Well, I’ve given TERA a chance.
A fairly short chance, I admit, but a chance I definitely gave it.
TERA – in case you haven’t heard of it – is a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game; a sort of anime version of Everquest II and World of Warcraft.
Sorry, I mean a more anime version of Everquest II and World of Warcraft.
Let’s get one thing out of the way before I get started. I’m not a fan of the Japanese anime art style. If you’re someone who believes that saying what I’ve just said means that I’m not open to other cultures, or that I hate the Japanese in general, then please go and boil your head. It’s a simple fact: I don’t find anime style aesthetically engaging. If it helps, I don’t find the Mona Lisa a particularly appealing work, either (it’s pretty good as paintings go, and certainly way beyond anything I could ever learn to do, but it doesn’t strike me as anything particularly special amongst classic works).
Aesthetic appreciation means that people generally like certain kinds of art and not others.
I’m also aware that ‘anime’ covers a great deal of different styles, as this image from Wikipedia illustrates:
For clarity, I’ll say that when I think of the terms ‘manga’ or ‘anime’, what I visualise are the styles used above in the left column, rows two and four – the angry-looking person with the goggles and the three little girls with pink and blue hair.
And it’s not an absolute. The Studio Ghibli movie Howl’s Moving Castle uses a style approaching these, and I love that film. So the point isn’t “I hate all anime”; rather it’s “I don’t generally find this style very appealing”. If the story being told using the style is absorbing enough, then the style becomes a background thing; and in some cases – as with Howl’s Moving Castle – the substance redeems the style and makes it an attractive element of the overall production. So something being in an anime style certainly isn’t a certain deal-breaker for me, as long as there’s something of substance underneath it.
That said, there are times when that superficial quality of a production’s appearance causes a reaction so strong that I can’t get past it. I’m not particularly proud of this: I never like to think of myself as someone who judges a book by its cover. But sometimes I do. TERA is an example of this.
As a happy, contented player of Everquest II, and an occasional dipper into Villagers & Heroes, I should explain that the reason I downloaded TERA – all 35 freaking gigabytes of it – was because I love character designers. I love making up people, visualising characters and imagining who they are. It’s the writer in me. (It’s just a shame I can’t get the writer in me to actually write anything useful…) There is, to my knowledge, no better character creator than the Carbon system used in EVE Online. But I keep looking to see what different systems are being created. I’d seen TERA on Steam before but never tried it out. Only the other day did I realise it was now (and might’ve been for ages, for all I know) free-to-play. A quick (actually very drawn-out) download later, I load up the game to see what options are presented.
This is the sort of thing I found:
These are shots I’ve nicked off the Internet, rather than direct screenies from my own time in-game. But they give you the gist. These are examples of how a human female and a Castanic female appear in the character creation section. If you’ve noticed a theme going on in those two shots, you’re not alone.
Yep: TERA continues the long-running trend of women in fantasy settings preferring to wear anti-armour. Clothing sets that expose the maximum possible fleshy area to potential incoming attacks, because apparently it’s better to die sexy. As I say, this is nothing new – but without an animated GIF, which I am not going hunting for, though I’m sure there’s one out there – you won’t fully appreciate how the female representatives of each race appear on the race select screen: every one of them is in terrifyingly scant clothing, and is half-crouched in an unsettling arse-out posture, and is gyrating her hips in what someone somewhere presumably (and alarmingly) thought was an alluring manner.
It isn’t alluring. Don’t get me wrong: I like women. And as someone who likes women, I’m telling you: the animation there on that select screen is not alluring. Disturbing, yes.
Okay, so. You get past the comedy-slash-unsettling butt-revolving animation. You click through the races. You see humans. They’re pretty much, well, human. You see the Castanics. They’re humans, but with horns on their heads. You see High Elves. They’re humans, but with pointed ears. You see the Popori, and they’re actually quite sweet:
And then… Then you find the Elin.
This is an Elin:
That is, in fact, an ‘Elin priest’.
The Elin are a race of highly exaggerated little girls (there are no male Elin, and I’m not sure whether that’s a blessing or a warning), with animal ears, and apparently designed to turn the stereotyped anime schoolgirl image up to the absolute maximum. They’re also the subject of ongoing Internet flame wars that have lasted for for years. On one side, an argument that Elin are exploitative of children, that they pander to paedophiles, and that those choosing to play Elin must have somethihng deeply wrong with them. On the other side, arguments that they’re simply intended to be ‘cutesy’, that appreciation of the style is culturally dependent, and that in light of that cultural dependence, criticism of the styling amounts to racism, and that anyone who finds them unsettling as exploitative representations of child-like beings must themselves have something wrong with them.
I personally don’t find the Elin appealing. At all. I won’t go so far as to say that they’re there to pander to paedophiles. I think it markedly more likely that they’re in there to cater to children. Lore has it that the Elin are generally pretty ancient, being long-lived types like elves – but the argument rages on. It might well be that they’re in there as a sop to pre-teen kids who want to play; but to that I’d raise a two-part objection: firstly, pre-teen kids shouldn’t be playing adult MMOs. And second, this is most certainly an adult-orientated MMO, because obviously it is, because see above re the animations and the clothing choices. The Elin might be fine in a kids’ game; but lined up next to the sort of costumes you’re limited to for the other racial choices, they look far more disturbing.
I didn’t choose Elin. Just so you know.
Finally, having selected my character, I ventured into what was, undeniably, a very pretty-looking game world. And then I tried the controls, and saw my character running. She immediately adopted a peculiar posture, bent forward at the waist by marginally more than 45°, arse sticking way up in the air, tiny skirt covering nothing much at all, legs kicking out wildly behind her with every stride… I can’t even begin to tell you in words how ludicrous the animation was. Here, watch this:
All of which amounts to the reason why I’m not having anything more to do with TERA. Is it a great game? Has it got a brilliant plot? Does it have ingenious innovations like nothing ever seen in an MMO before or since? I don’t know. I can’t bring myself to find out. I can’t spend time watching graphics like these. I’m looking at the cover and saying, “This isn’t a book I want to try to read.”