Someone in a XIV roleplay forum I frequent very interestingly suggested a thread about how a game’s race steers character creation and player interaction. It got my head whirring, and so I thought instead of making or replying in said suggested thread that I put up my thoughts here.
I mean, far be it from me to ignore a strike of inspiration…even if it is being worked out while I’m at work.
In Final Fantasy XIV, I play a Roegadyn by the name of Steel Wolf. Born and raised in Limsa Lominsa, widow to a husband who fell at Carteneau when Dalamud fell, and currently working out how to control what she thought was her Inner Beast as a Warrior which turned out to be her Darkside as she tries to be included in to the order of Dark Knights. Her appeal for me was the general size of the Roegadyn, as well as their brash, big attitudes, which made someone who could play up a big game and then back it up with big power a fun character idea.
In WildStar, my primary character is Kael Dashwind, an Aurin who adores science and medicine, and has taught himself how to create salves that can be loaded in to special pistols that aerates and fires the medicines at friendly targets. He is bright pink, super-happy and hyper. He loves being a “gun-nurse” and doesn’t want to earn a doctorate, believing that doctors just act like they do medical work while nurses actually do it. The Aurin’s boisterous personality and penchant for high curiosity and unflinching warmth were the prime building blocks in writing him.
In both of these examples, I’m reminded of just how big of an impact a game’s racial traits have on my roleplay and characterization. And I’m left to wonder if that’s a positive thing.
Racial traits have always been the bedrock of my characterization, but there seems to be two sides to the coin–either taking an aspect of a race’s behavior traits and running with it, or writing against the established grain. While it’s not unheard of for characters to deviate from racial stereotypes, it also strikes me as a vapid attempt at special snowflaking, so I tend to get somewhere in the middle, though I lean a bit more towards the former style of characterization than the latter.
The rationale for that, for me anyway, is that it makes the character feel more authentic to the game’s world. Obviously there’s the chance that you’ll run in to cookie-cutter characters, but at the same time following some of the established tropes lends a sense of authenticity to my characters. Roegadyn being loud and a bit brutish works. Aurin being hyper-happy works. It’s established in-game and it validates my character somehow.
The other rationale I use is that a character can always change his or her mind. Events can unfold to sway the direction of a character from their racial mold. You can start off as a noble hero who powerhouses through things and maybe end up slaughtering the wrong person, or clearing out of a bloodlust mid-fight…which would make a normal powerhouse race take up the arts of healing magic. I reserve the right to change my mind as well as my character’s.
So, in my view, following a race’s example isn’t sloppy or lazy so much as a great launching off point. Of course, it’s entirely possible to make a carbon copy of an existing NPC just as much as it is to write someone so against every established fact of a race that you might as well write fanfiction. Still, I ultimately feel like the guidelines of a race’s description and temperament are offered to players for a reason.
Just as long as one recognizes that they’re just that. Guidelines.