I am still finding it hard to believe that TSW only sold 200k, when I mentioned this little nugget of info to the guildies they were truly dumbfounded. Even though they were the same as me thinking it was a downright average mmo it did one thing exceptional well that has been echoed over and over, and that is the story. It has obviously been their main focus when creating the mmo (for better or worse) and their dedication shows in how well crafted it feels, how cohesive it is as a whole and how rich the the experience feels.
In creating a richer and more diverse environment then I have seen before the world feels far more immersive than I could have imagined, everything feels more real in a sense and it is only in part due to the modern day setting. The amazing attention to detail invites immersion, it is a world you want to explore, that you enjoy traversing. But above all that it is the wonderful characters inhabiting the world that make it something special.
Say what you want about the many monsters you can create from the uncanny valley but TSW lets you create a rather diverse bunch of human beings, with options of ethnicity and age well represented. The different facial styles have many flaws about them but in a way it becomes more indicative of how we really are. With the slider tools in customisation it is even quite possible to create something unique or close to what you imagined is possible, it isn’t APB good but it is decent. You are even able to create many looks that reasonably resemble people from the real world, be they some celebs in your usual trash mags or the person next door. Of course it would benefit from new options but on the whole it feels more realistic and robust.
In most of the genre there seems to be an aim of perfection in many character creators, usually being delegated to creating the equivalent of gods and goddesses, or porcelain dolls (looking at you GW2). While it seems natural to appeal to the general consensus of beauty, it can get a little stale especially in a genre like this where you spend exorbitant amounts of time with the same character. You want to feel invested, attached to your character, and eventually for it to feel like an extension of yourself and a doll doesn’t encourage this. While role playing with the perfect being I often find it a lot harder to connect with them as it is often the flaws in humanity that attract us the most.
My collection of pixels
In this way it feels rather refreshing that the options i have and what i can create a far more grounded in reality with many of its nuances. In a game that focus’s so heavily on interweaving your own character into a story it feels more immersive this way… an Adonis would just feel out of place.
At the moment my main character definitely seems to have some sort of Asian heritage about her and I really like that. When you walk around meeting people or even in the big gathering spots you see that there is so much diversity in peoples appearances. It makes the world feel alive (when population is large enough obviously) and more than your just surrounded by a collection of strange but overly similar pixels.
I read an article that RPS linked to a while ago and it was actually quite sobering, pointing the fact that our medium for the most part isn’t very inclusive of… Well anyone that’s not a western white guy. I really have to agree as our leading protagonists for decades have been the stereotypical western persona. Inclusion of gender, race, sexuality has been on the final frontier of gaming and relegated to the relatively niche indie crowd. If it has been brought into the general media it is usually nothing more then the token character, inclusion for inclusions sake and many times a persona that reeks of stereotyping.
We see some inclusive elements here and there such as darker skin colours in character select but often it is more of a deep tan rather than a diverse set not to mention that even in games such as Skyrim with very diverse character creator many racial options are often missing.
Love this Lady
Another issue I see a lot is that games which do broach various important subjects and themes often do so from a point removed from the subject matter in a way, as an outsider looking in and merely presenting a subject rather than exploring it. Dragon Age did this rather poorly with their elven characters; a reference to the Jews,or African Americans. There is no exploration involved just an empty metaphor, they showed a race wrapped in misery and yet they could have had a whole range of emotions involved; Strength, hope, despair, fear, and overcoming adversity would have been great to show and far more a reflection of the real scenario.
Guild Wars 2 missed a wonderful moment for gamers to reflect on with the relationship between Caithe and Faolain. It is hard to believe that everyone would be unfazed by the rather different relationship styles the Sylvari have, we have a world that has remained predominately heterosexual and then a new race with new ideals suddenly enters the mix. It would have been great to see that conflict from the other races and inherent emotions explored . They broached the subject from a wonderful lore standpoint but then leave it as a side story… Left it unexplored and were mostly playing it safe. Inclusion should be explored, not just characterized.
In TSW you have the unlikely duo of Sandy and Deputy Andy, a confession of love that is so earnest and heartfelt you can’t help but feel the emotion pouring out but it is more than that as well. They are not your stereotypical “queers”, they are fellow human beings from very different backgrounds filled with foibles and emotions. It makes you feel rather sad when you get that tinge of apprehension coming from social moors, unrequited adoration due to many factors. It leaves you thinking what if and even better than that it leaves you reflecting on your own views on sexuality and questioning them at the same time.
A rich Tapestry on TSW
When exploring through the areas of the secret world I always get the feeling that it just feels more real. It is a smaller environment than many but it is the first time I have had that feeling wherein I am not just looking at a painted backdrop with cut-out cardboard figures.
The environment has a small part to play, mostly though it is the rather cooky collection of characters on display. There is an amazing range of characters available that cover a fair amount of ethnicities and backgrounds which on its own is rare to see, and then you have in depth backgrounds to explore. Each of these main characters has a rich story, they have their own interests they attend to, glaring flaws, external and internal pressures they are trying to work around or with, and then lots and lots of baggage. It is a great view of human eccentricities and personal backgrounds you would never have even thought about.
It is all very inclusive with a wide spectrum of humanity included, and what’s more is they explore themes like ethnicity, gender, and sexuality well. There is no contrived token placements on offer just flesh and blood humans full of emotions. Nothing is hidden from the view of the public in mountains of lore but right there for everyone to witness. It is an epic drama of human emotion playing out for all to witness, the impact and the joy, sadness and courage that is there to make you think or even inspire.
The great story and writing feels very engaging from a character perspective but even as a cohesive whole across the different areas. The writing team has a great understanding of people and culture it seems which reflects on the immersive world. Even the story structure and themes are quite removed from the usual tropes, they are aware of them but twist and mold these to fit with the story, they are even so familiar with them they are able to poke fun highlighting the hilarity of such overused story elements.
A vast array of research and information has gone into creating the world and inhabitants. It is quite engaging to be involved with all these various myths, legends, cultures, and heritage. It breaks you out of your comfort and brings you information you may never even have contemplated from a point of view so far from your as to be completely alien, it is rather humbling in a sense and very interesting at times. They are just a team whom seem very grounded in reality with such a broad understanding of different cultures that could not have just come from a brief glance through a book or wiki but most likely from deep discussion and exploration.
What makes this far more though is that they seem unafraid to broach more meaningful subjects. I have seen sensitive subjects surrounding religion and culture as well as many different forms of discrimination being explored. Sam Krieg offers some of the most poignant statements regarding western culture I have really ever heard in a game, it is a complete expose of ourselves and the families we come from.
And then we have beautiful stories about love and about family. The Dracolesti in Transylvania are a heartwarming bunch that although may argue and fight occasional love each other unconditionally and would do absolutely anything to protect each other.
Breaking the Stereotypical Molds
Everyone you meet has a story to tell from their own point of view guided in part by complex background. A myriad of internal, external and environmental pressure that have exerted themselves to make them who and what they are. They have their own interests to attend to, with wants and needs which reflect their situation, in this regard it is far easier to understand them and make more informed decisions regarding these characters. It is no longer just a quest giver your meeting but a reflection of something real, a person with a name.
My adoration goes even further though as they have extended this by having a diverse collection of people from a variety of backgrounds. They have strayed so far with what and who is your typical person, hero, and villain that they take on a life of their own, even when some do embody the norm you have an understanding of the underlying factors. They have then used this inherent understanding to deconstruct some very common stereotypes.
Scrapyard Edgar is a very good example of this and the part of the Redneck is played so well that I have even read of people swearing off his dialogue and skipping cut scenes. He is very crude and has a harsh in your face attitude but in the end you come to realise he is merely a product of his experience. Some very tragic events while young, a mother and father whom had abandoned him, and then a town that has ostracized him because of who he is. While at first you may not think he is upset about any of it the cracks start peeking through the more you hear. An emotional torrent comes out of anger at abandonment and discrimination, of sadness at being abandoned and left out, and then just being thankful at those whom treat him well. I feel so sorry for him at times and wish I could give him a pixelated hug, and then I am uplifted at the courage he has shown to make it this far.
I also really like the story of the Transylvania secret lovers, Emilia and Octavian. They exude so much warmth towards each other that it makes you soo happy. The have found their soul mate regardless of what of the social rules regarding age, it just doesn’t matter to them enough for it to break them apart. They have however kept their love a relative secret as social pressures are obviously playing a part, her father is very insistent of her not spending time with the old man and his stories. He doesn’t even know and although it is not enough to keep her from seeing him it is enough to keep their live contained to a cabin. Milosh claims Octavian only want her companionship for her beauty but she is not convinced of this and it is clear in his voice that his caring is far more deep.
Emilia and Octavian sitting in a tree
One of my favourite points about TSW right now though is the abundance of powerful women.. its just so refreshing. We have Sheriff Bannerman being in charge of survivors, Carter whom although overwhelmed is embracing her gift and gaining courage, Maya the fierce intelligent leader of a guerilla force, Ampario Osario leading the forces of the Council of Venice and many more great characters from different backgrounds. They all have strong personalities that have enabled them to break through social stigma even though it is an ever present pressure. And bringing these characters to the fore shows a commitment to breaking down the tired trope of woman being meek, needing saving, or some sort of sexual symbol is just brilliant… Kudos.
I guess after all that this is probably a shameless plug for TSW, it deserved better than it got and although it doesn’t have an epic IP or large scale mass appeal it is a great game to play. It is a hard sell though as to really enjoy it you have to just take your time, giving it an hour here and there.. play it like your average mmo and your very likely to burn out. The story is probably worth it regardless of whether you like mmo’s but when you are putting down that upfront cost plus the monthly expense it becomes a rather difficult decision as there really is so much else out there and coming out that is also worth the purchase and may have more entertaining gameplay. Whatev’s