Are you more than your talent tree?

Van Hemlock is taking stock of where he stands in different MMOs at the moment, and comments that he feels an oddly split identity from switching between so many online alter egos.

Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of time running pen and paper RPGs (and switching from playing one NPC to the next a lot) but I don’t have that particular issue. On the other hand, I did respec my warrior a couple of times last week and there was a definite cognitive disconnect. So often in a game, and in WoW particularly, we identify ourselves by our class AND our spec. And it’s how other friends identify us also.

So if I say, ‘I’m a protection warrior’ then people make a very different set of assumptions than if I say, ‘I’m a dps warrior.’ The first is a tank spec, it’s the most traditional old-school tanking spec in the game. People make a lot of assumptions about protection warriors — the usual tanking ones (is a protective type, has an ego, likes to lead, is trustworthy, is a team player, bitches at healers) and some extra warrior ones (whines about other classes tanking, expects special treatment, always demands to be main tank, has a lot of tanking experience). It’s very easy to take on that identity and run with it.

When I’m tanking specced, I focus on tanking issues and gear. My guild and friends think of me as ‘a protection warrior’. And that means more than simply what spec my character is at the moment. It’s practically a way of life. For some people, it IS a way of life (sadly I don’t have a picture of my mate’s car which has MNTNK on its custom numberplate).

And then when I respec, it confuses people. Heck, I get cognitive dissonance too. I was finding that I just threw my tanking priorities out of the window – suddenly tanking gear was offspec for me but I was trying to persuade raid leaders that they should let me bid primary for dps stuff. Even though we all knew there was a good chance I’d be back tanking the next week.

It wasn’t as if Spinks was a different character to me, but I switched focus on her when I respecced. It didn’t really make sense, what she was is a tank who’d respecced to dps one week when asked. But that wasn’t how I felt.

I don’t know if other classes feel so strongly tied up in their talent trees or if it is just the hybrids/ role switchers? Do arcane mages carry a totally different set of character identifiers¬† to frost or fire mages? I don’t really know. Maybe they do to other mages.

I do know that respeccing a lot does my head in. More than switching between games. When you log into a different game, there are lots of ‘props’ to help you get into your role. The login screen, the music, the people in chat channels, the graphics, the layout … everything that immerses you into a game also sends signals as a player to remind you of what you were doing last time you logged in.

But when you respec in a game, there aren’t any cues. Everything is exactly the same, except that everything has changed. And for people who identify by their talent trees, identity is a shifting target.