I used to think that character personalization was really important to me. In my “first impressions” posts of various MMO’s on this site, I’ve constantly cited the character creation system as a plus or minus, depending on the depth of that system and the uniqueness of the end result. However, my recent dive into Marvel Heroes has me questioning how important this type of personalized character is to my enjoyment of a game.
I’d been enjoying myself in Marvel Heroes for several weeks before I heard someone else ask the following question: can you customize your character’s appearance? The actual answer is “kind of”, in the form of various pre-designed costumes made available for purchase in the store. But the thing that bothered me more about the question was the fact that it had never occurred to me to ask it. I – the one who bemoaned Wildstar’s character creation process for its lack of options – didn’t even notice/care that there was no character creation process at all in Marvel Heroes. I – the champion for a unique player experience through a wide variety of sliders and options – heeded not the fact that there were in the neighborhood of 2-3 other “Iron Man’s” on the screen at any given time while I happily played my own version of the armored Stark.
Side note: one thing that strikes me as funny within Marvel Heroes is that they actually make a weak attempt to explain away the “multiplicity” of characters within the “tablet of life and time” arc. However, they don’t explain why it continues to happen after the completion of that arc, and probably do more to draw attention to it instead of actually convincing us that it’s a result of some kind of temporal/dimensional rift caused by the theft of a slab of stone.
Why the change of heart? Why did a once strong proponent for unique characters overlook the total absence of this uniqueness in MH? I’ve come up with a few possibilities. First is the aforementioned cosmetic costumes. I’ve actually purchased a few of these, mostly ones that coincide with the Marvel movies that I’ve enjoyed like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. Since I’m more a fan of the movies than the comics, it makes sense that the movie costumes would resonate with me more than the default hero costumes.
More importantly, I wonder if my “roleplay” expectations are different for a game with pre-defined playable characters then for one where a character is created from scratch. While I don’t roleplay in the traditional sense, I do think that any time we take the controls of a character in a game, an element of roleplay is present. It sneaks up on us. It’s apparent when I’m playing with someone and I say something like “I’m going to fire my micro missiles!” Of course, I’ve never fired a single micro-missile in my entire life, but I’m willing to put myself in Iron Man’s shoes just long enough to slip into first person. In the case of Marvel Heroes, I’m roleplaying an existing entity, one that has been fleshed out to the point that relevant catch phrases are spouted off randomly during combat, and instead of detracting from my experience, they actually enhance it. They sound like something Iron Man might say, and since I’m roleplaying Iron Man, they increase the immersion. The same can be said for the costumes. If the cosmetic look of a pre-defined character seems like something that the character would have picked out for themselves, I don’t feel the need to personalize it further.
On the other hand, in games like ESO and LOTRO, the character being roleplayed did not exist prior to me playing the game. In the case of these types of games, I want as many customization options as possible in order to place my own unique imprint on it. I don’t have any preconceived expectations of how this type of character will look or act prior to exploring all options and choosing the ones that seem to fit my own preferences. In this type of game, I don’t want to unexpectedly happen upon another character with the same hairstyle and armor. I want my character to be as unique as possible. He enters the world mysteriously as an unknown commodity, a blank slate whos months and years of experiences eventually form a personality capable of heroic deeds. In essence, all MMO’s are a “coming of age” story, but I want my character’s story to be as unique as my real-life story. Perhaps because I see more of myself in him than in the pre-fabricated hero of other games.
In short, in Marvel Heroes I want to play a Marvel Hero. In MMO’s that embrace a character creation model, I want to play my own hero.