Did you ever see anyone actually wearing a T-shirt with this slogan on it? What did you think?
Ponder that. I’ll get to my point. I want to talk about beauty, as in, “wowza”! I want to talk about this with gaming in mind.
Gaming — as we know it, really comes from storytelling — and stories of beautiful women go back to many, many roots… from Rapunzel to Snow White to Elf-babe number 38. One story we may all know, is good ol’ Helen of Troy. The O.H. “Original Hottie.” (Not now Laura! I’ll talk about David Boreanaz later.)
Helen, so the story goes, is THE woman with THE “face that launched a thousand ships.” She was so beautiful that armies fought over her. Now, yeah, I know there were gods and politics and a giant wooden horse involved, but none of that detracts from the point… Helen was a dead-on Looker of the first order.
(Author’s aside: I’m a guy — a mostly hetero guy who really likes women. Gets me in trouble all the time… But that’s neither here nor there. I’m just pointing out that I’m going to write about women. I don’t mean to be sexist, I just don’t really feel equipped to speak on the subject of masculine beauty. Any comments from my female readers will be highly appreciated. Thank you.)
Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world.
That’s my question. That, and how can you wrap a game system around that notion.
Let me give an example. Years ago, I’m running a GURPs Horror game, and all the Players are high school boys. A story arc of this game involved two women. One is this exceptionally beautiful socialite (whatever that means) and the other woman is the socialite’s cute, bookish friend, Heather. I can’t remember the hot girl’s name just now, so we’re going to call her Rebecca — I just like the name. I had pictures straight out of a book for these two characters and I showed them to the guys before they ever interacted with either on a role-playing level, and before I described them at all in words. 4 out of 5 boys in that group thought that Heather was much better looking than her model beautiful friend. Why? I have no clue, but they found her more attractive. It could have been my role-playing, once we got to that (I play a hot girl very well, btw). It could have been the group make-up… a bunch of geeky high school teenage boys, but that will only enhance my point if it’s true. But even the picture of Heather they liked more. But, by game mechanics terms, Rebecca had a +6 appearance modifier, the highest in the game… while Heather, only a +1.
Think about the stories we all know: Arwen or Eowyn? Jean Grey or Lilandra? Laurana or Kitiara? Buffy or Willow? Flora or Fiona?
I think you get the point. I just don’t think that physical appearance ratings have any place in games, since it is such a wildly subjective sort of measurement. In a related vein: It always bugs me that dwarves in D&D used to have a charisma penalty. It’s not physical appearance, especially not in D&D, but that just makes it sillier right? If Charisma is not just quality of personality, but force of personality, how many weak-voiced, mealy-mouthed dwarves have you stood beside in battle? Even more, since that penalty for dwarves is based upon human norms; does a dwarf who assigns an 18 to Charisma, then takes their -2 penalty still count as having an 18 among their own people? Okay, that’s a little off course, so let’s get back to it.
Culturally, both for westerners and gamers, Buffy makes a pretty good case study. Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Tara, Anya, Drusilla… I could go on, but I don’t need to. Buffy is the uber-skinny blonde, Willow the bookish red-head (self-described “spaz”), Cordelia is stylish and well put together, Tara, full figured and a little more natural looking. Some people think Tara is the best looking girl on the show. I won’t say she’s not, because it all comes down to preference. Personally, I really like Anya… (no, Laura, I’m still not talking about Angel!) Now, let’s go to the Buffy RPG shall we… Appearance ratings: Buffy +3, Willow +2, Tara +1, Anya +3 (yay!), Cordelia +4 (whoa)… and on and on. Does that work for you? It doesn’t for me.
Now what the hell started all this?
Well, here’s the point. I wrote the original version of this a few years ago when I was working on publishing Ryllia. Well, that didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped the first time, so I’m doing it again… I’m re-writing, I’ve got a great artist… and well, I’ll leave that for another post… let’s finish this one shall we. I got to thinking (dammit Laura, I know I skipped D.B. May I please finish… Thank you.)
Where was I? Oh, yeah, looks. I got to thinking about how APPEARANCE would fit, statistically, in my game, and I decided that such a stat has no place anywhere in my basic setup. It will be up to the players to describe and respond to as they will. But how then do we represent Helen of Troy or Princess Florimel (Or Angel…)? There’s just something different about them. What if a player wants their character to have that kind of “transcendental fantasy beauty”? Well, yeah, there is something special about them. And there is a way to have that beauty if you want it, but I’ll be talking about that later. For the moment, I’m just putting out my own thoughts on gaming and beauty as it stands and hoping to stir up some conversation (oh, and shamelessly plugging my work).
Even though the original of this post was written a while ago, I intend to cover the “and brains too” part of the slogan, and examine how Intelligence stats fit into my thoughts on gaming. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with “stats/attributes” and this is part of my explanation of why.