My imaginary friends

Chatting online with a former guildie a few days ago, I had a revelation: Not every WoW player is emotionally invested in their characters.

Who knew?

This former guildie — an excellent hunter when I raided with him — told me he was so dissatisfied with Legion hunter changes that he had deleted his main hunter and switched to a Mage. I happen to know his hunter had been his first ever WoW character, and he had played it for several years. Yet, apparently, he had no qualms or even second thoughts about ditching it when he was dissatisfied with it. He mentioned the change more or less in passing, as if he were commenting on the weather.

As I tried to wrap my brain around the idea of summarily executing a longtime character, I realized I was guilty of the particular mental bias known as mirror imaging: the tendency to believe that others operate on the same set of experiences and values that you do. This was a surprise to me, because in my professional life I usually go to great lengths to avoid this kind of bias, almost never assuming a shared set of values or motivations in those I interact with. Yet here I was, more or less assuming that this former guildie harbored the same emotional bond to his virtual characters as I do for mine.

No great conclusions from this, just an interesting personal revelation I suppose. But it did cause me to give some thought to the way I approach my WoW characters. I’ll try not to repeat things I have said in previous posts, because I have written about alts quite a bit (you can use the blog search function using the terms “alt play” or “kick-ass” if you want a few examples), but I was able to observe some things about myself and my alts.

First, I am not at all averse to trying out new alts and quickly deleting them if I get bored. Generally, I have no qualms at all about deleting a “test” class after a few days. I think a little longer about deleting it if I have leveled past about 60 — and I think a LONG time if I have completely leveled it up — but still if I don’t enjoy playing the class I will dump it. (There are some exceptions noted below.) Over the years I have probably created and deleted something like 50-60 characters — various classes, specs, races and on various servers — not a huge number, but significant. I find I tend to more easily delete melee classes, along with non-damage dealers. I am more apt to keep a hoofless Alliance ranged damage dealer than any other combination.

Second, I do actually develop an emotional investment in some of my characters. I am not sure what triggers this, as it does not always happen. Certainly one factor is the amount of time I have had the character, combined with my overdeveloped sense of loyalty. I had a mage that I almost never played but that I could not bring myself to delete, due to my twisted thinking that I had mistreated her for years by making her my bank alt and never letting her get out in the world and do fun stuff. Eventually I leveled her to 100 in WoD, ran a few LFRs with her, got her some smart transmog outfits, etc. When I did finally bring myself to delete her late in WoD, I felt so guilty about it that I leveled up another mage as a kind of penance. Even though I am terrible at playing a mage and really do not enjoy it. Like I said, twisted.

For a number of complicated reasons not worth mentioning here, I have two hunters — my main, of course, as well as another one. The other one was my main for years, and she was my very first character in WoW. I cannot even think about ever deleting her, whether or not she ever again gets much game play. I use the flimsy excuse that I need her skills as a miner and jewel crafter, but honestly so far in Legion those professions for me have not been worth leveling up.

I am particularly devoted to my gnome destro warlock, though again I would be hard pressed to say why. I don’t especially favor the current turret-style of game play. Still, I think of her as a tiny furious dynamo, kicking ass and taking names, and don’t anyone dare to call her “cute” (although she really is).

I don’t have as much of an emotional attachment to my other alts who are at or above level 100. I am pretty sure, for example, that I will eventually delete my Demon Hunter and my Paladin. I just do not like their play styles, and I have not had them long enough to develop any kind of relationship with them. I will, however, almost certainly keep my druid, monk, mage (sigh), and rogue (whom I rather grew to like in WoD and who is my only male alt). I expect I will eventually level them all to 110, whether or not I actually spend much time playing or gearing them up, or even developing their professions (too daunting in Legion). I retain the hope that the next expansion will be kinder to alts.

Third, I find myself incapable of making characters antithetical to my real life values. I know there are people who enjoy exploring alternate lifestyles and personalities when they create virtual characters, but I cannot bring myself to do so. I simply cannot invest my characters with personalities that are mean or swaggering or deceitful or sneaky, because I would be horrified if I discovered such traits in myself in real life. I admit some of them are a bit vain, some tend to be quite judgemental, and a couple can tend towards bossiness — but, well, *sheepish grin*.

Fourth and last, I am continually amazed at how “immersed” I let myself be in my characters. My logical brain knows they are nothing more than imaginary constructs — not unlike the imaginary friends I concocted when I was a child — made up of magnetic media clumping up to form ones and zeroes (more specifically, not-ones). They have no reality, no personality, no existence in the classic meaning. But part of the game experience requires a willingness to believe in magic, to suspend logic. Apparently, I have a real talent for this, an observation that makes me both proud and uneasy.

How about you? Anyone else have an emotional relationship with their WoW characters?

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

6 Responses to My imaginary friends

  1. Mobhunter says:

    I absolutely understand your emotional investment in a character that at the end of the day really only exists because we believe that it does. That said, the way my investment has played out is different from you.

    I still main the same hunter that I first rolled at launch. (I did race-change him when Worgen were first out from being a dwarf. I’m still mixed on that choice, but the racial at that time was just too good to pass up.) For the first ten or so years, he was the only character I’d ever played. I had a full set of level one bank alts, but they lived only to serve the main. I only wanted to play him. I still only want to play him. His name is Sron and I’d rather make Sron 1% better than level an alt from 1-110… which, of course, is way more than a 1% increase. Alt-lovers don’t understand this. My best game friends don’t understand this. I do get whey they would want to try something new. It just isn’t how I think. Maximizing return on one thing is much more “important” to ticking my own mental boxes than a much greater level of “total return” spread across more options.

    The reason is in large part emotional. Sron is still the only character I care about at all and I care about him a great deal.

    I now have six other max-level characters. The first alt was a warlock that I regret every moment. I don’t regret having an alt. I regret it not being a hunter. The other five are hunters. I will likely have more alts at some point. Those too will all be hunters. I want the play style to be exactly the same. I want the experience to be exactly the same. Why, because it is efficient and ultimately easier.

    This makes sense because the only reason my alts exist is to make Sron (even a tiny bit) better. Just like those level one bank alts, I simply see them as — for lack of a better term — slaves. I am not emotionally invested in them at all. They exists to hunt mounts each week for Sron, to get him mats, to make him money. I did give them all actual names. The level one alts were all SronA, SronB, SronC, but that was ultimately more confusing when I wasn’t simply logging into them for storage space.

    I’ll probably never delete them, even that blasted warlock. Not because I care about them, but because of their investment of time. I value the work, the time. Still, if a GM walked up and told me that he’d give Sron one of the stupid rare mounts I’ve been unable to get for years if I’d only delete X-hunter, that hunter would evaporate faster than you can say SronB. And I’d never miss it.

    Now, since I’m sounding so far like the machines in the Matrix, I’ll say that I absolutely adore Sron. I’d quite the game if I couldn’t play him because it wouldn’t be the same emotionally. The hunter I’d be playing — that played exactly the same — wouldn’t be the same. Illogical, but totally true.

    I’m the same way with long-term hunter pets. As a last resort, I will let pets go. And there have been occasions where I later need/want that same pet back. Still, I never give them the same name. The new pet fills the role. I may even like the pet. But it isn’t the same.

    While I’ve bitched as much as anyone and perhaps more than most about the hunter changes in Legion, I still decided that if I was going to play the game, I wanted to remain a hunter. The support classes just are not for me… and all of the other classes are support classes! I don’t honestly know how I’d feel if I decided to play, say, a rogue and have a new main. Would I start to see Sron as the slave to this new toon? I don’t think so, but who knows. I hope Blizzard saves hunters and never forces me to choose weather or not I want to play Sron. #SaveSron

    As always, I appreciate your posts. Thanks for writing.

    • Fiannor says:

      Fun comment to read, thanks. As I alluded to in the post, I am fascinated by how others view their characters, both mains and alts, because quite often it differs from my own approach.

      I absolutely get where you are coming from on hunters, though. For a brief period prior to Legion going live, I thought about maining my druid or warlock because of what I perceived to be the annihilation of hunters as a class. But after just a moment’s reflection, I came down exactly where you are — if I keep playing this game, it will be as a hunter, come hell or high water. The day I decide I can no longer play my hunter as a main is the day I quit the game.

      For pets, I am kind of a wolf/worg freak. My alt hunter — former main — always levels with her first long term pet, a grey worg named BB (short for Big Bad). Generally, I am not a big hunter pet collector, but I have a lot of wolves, including spirit ones, and a couple of other rare pets such as Arcturis, that intrigued me. I spent almost 3 years trying to get Skoll, and I finally did near the end of WoD. So I have a few pets I could never think of letting go, and I have a couple that retain some raid utility, but most of them are merely expedient now for cosmetic purposes. But I agree with you that even when you “replace” a pet, it is not the same, and I, too, never give them the same name.

  2. Grumsta says:

    My social background before computer gaming was the dice-and-paper FRPGs such as RuneQuest and D&D. I came to WoW because I needed that social gaming itch stratching: playing solo just isn’t the same, however much I enjoyed games like Morrowind.

    My first WoW character was a Dwarf warrior that I originally dreamed up in 1981 for the RQ “Griffin Mountain” campaign. His full name was “Flint Westrock” (aka the Dwarf with no name) but that just got shortened to Westrock for WoW as Flint was already taken. I really enjoyed playing him in WoW, and I got him his Legendary cloak in MoP (his greatest achievement). For that reason alone I wouldn’t delete him. However I was awful in raids with melee so I rolled a Mage, and he’s retired in his Pandaren farm. He was very much part of that xpac, and it was my first. Too many happy memories: he’ll never be deleted.

    Vax’Thel (yes, pretentious and pointless apostrophes have been around as long as me and Anne McCaffrey) was a D&D Illusionist that was my favourite character by far in that game, so he morphed into a Fire Mage for WoW sans pretentious apostophe. He’s Human in WoW because he was in D&D, and he’ll stay as my main because I love playing ranged (and I’m actually getting reasonably good at it now) and he’s a no-brainer choice to do rep grinds on due to the racial bonus and simply getting around in the world.

    Those two are the only ones I have any emotional investment in, and as that dates back some 35 years: there’s a fair bit of nostalgia and other baggage along for the ride too 😀

    I have boosted a Fire mage troll to experience the Horde perspective with a friend’s guild on a different server, but really she’s an alter-ego of my main.

    As Mobhunter says my other alts are there purely to support my main (the playstyle that you’ve previously identified as the one that gets the big scowl from Blizz). I do give them names but they don’t tend to be very serious ones. They provide enchants, gems, bags and tomes for my main, and bring in gold / rep tokens from missions.

    I am however acutely aware after WoD that I need to maintain a few alternatives in case Blizz change the playstyle of a class or spec to the point where I can’t or don’t want to play it. At the start of WoD I abandoned my Mage for my Hunter until I learned how to play Arcane, and then switched back again. I spent all of BRF and early HFC playing catch-up, but as HFC was around for so long it didn’t really make too much difference in the end. I’m very glad to back as a Fire Mage in Legion, but aware and ready in case that isn’t feasible anymore.

    • Fiannor says:

      Wow, now THAT’S history with a character.

      Your point about maintaining a few alts in the wings just in case Blizz really demolishes your main’s class or spec is worth considering as a strategy, even if it is kind of a sad commentary about Blizz’s commitment to players. I have said if I feel like I can no longer play a hunter, I will quit the game. But if I am brutally honest with myself, I am not so sure I would be ready to do that any time soon — I think the escapism and fun of the game might in the end outweigh my attachment to a class. But no matter what, I would never delete my hunters or my little kick-ass warlock or even my stable, reliable druid.

      I tend to like to play my alts half and half — partly as a support system to my main (shhhh, don’t tell Hazzikostas), and partly just as a fun way to see the game from another perspective. I loved Mists because I thought it gave me the ideal environment for doing both these things with alts. I even got all but one of them (my poor neglected mage) the legendary cape, they all maxed out their professions and made me decent gold, and I actually played them nearly every week either while chasing the cape or cranking out dailies on Timeless Isle. Sadly, Legion has pretty much made that play style impossible.

      I chuckled at your mentions of apostrophe use — yep, I deserve some digs on that. But I am not backing down from my position! Linguists of the world, unite against this pernicious threat!

  3. The longer I play a character and the more adventures we’ve had; the more attached I become. I remember that great save or that goofy falling off a cliff or a long grind for netherwing drakes and associate those experiences with that character. It would be a shame to think back to an adventure and not have the character around to represent the event.

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