When I first played WoW I had one character. Her name was Akandra and she was a priest. It was relatively simple, then, to answer ‘What do you play?’ or ‘What’s your main?’
The changing face of a WoW player
Then came other characters – Enalla, my druid, Morrighan, my paladin and Jera, my much neglected mage. I finished The Burning Crusade with 3 level 70s – Akandra, Enalla and Morrighan. And at that point I did something interesting. I changed my main to Morrighan.
During The Wrath of the Lich King I mostly played my paladin (I had a brief time where Akandra was my main, but healing in Wrath was nasty). I levelled two more toons to the new cap of 80 – Hesttia, my shaman and Arianrhodd, my death knight and my first max level Horde.
Then came the Cataclysm. A little way into the expansion I returned to Akandra, because thats what the guild needed. I am now considering changing toon to my hunter, Brynna, newly max level this expansion, because thats what would suit the guild most and because I’ve never had a ranged dps as my main.
The emotional connection
But my feeling towards these characters has changed. In The Burning Crusade there was One Character to Rule Them All. Morrighan saw a little time in Kara as a tank because paladin tanking was kinda fun. Kara was the first time I participated in an ‘alt’ run.
In Wrath I spent more time in alt runs, taking Akandra and Enalla (and even Hesttia I think). And again, in Cataclysm, Morrighan and Enalla have attended alt runs. My changing main, between Akandra and Morrighan, has meant that I feel very torn between the two of them. I have invested a lot in both. I currently have position 8 and position 9 in the guild Achievement points list with Morrighan and Akandra respectively. Both have unique achievements that I value because my experience in getting them was so positive.
And now, with patch 4.3 and the prospect of some form of merged achievements on the horizon, I find I don’t mind investing in yet another character. And, in fact, I want to invest in all of them. Because I want to get all of them into LFR and get some gear on them and enjoy playing them. I find I don’t care what my ‘main’ is. With raiding becoming somewhat repetitive the new represents an interesting change.
This is not true for everyone. Some people have invested a great deal in one character. But increasingly I am finding that even they are more likely to engage in activities on other characters, outside of the ‘alt run’ model. And if you play multiple games, the dynamic changes again.
Does ‘main’ still have a function
If the emotional connection I used to focus on one character is now spread across all my characters – what purpose does it serve to have a ‘main’? I would argue there is still a practical purpose, but even that is being watered down.
Within a guild a main is useful because it helps the guild to focus its resources, in PvE in particular. A guild might provide potions, flasks and food for progress raids. It will want people to bring a main to a fight so it can focus on gearing that main and make all the main toons better to enable progress. If loot is spread over alts as well then that will slow progress a little (the exception is at the top end where the guild has time to gear both mains and alts as needed). Limited resources such as time, loot and gold are focused where the guild needs them.
But even that is being eroded. With many Dragon Soul bosses needing only one tank we find we are using an alt for a second tank. My healer may also be a backup. But the principle still stands – resources should be focused where the guild needs them. And by asking players to choose a ‘main’ you are giving power to the player to make that choice.
Your online identity
Another part of the traditional role of the ‘main’ was the definition of your WoW identity. I was Akandra the Holy Priest. Akandra was the tag I often used in other games. It was who I chose to be when online. Within WoW, at least, this is being overcome by Real ID and the Battletag.
If the concept of main also references the concept of a single online identity, I would like to think that this, also, is passing. Identity is far too complex to be singular. I can be both Akandra the Holy Priest, Morrighan the Ret Paladin, as I can be a WoW player, a SWTOR player, a Project Analyst, a mother, a wife, a friend, a daughter. All of those are identities that I hold. People who know the Project Analyst have never met the WoW player and may not even know she exists. Identity is multiple. So gaming identity can also be multiple.
Maybe we need a new language for a new world
Games are changing to better support this new multi-toon world. WoW has long supported players levelling multiple characters with Heirloom gear being its main method. It is now looking at cross-account Achievements and pets, and maybe more. SWTOR is introducing a Legacy system. In its current form, it allows you to choose a ‘surname’ that all your toons will share. But it also allows all your characters to accrue Legacy points and levels which will give further benefits later. The advantage of this system is it does not require you to level one character all the way to max level before all your characters start to benefit. You have to get one character to level 30.
So instead of talking about main and alt, how might we describe this situation? We might describe our characters by what we do with them – a Raiding toon, a PvP toon. We might talk about having a ‘guild’ or ‘active’ character that allows the guild to focus resources on it. I tend to find I talk about my toons by class – ‘I’ve done LFR on my priest and my hunter’ – and sometimes by role.
What do you guys think? Has the main/alt dynamic seen its best days? Do you still feel that strong connection to one character? Did you ever? Do you still only have one toon, or are you embracing multiplicity and doing different gaming activities with different groups at different times?