Gamer Psychology: Character Race

Updated Thu, Jul 18, 2013 by Dalmarus

Gamer Psychology

For a number of years now, I’ve made MMORPGs my business and in those years there are some thoughts and ideas I’ve always wondered about. Today, I’m going to put one of those ideas forward and I want to hear your thoughts on the subject. Even though I’ve always had a fascination with science in general, I do not profess to be a scientist, psychologist, or anything else of the sort. In other words, if my statements below convince you that you’re the most horrible human being in existence and are a potential mass murderer because you chose to play a Gnome in EverQuest 7 years ago, take a deep breath and stop. These are just thoughts and ideas, not a medical diagnosis of your various mental problems so, you know, chin up and all that!

So, here’s the deal. Over the years I’ve always wondered if the race you choose for a character says anything about the type of person you are at your core. For me, a game needs to have an “evil” race option to stand any solid chance of keeping me long term. We all have different sides of our own personalities, but I’ve noticed that not only do I tend to choose the same type of races when I play an MMORPG, I find that I can’t enjoy a game if I don’t have a character that fits into that general concept.

Warden combat in LotRO.

I’ll give you a good example of what I’m talking about. The Lord of the Rings Online is a good game. When looked at from all angles that matter to me and my style of playing MMORPGs, there is a lot to enjoy about the game. There’s a range of races, different starting areas, lots of open areas to hunt in, dungeons and ruins scattered about for exploring, and plenty of interactive gameplay in combat (at least with the Warden). On the surface, all of this adds up to one conclusion – I should love the game. The reality, however, is that I don’t. It’s all for one simple reason too – I don’t have an evil race to play.

Just typing that “out loud” makes it sound inanely stupid even to me. The most bizarre part about it is that even with evil races and classes I don’t actually go about doing anything particularly evil when I play (minus slaughtering “good” guards whenever I get the opportunity and maybe the occasional bunny burning fest). I just like having a sense of character background and history and, for whatever reason, it can’t be good. If they made an evil elf faction or something playable in LotRO, I would probably be all over the game but, since they don’t, I simply can’t get into it.

Does this lovely EQ smurf really look evil to you?

For years, my wife has on occasion asked me why I play evil characters in every game that gives me the opportunity. I’ve always replied with the same answer: “Since I’m such a good and pure of heart person in real life, I need to have an outlet for evil deeds in a world that won’t actually hurt anyone.”

Of course, at this she rolls her eyes and says, “OMG, you’re such a geek”, and walks away. But I think there may be some semblance of truth to my assertion that I play evil because I’m good in real life. It’s not that I’m anything close to a saint in the way I live my life, but in general I hold myself to a high standard of conduct. I have no patience for people who don’t treat others with respect, kindness, and humility. I have even less patience if that person is current or former military like me.

But does my military background really have anything to do with the characters I choose? At its heart, I think it may. You see, there is one exception to my need to play an evil character, and that’s if the character is in any kind of military organization, such as when playing Commander Sheppard in the Mass Effect trilogy. I was the epitome of my Captain America standard for the first one, and only deviated from military protocol later when I felt a decision required decisive action and whatever it took to “get the job done.” I like the structure and order this setup provides.

It’s in there that I think the answer to my question lies. In life, we all want to be heard, we all want to have a choice, and we all have our own way of doing things. In reality, that’s not only a good thing, it’s the very core of what it means to be human and to progress, to change, and to improve. I recognize the need for this in the real world and I’ve learned to accept and even embrace it.

Warhammer Chosen in battle

In the gaming world though, I can be my true self and that, like it or not, would be a totalitarian. I really am that person whose very first instinct in any situation is that I’m right, it should be done my way, and why the hell are you questioning any of the orders I’m giving. The household I grew up in, combined with my time in the Marine Corps, only pushed that concept further and further into my psyche. Over the years, I’ve learned to instantly quash that reaction, to take a step back, and listen to the suggestions of those around me. Even further, I now recognize that in the real scheme of things I know jack squat, so I actively seek out those who know more than I do so I can learn.

To get back to my point, it’s that sense of control and the standing order to not question things that makes the evil races I tend to play so appealing. It’s not that I revel in acts of evil; it’s the historical lore of the race that compels me: ruling with an iron first, a clear sense of hierarchy and command structure, and working for a common goal, even if it’s as a tiny cog in the wheel. These are all things that are nothing but destructive in today’s world, though, except in a very small number of situations, such as warfare, disaster rescue, or other similar emergency scenarios where seconds can make the difference between life and death. In other words, it’s not the way to live a real life, but a very comforting scenario when playing in a virtual world. And that’s why I think the race you choose really does say something about the type of person you are.

What do you guys think? Am I on to something or just completely off my rocker? Comment on the article below, shoot me an email, or hit me up on Twitter!

I have always thought you were completely insane, but that is beside the point. It is interesting why people choose or not choose certain races. I mainly have played EQ2 and WoW, but I have tried out some of the others on a limited basis. I like to play them all just to see what is different between them. I think some people play only certain races because of the profession or class. Small races for scouts, large for tanks, or ones more attuned to magic. I do find I have an aversion to trolls,ogres, and gnomes. Not sure why.

Most of my choices are aesthetic. I rarely stray from playing humans, and beyond that only the occasional elf or half-elf--and all female, at that. Short races or monster races never interest me. I suppose that says that I'm shallow or lack imagination. =)

I do not know if you are correct or not about the reasons we choose are characters. I usually play a good aligned character. Yet, as you did, I notice when they do not have a counter balance of evil.The game lacks because of it, and I do not play them. Although I played a good aligned character, I hung out with some baddies. One of my characters even married a Necromancer once. Which, I found kind of strange, me agreeing to it and all. I am not really a RP, and felt a little silly doing it,lol! I couldn't back out, the whole damn guild had arrived for the ceremony.So,I went ahead with it. Wasn't my paladin character though, that would of just been wrong!

Hopefully with EQ Next they will be bringing back both evil and good factions, and will not be lacking.

On a side note to all this, and this is my own observation, take or leave it for what it is. I had a Dwarf cleric stalk me in game once, trying to get my home address. We spoke one day, and found out we lived in the same town. I would not give it to him, nor play that character he was familiar with anymore. So, I think it is Dwarves who are really evil!!! I keep my eye out for those guys! If anyone ask where I live, I keep it very general now.
I enjoy all your articles, and I hope to see more here.

Me personally I tend to play my first character as a male large race, not sure if its because I am a big person in real life or not. But all my alts tend to vary from female to male depending on the race I choose for them. I tend to pick on looks when it comes to alts.

for example eq1 I was a barb warrior male then a froglock female sk, wow i was an orc warrior male then a female bloodelf wizard. I generally try and avoid playing humans most games just do not do us justice :)

That's a very interesting point, Karsa, that I've wondered about before as well - I cannot play short characters. I'm 6' even in real life and any time I've tried to play a short character, I just can't do it - the entire perspective of view just feels so off an unnatural to me that I can't do it.

As a kid, I was always the uber-brainy nerd and was constantly told I'd be going to MIT to become a rocket scientist. Problem was, I didn't want that. To me, "MIT" and "rocket scientist" just meant that I had no friends, everyone would pick on me, and I'd never have a girlfriend. I always fantasized instead about being a "Green Beret" (back that, we didn't really know about Delta Force and the SEALs) because to me, those were the guys that never took flack from anyone. I also wanted to be Bugs Bunny when I was really young, though, so what does that tell you?

Magic (in fantasy games) or technology (in modern or sci-fi games) was always the province of the nerd, aka the "loser" from my point of view, and I actually enlisted in the Army as an infantry soldier at 17 because I wanted to be that tough guy who didn't take any flak.

Then real life intervened and I learned I wasn't a very good soldier (too scatterbrained, too blind, and too afraid of heights to go Airborne, so no SF for me). Later, I realized that being a nerd didn't mean you couldn't stand up for yourself, and I actually learned to really enjoy and value that aspect of my personality.

At some point in time, I think I stopped looking at the intellectual types in gaming as being the "losers" and realized that just because "thinking" is a major definition of your character, it doesn't mean you're not valuable. It helped that I started to realize that my rejection of all mages, clerics, technicians, thieves, etc.; i.e., anything not specifically centered around being a "fighter" was nothing more than well-masked self loathing of my nerdiness and intellect.

But... by then I'd also started into a career in IT, where I've learned pretty much everything on my own, and I find that while I can play other types of characters with some enjoyment, I also don't like having to remember all the little quirks and peccadilloes of the various other classes and races. If I've just spent the entire day stressing my brain, trying to figure out some random esoteric IT issue, I want to come home to a game where I can relax and just remember, "pointy end goes in the other guy."

So I guess the TL/DR version is that I used to play a rude, pushy, but ultimately good hearted human fighter because I was overcompensating for the loathing I used to feel for my nerdiness. Now, the loathing is gone, but I like human fighters because I think enough for a living already and human fighters are simple.

Plus, they're way more fun to play.

Most of my race choices come from either what I like the looks of, or more often benefits from racial stats, abilities or size (I like gnomes because they make it easier to hide in pvp and are less likely to be targeted).

I think you are on to something. I prefer the more humanoid evil characters but I am a mental health professional in RL and find I don't enjoy playing any character that has no healing/rez ability. It makes me extremely uncomfortable and I find that extremely interesting. I started playing MMOs with EQOA and have maintained this pattern throughout my gaming life.

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