I’ve recently discovered I am a massive hypocrite.
I was talking to a friend recently about the still-in-the-works MMO, Crowfall. We were mostly talking about the inclusions of centaurs being pretty neat, since it’s rare to get a playable non-bipedal race in…well, anything. I get why this is, since the extra work in animation and models and game lore makes it a hell of an effort to include anything with four legs. It’s why even the ‘beast’ races in games tend to walk on two legs, have five fingers on each hand, etc.
This got me thinking about something: if given the choice, I ALWAYS choose to play as non-human in video games. Not for any special reason, I just find it really cool. I’m a human 100% of the time in my normal life, after all. Getting away from that and being this awesome cat/lizard/bird/rat/cow?/dog person for a little while and going on a whacky adventure is just really appealing to me.
My friend was of a similar mindset, but brought up a point I had never really thought about before, namely that it’s not just about budgeting; game makers also include human races because people relate to them easier. It makes sense, since you can probably relate to the thoughts and feelings of a human being easier than a lizard, for example.
Despite that, I found the entire thing a bit odd. In my mind, I couldn’t fathom someone NOT wanting to be the proud centaur race, or the warlike feline, or the hilariously tiny race. Just playing as the boring old human who I’ve seen a million times in every other thing ever just didn’t click. I was even more surprised by just how pronounced this effect was: there was a staggering THRITY FIVE percent (35%!) players using a human character in Guild Wars 2 at the time the data was collected, with the second runner being Norn, who were basically very big humans. Show in this handy visualisation:
(Just as a fair warning, this table is now out of date)
That seemed crazy to me. That meant just over half of the player base had chosen the two most human looking races in the game, even in a game that allowed multiple character slots. It’s not like I don’t get the appeal, I get that it’s easier to immerse one’s self in a game if the character is reminiscent of themselves. It’s just seemed odd that not as many people were jumping at the chance to be these fantastical and exotic people.
However, this is where I prove I am a massive hypocrite.
I‘ve recently begun playing Total War: Rome 2 after stumbling across it. Like, REALLY stumbling across it: I was scrolling down my list of Steam games, and just saw it sitting there, despite the fact I have no recollection of how it got there. Even more confusing, it said that I had bought back in 2013. Maybe I bought it in a sale, and had promised to play it later? Maybe that one friend I have that’s super into Total War had gifted it to me, intending to coax me into multiplayer? Regardless, I decided to not let a perfectly playable game go to waste, and download it.
I was playing through the prologue (basically a three/four hour tutorial) when two thoughts struck me. The first was that my computer could really do with an update, since all the models looked somewhat off and the warning that the game was downgrading the graphics for performance kept appearing. The second was that I really missed Medieval II: Total War.
Medieval II: Total War was the family’s first Total War game, and those who cared to play video games really enjoyed it. The Steam account says Max and I have clocked in nearly a hundred hours, but that’s only after we actually got a Steam account, and probably not very accurate to just how much we loved playing this game. Much like other stories I’ve told, it’s worth mentioning we weren’t smart kids: when we played, strategies mostly consisted of telling every unit to charge and hope for the best. Still kind of is…
Anyway, I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. The game play was fun, even if the town micro-management didn’t really feel as fulfilling other instalments. I found the Romans interesting, even if I still have no idea what they were saying half the time (I was promoted to by the Consul to be Proconsul, once, and I have no idea what that meant). I thought that the UI was suddenly a hell of a lot busier, and even a little counterintuitive at times, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker.
It was only after I finished the ‘tutorial’ and started the game proper that I finally realised what was wrong.
Without really thinking, I had chosen to play as the Britain faction in the actual campaign, therefore choosing the faction of my own nationality. Suddenly, I was really into it: all their talk of their pagan religious views and crazy warrior like lifestyles seemed super interesting. Instead of being on a ‘meh’ reaction to the people I was playing as, I was suddenly invested. I wanted to see this tribe of barbarians living in mud huts grow into the largest empire the world had ever seen.
It was only after I stopped to reflect on this did I realize what a massive hypocrite I am. Here I was, judging others for not picking the exotic choices in other games while simultaneously retreating to the familiar British countryside as soon as it became an option. I turned down the chance to lead Rome, to lead Egypt, to lead any number of other great empires that changed the world because I wanted to ‘lead’ from my own backyard. It was probably for this reason that I loved Medieval so much, since we nearly ALWAYS chose a faction that was close to home (or the Holy Roman Empire, but that’s because I liked the black and gold aesthetic as a kid).
After all that nonsense…Yea, I can sort of see where people are coming from with the ‘play as a human’ angle a little better. I still think that any game that takes the time and resources to offer diversity sound be supported, and that non-human races still kick ass in all their glory. Hell, the people at Total War are making a Warhammer game that I’m super excited for since it lets me play as marauding Orcs with crazy death magic.
But at the same time, I can understand wanting to play as something or someone you can relate to. A lot of this just comes down to simple player choice: you should be allowed to do or play as you want, since that’s what you find the most fun. And sometimes, we all want something that’s a little more familiar, whether that’s being a squishy human, or leading an army through the rolling British countryside, it’s always up to you.