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Character Identity and Collecting–A Response to Cyn

August 15, 2011

There are two very different viewpoints being expressed here. On the one side there’s uniqueness, even if expressed via commonly-accessible items. A character is a character, this is who they are, they aren’t all things to all people.
On the other side, there’s the character as a representation of ourselves, of our sum accomplishments in game. Tension happens when we invest ourselves in a character like this, but also great things can happen with deep investment.

But it leaves me wondering about all the titles I’ve collected on Cynwise, and who she is, really.

Cynwise closes On Titles, Character Uniqueness, and the Collecting Instinct, a case study on his level 70 warrior twink’s affinity for the Argent Crusade, with this puzzle. Something about questing in the Plaguelands, narrative-driven zones, resonated with Ashwalker, even though such heavy-handed zones can alienate other characters, as I touched upon in the previous post. He compares his single-mindedly focused twink with the expansive collecting habits of some of his other toons, trying to fuse these polar opposites together.
I can relate to Cyn: my alts collect a very narrow perimeter of items, some unique, some not, while my main has an impressively bloated collection of pretty much everything. I’ve written about some of my collecting habits, most recently in my profession guide at Wowhead: it’s an intricate puzzle to find items nobody but yourself can see. I’ve also been rereading many of Margaret Atwood’s works this weekend; the theme of remembering the past and the fickleness of memory, especially after a cultural upheaval, has always appealed to me.

And as such, I made another unholy alliance of Fine Literature and WoW, using some quotes by pensive characters to illustrate these perspectives.

The nutcracker shaped like an alligator, the lone mother-of pearl cuff link, the tortoiseshell comb with missing teeth. The broken silver lighter, the saucerless cup, the cruet stand minus the vinegar. The scattered bones of home, the rags, the relics. Shards washed ashore after shipwreck. The Blind Assassin

Hang on to the words,” he tells himself. The odd words, the old words, the rare ones. Valance. Norn. Serendipity. Pibroch. Lubricious. When they’re gone out of his head, these words, they’ll be gone, everywhere, forever. As if they had never been. Oryx and Crake

One narrator clings to a handful of broken familiar mementos to illuminate a forgotten story, the other is determined to remember everything out of fear of extinction. Both angles illustrate the motivations of of my collecting characters.

Alts: Character Portraits

Faust of the Nightfall. She’s got the AQ20 set with Anathema, never set to Benediction. created in the last week before its removal. Eris, goddess of discord, we salute you. A striking silhouette in Shadow form, the AQ regalia mixes spiky tiaras with blood-red paneled gowns. None of the elves wear such an outfit in current times. So she does.

She’s also collected tier 6, viewed as the iconic set for shadow priest with blindfolded angels for shoulderpads in sombre blue. The felpuppy-on-a-stick doesn’t suit her though, and neither does priest-on-a-stick, too gilded. She collects some items based on their words–Highborne, Lorekeeper, Hellfire.

Her title doesn’t change, along with her companion pet, a sprite darter collected in the final days of Wrath. In Cataclysm, the pet is a low droprate, but previously, you protected an egg, taking care of the hatchling in a touching quest series. Her mount doesn’t change either: I ground out a Winterspring Frostsaber in the interim period between the bleeding vanilla grind and the simplified Cata dailies.

She has a quiet appreciation for luxury that was always right out of her grasp; once free of the walls of Eldre’Thelas, she’ll take what she’s longed for, however antique to others. She avoids the unfamiliar.

Aconae, Guardian of Cenarius. She relishes her imperfect freedom–it beats wandering as a ghost in Silithus or forced to serve the Lich King. She knows everyone stares because her hair is violent pink, her lips black, and her skin bloodless. She knows she dresses a bit garishly, especially for a Sentinel, and the thought that her actions deliberately annoy others makes her gleeful, after so many years of forced servitude.

She’s got a few harness-n-kilt tops. She’s used to the hot sun in the Silithus desert, why clad herself in heavy saronite? A giant sword from Ahn Qiraj, a fiery mace. A crafted blue weapon, Corruption, that has negative stats. An assortment of tops, crafted from Blacksmithing recipes no longer in the game.

A cloth kilt from Icecrown Citadel, paired with a harness from Horde vendors and a halo from Black Temple. A chestpiece requiring an obscene amount of ore, with a leather kilt from the Kurenai, and Sulfuras, a happy accident when tagging along to Molten Core. Trinkets celebrating her loyalty to the Mithril Order; they summon an epic hammer, when used. A Black War Talbuk, subtly different from the reputation mounts, finished when I was grinding patterns in Nagrand.

She has a glaive in the bank, from a pug Black Temple run, but it doesn’t suit her.

Starcaller Lacrymosa. The non-elf of the bunch, she’s a cheerful warlock enlisted by the Darkmoon Faire to tell fortunes, mend the tents, and swindle the rich out of their unearned gold. She didn’t want to stay forever in Redridge, but she also didn’t want to learn demonic secrets in Stormwind basements. So she, representing my policy about alts and raiding, is content to acknowledge her limitations and look good on the side. She’ll summon a few demons to terrify the crowd and will cast Hellfire if someone is too close for comfort, but that’s about it.

She’s got the removed .5 dungeon set, a teal-blue recolor of the cloth heirloom gear. No intimidating helm for her though, only quirky engineering goggles, including the rosy-pink ones from Sunwell. She’s got a bit of the level 60 PvP gear, a bit of tier 1. I swore in BC I’d roll a warlock to get it tier 6, but I never have.

She’s done all the warlock quests, also removed from the game. She’s got her Soul Harvester, her Shard of the Green Flame, her Xorothian Glyphs ready for a removed ritual.

When I transferred servers, three years ago, it was right after the fireworks. She filled one bank tab with explosives and another with Firewater, which remain in her invetory years later, bag space be dammed. There’s also a stack of nature protection potions. Hearthing to Orebor Harborage, someone opened trade and wished me good luck, claiming to be an anonymous friend of the raid leader. I forgot to use them, but we killed Lady Vashj for the first time that night.

A former bank alt, I didn’t want to give up on her, but the leveling was difficult. With a curlier hairstyle and recolor closer to my own, something clicked and she became a bit of my alter ego–an outsider that ran off to the carnival.

And then, the prodigal black sheep as always, there is Perc, with too many titles.

Collecting Puzzles: Perc

On the surface, Perc’s overflowing bank can be attributed to her profession. She is a spy. She needs disguises.

But she doesn’t exist of her own free will; she’s a creation of me, the player. Her determination to go on undercover missions century after century is a product of my imagination, one that didn’t want a simple character, but a questionable ancient one. Her need to constantly investigate comes from my need, as the player, to say Yes. I remember this. It was so memorable, I personalized it. You removed it from the game, but I remember.

As I covered in my last post, the face of WoW’s playerbase has changed. There’s a dwindling pool of people who will remember warlock tanks, BiS gear for rogues with strength, or the hours spent farming and stacking consumables in an era of guild cauldrons. When I collect something, or hesitate to trash an old item in my bank–it’s partially because I fear I’ll forget. Hover over an item and I can tell you a backstory behind it; but I can’t name you any of the items I’ve deleted in the past year.

My bank includes the following:

  • Look-alike tier in an increasing age of homogenized outfits: druid t8, druid t6, priest t11, priest t6, warlock t10, caster t12.
  • Most of the rogue tier sets–save for tier 5, until they were available with currency.
  • Gear once known for being overpowered I don’t have the heart to delete: The AQ 20 weapon set, the Aged Core Leather Gloves, the Skulldugger’s Leggings.
  • A set of rings from Zul’Gurub, the moment when I realized that epics weren’t necessarily the best option, although good for status symbols. “One for sorrow, one for joy.”
  • Some gear from the green dragons–a dress, a dagger, a weapon, some pants.
  • Weapon pairs: Runesword of the Red from AQ with the Chromatically Tempered Sword, the orange maces from Black Temple, the dragontooth blades from green dragons and BWL, the tier 5 canopener daggers in red and green, two Blades of Savageries, celestial daggers from tier 8.
  • Sylvanas’ fishing coin and her ring from Kael’thas.
  • A Battered Steam Tonk Controller that was too touching too delete.
  • A spellpower neck from original Naxx. A green-quality shirt, my first reward from the AQ war efforts. The Breastplate of Bloodthirst, my first epic.
  • The Songbird Blouse, now +14 stats instead of +13.

The one thing I did not save was her Certificate of Thievery. A real rogue would not leave such traces.

Perc’s collecting habits, an extension of her personality, reflect a larger need to record history. Her items are souvenirs of past events, mementos that unlock a collective memory or springboard a new essay. I don’t view her character as scattered, but one with a very sharp focus–to be the one that remembers the past. Some of her achievements and items are only interesting in theory, but they prove I was there, observed the event.

On the flip side of that is being controlled by obsessive collecting, not controlling. There are things I won’t collect on Perc. Jewelcrafting patterns and Arena achievements. On a lesser scale, her projects require a good deal of patience–I hold myself to working on one at a time. My current projects are collecting a Fire Druid set and chipping away at an Rated Battleground mount. When raiding calms down, she’ll go back to farming AQ20 for a glove enchant. In the future, perhaps she’ll finally make a Vial of the Sands–but not now.

In a sense, the multi-faceted collecting is a large umbrella achievement, one equally specific and nuanced as the more tangible paths chosen by my alts. The other characters may be easily defined by a few items that create a compelling personality sketch, but Perc is unwieldy, and there’s something very real in her messy interests, her daily whims. The character disguises and fake tier sets, to just give one example, can appear to be a charming collecting quirk without a real focus, but they also subvert expectations–a night elf warlock? A gigantic sword and cloth gear? A green-quality accessory that matches epic gear perfectly? The outfits toy with player expectations, and in my mind, hark back to the age of tier 3 where, the first day Naxxramas-trash quests were completed, raiders sat in Ironforge in foreignly-glowing matching sets and everyone gawked. And was inspired to find something unique, afterwards.

However, like the other characters, there’s a series of objects that captures her essence in addition to the collecting tangents. As I went through difficult real-life changes during vanilla, I’m wistful of things that slipped by my radar–like PvP titles or old-school mounts. BC was a time of great personal growth, so when I come across certain items, I smile.

Sometimes, there are moments where I wonder if I’d collect in general, if only the items I’ve always wanted fell into my lap. If I could acquire the items that slipped away when I wasn’t paying attention. Perhaps then, there’d be no remaining desire to collect and prove. Recently though, I came across two items from my vanilla lacunae: a Thunderfury and a tiger mount from Zul’Gurub, very similar to one of the old-school saber cats. Obtaining these items did not diminish my enthusiasm for my collecting puzzles, but I did feel a sense of peace, as if things were righted. When I finished my glaive set, two years in the making, I felt that I had laid BC to rest as well, and now I was free to write my series of character short stories. Do I only collect on a large-scale because specific items are too elusive?

I think that even if I acquired all the items on Perc that I wanted, I’d still enjoy collecting in her distinct style, apart from the character-building. While she’s acquired a set of objects that define her as a character, I also collect to define her environment. Most of us are not so austure in real life as our alts are. We have favorite foods, clothes, music–but we consume many things instead of sticking to the same handful of familiar objects. Collecting from multiple angles is a bit blurry–but it’s also freeing, like how the unknown is both expansive and terrifying. Your characters may be difficult to explain at first, but the act of collecting speaks volumes about their personality.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jezbelle permalink
    August 16, 2011 1:39 am

    Lovely post,I confess that I’m not the biggest of collectors, however there are certain items that I will go back for years later. There are so many items that I have deleted from my inventories over the years thinking “I can always go back and get it again” only for it to be later removed from the game.
    For instance; At one time, Wizzbit, my Gnome Warrior, had the full set of Battlegear of Heroism, to my knowledge she was the first person on the server to complete the quest line, which has since been removed from the game. She still has the items in her bank to summon the bosses for the chain (Banner of Provocation & Brazier of Invocation) which, incidentally, still work and summon the bosses in most locations.

    Those items I do still have come with a story attached, for example;
    Wizzbit has a Breastplate of the Chromatic Flight stored in a dusty corner of her bank.
    Many years ago she would regularly run Upper Blackrock Spire. On one run Gyth dropped a Chromatic Carapace, the first she’d seen. The raid leader (this was in the days when you ran places like UBRS & Scholomance as a 15 or 20 player raid group) called for people on the quest-line to roll and she lucked out with a 96. It took her days scouring Eastern Plaguelands for Blood of Heroes but eventually she got them all, made the trek to Winterspring and handed in the quest. And let me tell you, she wore that breastplate with pride for a very long time!

  2. August 16, 2011 6:33 pm

    Wonderful! My last in-depth post was about character identity as well (it was the BA shared topic), and I am really interested in the topic. I love how you explored the relationship between identity and saved items. Up until this point I’ve used other types of collections – titles, mounts, tabards – to display personality, but since I am also an avid collector of class tier gear, not to mention a packrat when it comes to special event items, I wonder how I could interpret that player need as a character personality trait.


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