Posted by: Sean | September 30, 2008

Sweatin’ it to the Oldies

Y’know what doesn’t get played often enough? Old people.

And by this, I don’t mean Night Elves who’ve lived five-hundred years. Sure, that’s old, but to them that’s just a young adult. I mean old people. Humans who are in their sixties and the various racial equivalents. Y’know, old people.

There are some obvious reasons for this, of course. First and foremost, youth is sexy. Sexy is good. (Both metaphorically, as in a hot new car or laptop; or literally, as in Scarlet Johansson or me.) We all like sexy. Even puritans like sexy. Even Republicans like sexy. Playing a young character is more appealing on these grounds alone.

Secondly, it’s less work. You have to tie your character into less of the lore, since they’ve likely only been through one war, not two or even three. Writing out a character background takes less time when you only have to write up twenty years than if you have to write up sixty.

Third, it’s hard to set up a really experienced character at lower levels. This may be the hardest point to overcome – You really need to powerlevel a character up a bit before you begin playing them, to represent that experience. (I can think of at least one way to begin playing an older character straight out of level 1, but for the most part it’s a bit odd.) The youth to experience path matches with the game dynamics, the older character doesn’t do so nearly as well.

I won’t deny any of these points. They’re all undeniably true. But there are plenty of countervailing benefits to playing an older character, and they’re strong enough that I think more players should do so.

One. They’re a crucial part of the fantasy genre. Characters like Bilbo Baggins in Lord of the Rings add depth and texture to the world, giving it a sense of history. Granny Weatherwax is one of the most powerful and important characters of Discworld, and she’s the very definition of a horrible old bitch. Let’s not even mention Cohen the Barbarian! In (granted, a far less important fantasy work) the Dragonlance series, Flint was a major character, and his age was not only interesting but gave him a sense of drama.

Which brings me to my second point. Old lends drama. Someone who’s been through forty-five years of horrible war and pain has the scars to prove it, the hardened stare to frighten youngsters with. Now, you can build this into a young character, too, but it doesn’t have the same effect. Age brings with it not only wisdom, but usually confidence, too. If nothing else, the man with only ten years left has left to lose than the youngster with his whole life ahead of him, and he may well gamble more as a result. Plus, you get to (Lethal Weapon style!) say, “I’m too old for this shit,” a lot.

Third, who the heck says old can’t be sexy? If you’re playing a male character, think Sean Connery. If female, think Mrs. Robinson. The appeal of the older woman is quite real, and while straight-up physical hotness may not be in your range anymore, you make up for it with charisma and confidence. (Remember? Confidence is sexy, too.) This won’t work for every character – If you’re going to play a Granny Weatherwax type, forget it. But a lot of older characters can still have sex appeal and compete with the youngsters.

Neatly segueing into my fourth point – It gives the youngsters someone to compete with and rebel against. You can’t have a generation gap without an older generation, after all, but generation gaps are some of the most powerful and dramatic within our society. (If you don’t believe me, check out the current US election and the polling by age group – It’s quite staggering.) By having a few older characters within the game, it gives the younger characters a chance to yell, “Screw you, gramps!” and the older characters to say, “Listen here, sonny. I’ve been through three wars now, seen men born and men dead. But right now? I see a little boy crying and screaming like a baby. So be quiet. This is grown-up business.”

Finally, while it means you have to work harder to do it, it means you have more opportunities to dive into the World of Warcraft lore. Load up WoWWiki and begin researching like crazy. Use David Bowers’s fantastic racial columns to fill in a few blanks. Make a great character who’s anchored in Warcraft’s history.

In a way, it makes sense that there aren’t so many old people running around with sword and shield in Warcraft; it’s a brutal world, and the life expectancy has to be run down due to natural causes of death. (Dying after having a sword shoved through your abdomen is plenty natural.) But that’s why an older character who hasn’t purchased agricultural property after all these wars is so interesting and unique, with a perspective worth hearing. I’d love to see more oldies in the game.



  1. I’ve been reading your articles for some time now, and this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to respond. Mostly to say… Thank you!

    In this sea of Blood Elves I find myself in, I’ve raised my warlock to become an old timer amongst the horde (pun) of buxom youngsters. Best decision ever. Whereas many youths are off prancing in lithe garbs and indulging in extravagant customs (mainly alien to the culture involved), my elf is attempting to preserve the rites and culture of socially declining race. Though meant to be apathetic, she’s quickly become a popular character and has even earned the honorific title of ‘The Crone’ amongst her peers.

    Much like you’ve mentioned, I have noticed that a lot of males – mostly younger – have been attracted to this elder elf of mine. Unfortunately for them I’m in it for the adventure, not the romance. It’s been great coming up to the remainder of the Horde compatriots (orcs, tauren, troll, Forsaken) and be seen on more serious terms. I’d like to think I helped shatter the negative stereotype of the Blood Elves slightly, and teach others that old is cool!

    Hardly liked, but respected. It’s an RP dream.

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