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Interpreting Statistics: Appearance

by Jennifer Knighton


The question of appearance in role-playing is an interesting one. Almost every system includes "appearance" as one of the major statistics that make up each character. This trait determines how successful a character is in seducing someone, in performing, and in all sorts of other social interactions. It has a dramatic affect on the effectiveness of a character in social settings. But, as in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The issue of beauty in gaming has come to my attention multiple times in the past. When I used to play live-action Vampire: The Masquerade, we would joke about how "cuteness" of the player far out-weighed "majesty" of the character when trying to get other characters to do things for you. Suspending disbelief in a live-action setting of a character with an appearance of 5 while the player is average can be difficult. I recently had a player refuse to be in a scene with my character on a MUSH because my character had an appearance of 5 but was androgynous. They could not accept the concept of an androgynous individual as one of the most beautiful people in the world. I began to think about beauty. It is a very subjective thing.

To one person, the perfect woman could look like Marilyn Monroe with an hourglass figure and a cute little smile. To another, Audrey Hepburn with her combination of classy elegance and cute-girl-next-door demeanor could be the idea of perfection. Historically speaking, we've had the ultimate of beauty be a pregnant woman, because Mary was pregnant with Jesus and she was the most beautiful woman ever. We've also seen a period when it was in fashion to weigh as much as possible because the ability to eat a lot meant the husband or father of the household was very wealthy wealth was beauty.

When it comes to men, some prefer the roguish good looks of a James Dean while others prefer muscle upon muscle like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and still others prefer the effeminate glam style of David Bowie.

Supermodels in this day and age, both male and female, are becoming more and more androgynous in appearance and yet are considered the height of beauty by many. So what is beauty? How can you determine what is truly beautiful if it is so subjective? How do we suspend our disbelief in a game setting and accept that the character before us is so stunningly beautiful that they could be counted in the top 5 most attractive people in the world?

I'll be honest with you; I don't know the answers to those questions. I have lived in many places and visited even more within the United States and abroad and I have seen many beautiful people. I would not characterize any of them as the most beautiful people in the world. In fact, I'm not sure that such a classification can truly exist.

Any player can create a character with an appearance of unnatural beauty. They cannot, however, write a description for that character that everyone they encounter will agree is as beautiful as the statistic says it is. That would be impossible in a world of so many people with such varying tastes.

Game manufacturers are slowly coming to realize the subjective nature of appearance as well. Appearance is not used as often recently, and the social traits are focusing more on charm and other non-physical manifestations of attraction and manipulation.

In a game setting, we are playing in the land of imagination. We are dealing with dwarves and vampires, incredibly advanced technologies and magic. We suspend our disbelief about all of these things. Ultimately, the statistic of appearance must be considered along with these other aspects of the gaming world an aspect of the fantasy we create in order to enjoy the game.

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