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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