.com/knAAtMk.jpg
    GW2: http://i.imgur.com/xC6FqPT.png
    FFXIV: http://i.imgur.com/0qxpLH4.png
    Lotro: http://i.imgur.com/BTj9a0S.jpg
    Tera: http://i.imgur.com/WanNatQ.png

    • Syl

      Yeah, I think things just need to feel right and well-rounded. Shiny graphics are never the highest prio, even if they’re nice to have in adddition. And I definitely like your LOTRO and FFXIV characters the most visually! :) They look like they mean business.

      • John

        hehe thanks :) Well, what can I say about lotro..is the only MMO left that has immersive world. Evendim at Night near the lake..you can just stay there for an hour and just look around and listen to the music.

        BTW, take a look of what the Asia players will have very soon.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdZSYYwz2dc&feature=youtu.be
        excellent characters…it seems they are 10 years in front on this aspect of MMORPGs (character creation)

  8. Ald

    Sometimes i feel like i care more for aesthetics than practicality. I’ll spend years going after what i think is the perfect look and will sometimes wear an item that is considered worse if it looks better and the game has no appearance options.

    Oh man, MMO’s with no appearance option get an auto decline from me.

  9. Doone

    I do love customization. I used to collect gray gear in WoW long before transmog was even an idea for the devs and I was in a guild full of people who did the same. I’m betting many of you did too during your WoW days :)

    In more recent memory, Diablo 3 has a surprisingly satisfying transmogrification system. At first I thought this would be a silly feature for the game, but I easily spend an hour dressing up my hero after every session. The armors look fantastic in that game and there’s a great variety of gear, so it’s always fun to get the perfect look going. Have you tried the D3 system?

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