The Frag Limit

Creating a Persona in Online FPS Games
August 8, 2012, 10:39 am
Filed under: Side Strafe | Tags: , , ,

Multiplayer FPS games have been around for some time now.  And over the years these games have done a number of different things to create different types of environments for gamers to create “online personas”.  Such things as name tags, clan tags, skins, mods and other customizations have allowed gamers to distinguish themselves in the gaming arena.  Typically, the more of this type of customization in any particular game has made gamers generally happier and more satisfied with the overall game experience of a game as this type of customization has allowed for players to say “this is me” and “this is what I can do”.  Classic games such as Return to Castle Wolfentstein and Quake 3 (among others) specifically allowed players to add a large number of different characters (such as !, $, *, :, ?) and a number of different colors to modify their names.  This, in addition to skins and mods, made these game very personal and unique for each and every player who played.

Moving along into more recent territory, FPS games now-a-days have almost altogether left behind player customization.  With the exception to a handful of games that let players buy or create their own skins, there are almost no games today that feature any kind of mod support to allow players to modify their skins as they see fit.  This is a huge change from the last generation of FPS games where modding was an important part to the overall game experience.   Likewise, games these days have almost altogether disallowed the modification of names and clan tags.  Almost all games these days force players to use a boring white text for their names and also force players to use a “standard” clan tag (for example, using only bracket’s instead of other special characters).  These things may seem relatively minor, but in comparison to the games of yesteryear, there is virtually no way to distinguish oneself inside the game world and this is very unfortunate.

Just comparing the differences between the two screenshots posted here (the screenshot above is from the new game Tribes: Ascend released in 2011 and the screenshot above that is from Return to Castle Wolfenstein released in 2001), one can immediately see the difference in naming convention and how that convention can change the “identity” of the unique individuals in each game.  While it may not seem like an incredibly important difference – and perhaps the screenshot where all the names are white may looks a little prettier – by simply allowing players more flexibility in creating their names, game designers also give players a huge amount of freedom in defining their own unique personalities.  One example is this; in the game Return to Castle Wolfenstein, players could modify their names and clan tags to reflect and adhere to an overall clan “theme”.  For example, there once was a clan called “WolfJeager” and their clan colors were mint green and black.  They used these colors because it was also the same colors that they used for their website, forum posts and other community sites.  Since WolfJeager maintained this consistency between every place they frequented, WolfJeager created a certain “online presence”.  And everywhere one saw the colors mint green and black in the world of RTCW, one immediately was aware that WolfJeager was around.  Unfortunately this type of scenario does not exist anymore do to the fact that colors and detailed name modification no longer exists in most mainstream games.

What I am getting at here is that customization is important.  What many game developers may see as “visual clutter” now-a-days was once considered an important way to support players and their unique identities.  By taking away the flexibility to customize one’s name – and even one’s appearance – games today forfeit the ability to give players a platform for individuality.  Hopefully, one day game developers will realize what has been lost and take the simple steps to remedy this unfortunate state of current affairs.