On Characters as Projects vs. Avatars


I have struggled with Hunters for a while. I’ve managed to get one up to 19, twink her a little bit, but lost interest pretty quickly. I’ve rolled easily a half-dozen hunters, enjoyed them for a night or two, and then … nothing. Laurana the archer with her pet wolf, Tanis? Deleted. Cynwagon, the feisty draenei who went into battle yelling “Praise the Light and pass the ammunition!” Deleted. Cyndershot, the blood elf with McSpeedy the turtle?

Okay, well, she’s still around, because how could you possibly delete a turtle named McSpeedy? But she’s kinda stuck at level 15.

Like a lot of young kids, I started off thinking the Ranger class in AD&D was about the coolest class you could possibly roll. (1st edition, naturally, before Drizzt had his way with it.) I had a half elf named… Fangorn? I think it was Fangorn. He became a demigod. I had a bow that shot lightning bolts, like on the TV show. I was 10, and Fangorn was the coolest thing I could possibly think of.

I was 10. Come on. Like you don’t have similar stories.

I grew up, my characters became more nuanced, and – somewhat surprisingly – I never really returned to the ranger class. I’d think I’d want to play a ranger, but I’d wind up going with something like an illusionist or an enchantress or a straight up, plain old fighter with longsword specialization. I think my last D&D character was a somewhat quirky sorcereor who worked as a cook in an inn who got drafted into a passing army. There was a nasty bit with some undead and he very seriously considered trying out the path of the paladin because the undead freaked him out so much.

There’s about 20 years between Fangorn and that cook. There are a lot of characters rolled for a single game in that time. It started as the wish-fulfillment version of my ten year old self to a very separate personality who shared some common traits with me.

I rolled an orc huntress the other day. I had been thinking out loud about what to roll next, and orc hunter surprisingly appealed to me. The racial abilities are good, but the gestalt of the archetype I think drew me to the specific choice. The act of rolling her, though, was prompted by a Twitter conversation by frequent posters of the New Players and Guides forums lamenting the influx of F2P posts in their boards, asking the same questions over and over again, complaining about the limits of the F2P accounts. Someone innocently suggested that perhaps they should all roll level 24 twinks to allow them to take out their frustrations against the F2P crowd while maintiaining a civil tone on the board.

Level 24 twink? Something that hunters would be good at? Okay, let’s give it a try! So I rolled Discyngage solely for this project – a level 24 (paid account) twink to go compete against F2P players. Let’s see how the real twinks do against the free accounts!

(She has a pig named BustaSwines. because I have Hunter Rap Boars on my mind. I think I love this character, it’s so absurd!)

Dis and Busta have a goal, a target. I know what I’m doing with them, it’s different from other things I’m doing, it doesn’t really overlap at all – it’s a good, solid project.


So I realized, somewhere along the way, I’ve started thinking about my WoW characters as projects, not avatars.

That list I posted had a column in it I wasn’t sure I should have put in at the time – each character’s purpose. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, about how I really get uncomfortable having characters who duplicate roles and activities. It’s not class duplication or variety that I look for, but rather activites I’d like to do, and characters who fit that activity. Cynwulf was to be my Dalaran banker, instead he has become my gathering toon for when I’m on the treadmill. That’s it – I fly around zones with him and make gold while burning calories. I’m surprisingly content with this.

This is a somewhat radical departure from my relationship with Cynwise, who – out of all my characters, is the only one that I have considered my avatar, the representation of me. Not in terms of personality, or role playing – but rather, in a sense of her accomplishments should mirror mine. Your estimation of her as a character reflected upon me, I thought. This is what’s behind a lot of my crazy obsession with thinking about achivements – the reason I want(ed) to get all the PvP achivements on her, and not someone else, was because that would be equivalent to me getting it on me.

Let me give an example. There’s this achievement in Arathi Basin, Resilient Victory, which requires you to come from behind a 500 point deficit. It’s really really hard to get through 85 pugging – it involves a lot of coordination, of people willing to stop at one base, let them get behind, and then forcibly come out and flip it from 1-4 to 4-1 to win. It’s really hard.

I have it on Cynwulf, back from when he was playing the level 59 bracket. I’ve had it for a while on him, actually. It was easier back then, since the resources went up to 2000, but still – I have it.

It drives me nuts that I have it on an alt. An alt I don’t even PvP on anymore. Argh!

Step back and think about that. As a player, I was able to complete the task required for an achievement. But since it’s not on the character I consider me, it’s like I don’t have it at all.

I have about 75k Honorable Kills across all my characters, including the deleted ones. But I only have, what, 42k on Cynwise? Obviously, I haven’t really gotten 50k HKs then, because I lack the achivement! Grind more! I have a lot of Silverwing Sentinels reputation, but I’m only Honored with Cynwise – better get to winning, slacker!

The avatar paradigm is not a bad one to use in WoW, by the way. Especially when you’re starting the game, it’s very easy to define a character as “this is the lens through which I see the game.” I think I used that exact phrase to describe Cynwise last year.

But more and more, I’ve started thinking of my characters as projects.

My first side project was ‘wulf, who started off life as “let’s see what a DK is like” and ended up as “let’s have an option for when I need to blow off steam but endgame BGs are really sucking wind.” Having an OP toon who I could switch to was great – I knew when I could use him, but he never competed with my main character.

When I leveled him, both to 80 and again through Cata, I found myself lost with ‘wulf. Who was he, why did I have him? My almost-deletions of him became a usual thing, until – finally – I hooked up my computer to my treadmill so I could do something relatively mindless in game – gathering was good, and Cynwulf was my best Miner – and distract myself from the tedium of walking in place while making some gold.

Hey, ‘wulf, let’s burn some calories and gather ore!

As long as Cynwulf has a purpose, I’m content with him. When he doesn’t, he becomes a potential avatar, and then I freak out about him.

It was sobering to realize that this reasoning is one of my primary impulses behind deleting a character. I look at the server login screens and feel this overwhelming sense of alt guilt looking at my characters – omg you need to be trained and you need to be leveled and you need to have achivements and I should be grinding achivements on ‘wise – which then makes me go, okay, focus in on a few avatars, try to get them up and running, delete the rest.

But that hasn’t really worked out for me.

When a character has a defined purpose and set, limited goals, the compulsion to do more is gone. Cynderblock has been really good in helping me realize this – I have been slowly grinding out some of the Cata zones on her, not because I want the gear, but because it’s nice to quest on her. She’s an awesome tank, available when I need to run someone’s lowbie alt through 15-22, but otherwise she exerts no pressure. I don’t like PvPing on her particularly, so I don’t feel like I have to grind out honor points on her. I don’t feel like chasing 4k achievement points on her, so I stopped doing dailies. She’s fun but limited, and defined.

The more I treat characters as projects with defined goals and purposes, the happier I am to see them on the login screen. If I want to do X, hopefully I have a character ready to do X – whatever that is. If not, maybe I should make a character to do X.

It’s important for me to remember that while I might be known as Cynwise, the actual character isn’t me. She doesn’t – can’t – shouldn’t – represent the sum total of my accomplishments.

That’s not fair to me, nor is it fair to her.



Filed under Cynwise's Field Notes

2 responses to “On Characters as Projects vs. Avatars

  1. Bubbles

    This is an interseting way to look at things, as She Of The Flopping Mains.In my case, I think I’ve just collected them all up as “me’. I am a paladin and a death knight and a priest and a hunter. I ma a tank and a healer and someone who will freeze the flesh from your bones and my best freinds are a cat and a devilsaur.Some of them will have mounts/pets/achievements the others never will. But, they’re all me. I suppose as a writer I’m used to the idea of multi-faceted me. I AM ALL THE CHARACTERS.

  2. Cynwise of Stormwind

    @Bubs:I think that’s actually a great way to go about doing it. I’m slowly learning to let go of the old way and try to be all the characters. It’s been an interesting process. 🙂