Written by | Posted September 8, 2015 – 9:51 pm Descent and Ascent

It didn’t take long to get from Thunder Bluff to the Echo Isles – Ankona took advantage of a wyvern so she could think and plan before getting to her destination. She had information to confirm with the spirits – was Gromnor dead? Was he really in the northern part of the Eastern Kingdoms, somewhere […]

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Archetypes, Mary Sues, and the Halo Effect
comment 17 Written by on June 18, 2009 – 8:33 am

So I was reading a post yesterday from Blogatelle (if you don’t read that blog, you should) about the Halo Effect and how people often fall into the stereotype that “pretty” is equal to good, and that “ugly” is bad.  It certainly happens in real society, where folks that don’t fit in the accepted “norm” of appearance are often ostracized or treated as lesser beings based on looks alone.

But Sean brought that stereotype into WoW – citing the preference for Humans, Night Elves, Blood Elves and to some extent Draenei, and how that may be related to this “halo” effect.  Particularly in the case of Blood Elves, it’s relatively common to see a Blood Elf that either has no addiction to magic or has broken it totally – removing or negating one of the less ‘heroic’ aspects of the race in favor of them fitting into a more acceptable “good” role that we’d expect by their looks.

And I think he has a point – but I think, at least with WoW, there’s something else going on here as well.  At least with Elves (both kinds) and Humans.

These races are the ones that look the most like what a Westernized “ideal” human should look like (or in some cases, just are “humanoid” more than not).

Particularly at the beginning of Warcraft’s development, the much higher Alliance levels probably had a lot to do with people choosing a race that they felt they could easily identify with, given the little lore they knew.  How much of that is compounded by the “orcs are ugly and therefore evil” I can’t say – though the somewhat shady history of the Orc race doesn’t help with clearing their (now) good name.  You could certainly make the argument that Sean and I are talking about the same thing – viewing races that look “like us” as good, and that look like what we’d commonly have seen as “ugly” or “monsters” as evil or bad.

Fortunately, though – at least in my experience – as WoW has grown, and the lore has grown, so has the population of Warcraft players. Which doesn’t mean there are no more picture-perfect, no faults, utterly gorgeous, flowers grow from their sh*t Mary Sues running around – just that there ARE people playing realistic, balanced characters from each race.

To some extent, it’s hard to escape from stereotypes and Archetypes – they are common because they have meaning, because they’re relatable, and we all can understand them.  But (and maybe I’ve just been incredibly lucky) I’ve found the “real” characters a lot more often lately.

So how do you turn a potential “cookie cutter” character into something with more depth?

The same way that real people have depth and layers to their personality.  Everyone tries to put their best foot forward in some situations – but nobody can be perfect all the time.  Neither is anyone a perfect copy of what their society/family/upbringing suggests that they should be.

So as you create your characters, think about putting a twist on an Archetype – maybe your character is the Logical Guru… but they can’t shake that lingering illogical fear of spiders.  Obviously they can still have some of the things that make them a Logical Guru – but either a mental illness or a damaging encounter makes them incapable of being logical about arachnids.  It doesn’t negate what they are – it just makes them more than just a cardboard cutout with predictable answers to everything.

Another example might be a Knight who has a side business on the black market to support an addiction – he spends his days upholding the law, but a character flaw (either of chemistry or of personality) has him so addicted to something that he’s forced to break with his own convictions.  Playing out these kinds of twists can be fun and engaging, and keeps you from finding your character predictably stale. Maybe your Knight is addicted to pain medication after a terrible injury and it’s causing him a crisis of faith and conviction?  Maybe he’s just addicted to the feel-good-drugs – and has to constantly hide it.  You can really let your creativity go wild.

People don’t always make sense.  In fact, they frequently don’t make any sense at all.

Making a character real, making them have depth means going beyond looks and races to find a personality, a history, and a story to tell.   It means finding what makes them tic, what makes them crazy, and what just doesn’t make any sense but somehow ends up in the mix anyway. Nobody is perfectly good, totally fearless, utterly undefeatable – and the same goes with being the incarnation of pure evil (with the exception of bad guys created expressly to BE perfectly evil). No race has the stranglehold on good (See: Fandral Staghelm – who is a jerk and has some good reasons for being a jerk… and is still very much an Elf) or on evil (see: the Forsaken that work for the Argent Dawn/Crusade) regardless of their appearance.

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17 Responses to “Archetypes, Mary Sues, and the Halo Effect”

  1. I don’t remember where Threnn’s original fear of spiders came from, just that when she and Bricu facing down wossname (Terrokarantula?) outside of…Auchindoun?… she was suddenly clamoring “DUNWANNA” at me.

    Nowadays, of course, her fear of spiders is completely justified.

    The Arachnid Quarter in Naxxramas messes with her something fierce.


    Laurens last blog post..Wrathgate Wednesday: Slacker Edition

  2. Anyone who really thinks that pretty = good in this game needs to take a good look at blood elf lore. Prior to the restoration of the Sunwell, they were a perfect illustration of the old adage that “beauty is only skin deep” – they were hopelessly addicted to arcane magic, and they were stealing their powers from a captured naaru. That shining exterior was hiding a *lot* of darkness, and that’s why I love to RP them.

    And the night elves – well, like you said, we have Staghelm. ’nuff said. 😛

    I agree completely about those ‘twists’ though; I try to . Shizu, my night elf hunter, is probably the best illustration of this. She’s a demon hunter. She’s also sweet and cheerful and she says hello to people by purring at them. At the same time, she’s a little crazy and incredibly headstrong, and her tendency to rush into situations without thinking about the consequences has nearly gotten her killed on at least one occasion. She’s hardly what one would expect from the daughter of a druid and a devout priestess of Elune. It makes her more memorable and a lot more fun to play, even though the opportunities to play her crazy side are far more rare than I would like.

    @ Lauren – AAAHHHH SPIDERS. That story was kind of traumatic. O.O Well done!

  3. That should totally say, “I try to put twists on my characters too, to keep them from becoming stereotypical and stale.”

    I excel at finishing my thoughts!

  4. My blood elf, Litharian, is probably the closest example I can think of among my characters who started out as just being simply good. A Farstrider who survived the attack of the Scourge on Quel’Thalas, and saw the death of Sylvanas, he still managed to hold out that optimism that things would get better. He still privately believed in the Light and was repulsed by what he saw in Silvermoon City, which admittedly isn’t that “out there” for a blood elven hunter, going off the dialogue of their NPCs and trainers. He suffered from the same addiction to magic but managed to have the force of will to mostly contain it, refusing to give it an inch.

    By the time he reached Outland and went through the fighting there, this optimism and what halo effect he had went pretty well crashing through the floor. I find personally that really experiencing the game world tends to tarnish characters’ halo effects some, and that is doubly true with Wrath. It was hard for Litharian to keep hopeful about Silvermoon’s future after seeing how utterly Kael, the magisters and Blood Knights had betrayed them all, and after having to kill scores of his own kinsmen, some of whom he knew personally. The real world tends to darken people’s halos and the game world has that same effect for WoW characters. A constantly good character just doesn’t hold up in a world where you have to torture someone to get the information you need or you come to a battlefield where all you can do for your side’s soldiers is put them out of their misery.

    By Rollandren on Jun 18, 2009 | Reply
  5. As an afterthought, I’ve noticed that sometimes the non-physical halo effect can be even more glaring than physical perfection. For this, it’s actually Draenei who tend to stick out the most, though a fair deal of this is imposed on them by their background. When you first delve into their story the Draenei are cast as so morally virtuous and right and wear halos to the point they suffer from “perfect and angelic and here to save us all from our sins” syndrome.

    This may just be bad experience on my own part. I’ve yet to see a single Draenei character or NPC who had a serious character flaw beyond pride, and then often it’s accidental and not meant by the player, just a result of them playing their idea of a perfect character. I’ve always grappled with this question when playing my own draenei, how to actually make him, well, believable and human.

    By Rollandren on Jun 18, 2009 | Reply
  6. @Rollandren:

    I think that’s part of what’s built into the class – that element of Pride – but I also don’t think it a problem with all Draenei RP, by far. Sure it affects some, but there are Mary Sue/Gary Stu types in all races.

    By Anna on Jun 18, 2009 | Reply
  7. Probably my favorite villain type is the suave, good-looking business person. It definitely goes against the “ugly is bad” stereotype and leads to some very interesting dynamics and interactions. I loathe movies and books who fall back on the “this guy has scars or this woman has un-feminine characteristics” just to show they’re evil. The most frightening villains are those who are indistinguishable from the good guys.

    It also kind of insults the reader or watcher to think they have to be told so blatantly where good and evil are to be found. It also cheapens the narrative because it doesn’t follow the adage of “show, don’t tell” because by having the villain wear his or her personality on their sleeve, then it’s all but telling the audience what to expect.

    A villain in a tailored suit, immaculately groomed, with an air of nonchalance is far more frightening than a humpbacked monster with googly eyes and a few scars.

    Beejs last blog post..Why Does Every New MMO Have to be a WoW Killer?

  8. I’ve always enjoyed playing Dandill the death knight. He once was a Blood Knight, and still tries so very hard to hold himself to that old code of morals and behavior. He fails quite often, but he tries so very hard. He’s terrified of losing his will to the Lich King a second time and desperate not to fall back into Arthas’ hands, to the point that he’s made Dorri’tow swear to make sure he can’t be raised again if he falls or to kill him if he “goes bad.”

    So far as the blood elf magic addiction goes…I think at least for him, being a death knight, that dependence has been subsumed into the death knight bloodlust, more or less. Personally, I think Dandy would far rather be addicted to magic than violence, but it’s not like he’s got much of a choice at this point.

  9. Where did the term “mary-sue” come from? Heh, its a perfect simile for its intended purpose.

    Y’know, character flaws would make for a great Friday 5 (assuming you havent done it already)

  10. Heh. I should definitely introduce you to my squidshammy Kalaanya,who is bitter as ALL HELL. Running her through Grangol’var Village was *fun*.

    Mommacows last blog post..Basic cat DPS, or “Hey! The MT told me you had catnip!”

  11. For what it’s worth (I love that phrase) it should be noted: Archetypes are not bad. They’re not. Heck, we at Blogatelle have a whole series of columns on how to have fun with archetypes, and I tend to build my characters as archetypes. They’re a useful shorthand and incredibly useful in role-play.

    The issue I have is that we have, in World of Warcraft, at least three races who are designed as noble, good, and butt-ugly. (Orcs, tauren and it seems dwarves.) And yet people apparently cannot see the former virtues because of the latter. I think this really is a problem for the universe if you’re role-playing it.

    Sean Rileys last blog post..The Last Days of Crank Fizzlepop

  12. No, archetypes aren’t necessarily bad (I do love me some Jung, Campbell, and Frye), but it takes a really creative spin to make the archetypes not appear stale. It’s like the old saying that cliches are cliches for a reason, and that’s true, but being able to use a cliche doesn’t bring any new insight to a subject. Being able to take an archetype and turn it on its head to do something new while not losing what is essential about it becomes a trick most people can’t fully appreciate or understand, so they’re used to seeing archetypes being equated with generic, cardboard characters instead of simply a foundation on which new stories and personas can be applied.

    Or that’s how I see it anyway.

    Beejs last blog post..Why Does Every New MMO Have to be a WoW Killer?

  13. @Shizukera — thankee!
    @Mac: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_sue#Etymology 🙂

    Laurens last blog post..Friday Fiction: What the Shadows Hide (part two)

  14. I don’t intend to imply it’s a problem with all Draenei RP. I do think their background does make it easier for a person to fall into something like this, of just being too constantly good with no visible flaws. I’ve met plenty of brilliant Draenei roleplayers, but every now and then I look at their race and I’m stuck thinking “there has to be a person somewhere in here who’s a total screwup, a whole race can’t avoid having at least one,” and never really finding one in their lore.

    By Rollandren on Jun 19, 2009 | Reply
  15. I do not understand why so many people make “good” blood elves.

    I love playing Dorritow and Keltyr. They’re what sterotypical Sin’dorei should be. They are not nice people, at least not in anyway we modern types would be.

    Itanya Blades last blog post..New Raid Analysis Tool

  16. @ Itanya: Exactly. Destril can pull off the “good” RP and I can buy it, largely because he’s a priest (I don’t think I’d buy the nice-guy vibe from a mage, and warlocks are Right Out), but the vast majority of blood elves I’ve liked are…amoral at best. Crazybelf is a total whatever-it-takes bitch, and she wasn’t any better back when she was sane.

    Mommacows last blog post..Basic cat DPS, or “Hey! The MT told me you had catnip!”

  17. …also, Rashona and Dorri would probably get along really, really well if they hadn’t had such an extremely unfortunate start. This scares me.

    Mommacows last blog post..Basic cat DPS, or “Hey! The MT told me you had catnip!”

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