Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Who Mourns For Adonais?

"No one wants to be ugly."

This statement, simple, straightforward and general though it may be, can pretty much be held as a basic truism. While what constitutes beauty and ugliness may vary from culture to culture, it is the culture of role playing gamers I am concerned with here.

I have heard the above phrase uttered and paraphrased numerous times in my life but the last time was by my good buddy Dave, who was referring to World of Warcraft and other Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs.

In those games, the bulk of the player community (which is young and male regardless of the total demographic which includes many women and older players of both genders), prefers to play which ever side has the Humans, Elves, Dwarves and other traditional 'Good Guy' races of Fantasy. World of Warcraft is a particularly interesting example of this, since the story behind the game has the Alliance (Initially made up of Humans, Elves, Dwarves and Gnomes and generally thought of as the good guys) being real a**holes, while the Horde (the bad guys - Orcs, Trolls, the Undead and the Minotaur-like Tauren) are very honorable and spiritual in many ways.

The Alliance PCs outnumber the Horde PCs by quite a bit on many servers. Why? Well, mainly 'cause people want to play the 'heroes'. But...according to the plot of the game, the Alliance aren't necessarily the heroes. Each side has done both right and wrong by the world, themselves and each other. Maybe it's because people, being Human, want to play Humans. It's easier. Logical reason if there ever was one...for table top RPGs but not necessarily MMOs. Could the reason be...

"No one wants to be ugly." No one wants their character, their avatar, the representation of themselves in their fantasy world to be less than amazingly handsome or beautiful?

You see pretty much the same attitude in table top games. Most players I've encountered play Humans and Elves, with a lesser number as Dwarves and Halflings and finally Gnomes and Half-Orcs. Dwarves get away with being more on the ugly side since they are also tough and sometimes portrayed as humorous. Few want to be Gnomes who aren't as cute and "Aw shucks" as Halflings.

In Science Fiction, especially Star Trek, the camp is really divided. Most people I have spoken to on the subject say the same thing, their campaign crews are largely Human with a smattering of Vulcans, Andorians and the occasional Orion (you'd be surprised how many women I've met and known who want to be Green Orion Women is a Star Trek game - more on that another time - but it does fit my hypothesis - people want to play what they believe to be attractive characters).

Now, this statement is a generalization. Of course people, men and women, younger players and experience veterans, play strange and even ugly looking characters. Usually it's because that species has some cool ability or interesting background. Klingons are popular with many Star Trek fans but (and I apologize to the Klingon contingent waiting just off my port bow) they really aren't very good looking.

Now my players, at least those I have had very successful games with in the past, have been very different. Eager to get into the head and other body parts ("Eh?" - I mean explore the exobiology of... - "Eh?!" - Quit it will you!) of an alien species and culture, we see our fair share of real weirdies.

While Andorians are my favorite Star Trek alien, I myself have played a Kazarite (the last alien in the image at top going left to right). The first of the aliens in the image above, the Chelarian or Rigellian Chelon has been played by a number of players in my games (people just like turtles I guess) and my good, and very much missed friend, Allen is especially adapt at playing bizarre and obsure Star Trek species such as the three armed, three legged Edoans (now renamed the Triexians) and the squid-like Xelatian.

So what do you think? How much does the aesthetics of a species play a part. Rather, how Human does a species need to be for you to want to play it? Does it matter? Why does it matter? Is it purely ego? After all, how many people out there are getting their PCs involved in romantic relationships with the opposite sex (or heck, the same sex...or heck, the sexless exchange of spore pods...)?

More on aliens coming up...

Barking Alien


  1. I think it's also, in Star Trek, a factor that many alien races are seldom seen and have no real background or character except for Vulcans, Klingons, and Romulans. Most are just weird face attachments to make them nonhuman, but nothing more.

  2. Playing a human in a fantasy game - but humans are one of only two sentient races, the other being daemonkind, which can look like anything - who I've always described as homely, and just about almost handsome if he smiles well and you don't notice the scars. This was a bit of conscious choice as I wanted to play a conman who couldn't get by on his looks.

    Mind you, IRL I'm far from pretty, so maybe I play good looking chaps in the same way I play 7 foot vikings; I'll never get the chance to be like that in real life...

  3. Firstly, Andorian fan unite! Such a cool yet underused Star Trek species.

    But, yes, a vast majority of people like to play at least attractive characters for a variety of reasons. One of which must be, if I am looking at them in my mind's eye I might as well like the view, yes?

  4. So, can we look past an outwardly ugly appearance to see the beauty inside?

    Does anyone else do what I do - See a cool looking if weird background alien and say, "Wow, that guy is odd looking. I have got to use him in a game", and then make up his biological and cultural details? I'm sure you do...well...not sure if Matt does...heh...jus' teasin' ya Matt.

    That my fellow Trek Fans is what my next post is about! Be there!

  5. Is there in truth no beauty, in other words. :)

    I think many people need the social reassurance of having an attractive avatar, but as for old-school RPGs, my experience has been that power will trump beauty.

    1. Heheh, precisely Jayson! Just the title I had in mind...

  6. I've seen more ugly male characters than ugly female characters, and this is from both genders of players. Naturally this is from my own experience and is not a universal.

    Of course, there also seems to be more of a consensus on what makes a woman attactive than a man.

  7. Yeah in my experience girls tend to be more concerned with appearance while guys are more interested in power/mechanics. It's not universal, I've seen exceptions on both sides, but that's how it usually goes. When you bring online games into the discussion though, appearance becomes much more important for everyone because you're constantly looking at your character during the game - in a pen and paper game this is typically not the case.

  8. I would have loved to have seen more Andorian action on Star Trek. Or maybe there is more...I only ever saw the original show and the Pepsi Generation show.

    1. Enterprise, for all its flaw, did a fine job of reintroducing the Andorians to Star Trek and expanding their culture and lore. Plus, the main, reoccurring Andorian character of Shran was played by Jeffery Combs and that just pours awesome sauce on an already excellent sundae.

  9. Andorians were always my favorite classic race. I do have a tendency to play odd-ball characters and as such have played my share of inhuman characters.

    In many cases my character was HOT, for a snoot-faced, dog/chicken/moose thing. We always used appearance stats as relative to the species they were. So, an Orc with a high appearance stat was a good looking orc, which might make him particularly repulsive for a human (more scars, a torn lip, etc.)


    1. Another vote for the awesome Andorians! Next Star Trek TV series - Andorian Captain For the Win!

      Ha! Neat idea regarding appearance.

      One concept I really took to heart on that note was that Charisma in D&D isn't solely about appearance. As a matter of fact, in my homebrew D&D-But-Not, it isn't appearance at all.

      You can look any way you like, handsome, ugly, fierce, timid, etc. Charisma is how good you are at making friends with others, swaying them to your cause and the like. It is more a stat covering persuasiveness, empathy, social perception and such.