Best of 2012! Gaming Identity: Square Enix and the Self

Bradly discusses how character classes define the way we play MMOs ahead of Dragon Quest X‘s upcoming release.

By Bradly Halestorm. Posted 12/26/2012 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Dragon Quest X masthead

The notion of a class, or job, in an MMO is what makes playing with friends and linking up with other players so exciting. You have a defined role in a group of people and you are responsible for something no one else is. And, at the end of the day, I think we, as humans, all want to be responsible for something. In the game world, it’s no different. We want to feel important. We want to be praised for a skill set we’ve fine-tuned to near perfection. We want to be able to express our uniqueness by the class in which we’ve chosen to play. It takes a certain type of person to play a tanking character in an MMO, just as it takes a specific kind to play a character that does not engage in combat, but rather heals those that do. Whether if it’s in the real world or the game world, we all want to feel like we are different from others on some level– that we have qualities others don’t.

Dragon Quest X screenshot
Character customisation looks set to be an integral aspect of Dragon Quest X. Just check out those ears!

It’s this very concept that appears to be fading from the MMO scene, and I can only assume for means of providing ease and accessibility. Unfortunately, while accessibility generates a much more flexible experience for the player, it also sacrifices individuality amongst players if suddenly they can swap jobs on-the-fly without penalty. If nothing else, being able to do this shows us that our decisions in the game carry with them zero consequence. If we don’t like our warrior character, we can quickly change to something else. Regrettably, in doing this, impulsive or ill-thought out decision making is reinforced, or perhaps even encouraged to an extent. While this sounds trivial, or exaggerated, with as much time as we are spending in games these days, we are without question developing and learning much about ourselves from them. If we are shown that our decisions do not hold cost or weight in the game, we may begin to carry that logic out into the real world.

Such a dilemma was prevalent in another Square Enix MMO that released a few years ago– to much criticism, mind you– Final Fantasy XIV. FFXIV was unique in a number of ways, most notably because of its capacity to allow players to change their character’s class whenever they want. With the ability to change from one class to another by simply equipping a specific weapon, one can go from damage-dealer to healer to tank with just a few clicks of the mouse. I can imagine Square did this for sake of the aforementioned accessibility, but probably also to keep the gameplay refreshing and dynamic.

By giving us all the ability to excel at any class at any time takes this factor of social individuality out of the equation almost entirely. In other words, classes allow us to feel unique, and even needed at times, insofar as others are dependent on our trade just as we are dependent on others’ areas of expertise in certain scenarios. Much like the real world, a doctor must consult a plumber when the pipes in his bathroom are not working properly, and a plumber must visit a doctor when he is ill. This system creates a balance in the world– and if we really think about it, it allows for each person to be especially proficient in one area, making them just as valuable as the next person no matter their job title or job prestige. In my opinion, we, as people, need classes. We need them to have a sense of belongingness. We need to feel valued. We need it on a fundamental, humanistic level. Regardless of whether we’re in a virtual world, or the real one, feeling important is vital to our emotional well-being. Classes, well, they can provide us with all of that.

Final Fantasy XIV Screenshot
In many ways, Final Fantasy XIV traded emotional involvement for gameplay accessibility.

Dragon Quest X is such an exciting title to me because, in many ways, it promises to preserve the individualized experience of an MMO. I love the idea that I may be able to run around in the game’s vibrant world as a specific type of person, or character. Players may be able to automatically recognize me as a tank based upon my weapon and gear loadout, race I’ve chosen, or my general appearance that’s tantamount with being a character that takes damage so that others don’t have to. Or that people will instantly identify and equate me with a healing role, seeing my lute-playing minstrel cruising on by in-town. Dragon Quest X has the chance to maintain a bit of tradition amidst all the other stuff it’s doing that appears to be new and exciting.

On consoles especially, which haven’t been bombarded with MMOs to the point that developers have to deviate from the norm simply to be recognized, an MMORPG that sticks to conventions and to what made the genre such a hit in the first place sounds ironically refreshing. Forcing players to choose a class at the beginning of a game grants players the opportunity to find a niche and become well-versed in an area not all others will be. Thus, taking away a player’s ability to be an individual, giving everyone the chance to be anything, actually limits what we can be in the end. Here’s hoping Dragon Quest X takes this idea of a standard class system, and runs with it, allowing me to have a sense of gaming identity again.

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