Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of virtual world and MMO fashion
For hardcore gamers, the initial hype around Diablo III has started to die down, but now folks like my mother are getting interested in dungeon-crawling. (Mom just started installing the game today.) But she's not the only surprising new member of Diablo III's audience either: Ever since the game launched, lots of women on my social networks, who usually talk about their kids, husbands, and virtual fashion projects in Second Life, are now talking about Deckard Cain and the best strategies for besting the Butcher. Some of these women are gamers, but many have rarely played anything beyond SL so I didn't expect them to be tearing their way through Westmarch with more gusto than me. Diablo III seems to be a game both casual and hardcore gamers are enjoying equally, and here's three reasons why:
Gender-locking is when certain classes or races are only available as male or female characters, but not both. In a gender locked game melee classes are more likely to be male while ranged and magic based classes will be female. Previous Diablo games have had gender locked classes and while the gender of the avatar isn't a big deal for everyone, for others it sends an exclusionary message that can be a turnoff for someone with no existing personal investment in the franchise. Diablo III made what I consider a very smart choice to unlock all classes to both genders, so players like my own mother won't hesitate when they pick out the battle-ready barbarian avatar they want to play most.
I tried to get my mother to play Dragon Age 2 a few months ago, and it was almost agonizing to watch. Whenever a fight would start, her party would finish it before the character she was controlling had even landed a single hit. She's had a great deal of difficulty mastering movement techniques that most PC games take for granted, like moving around with a combination of WASD and the mouse. At the same, time she's very interested in RPG and action game genres, so it's difficult to watch trivial things like controls get in the way of an experience I know she would really enjoy. Diablo III's controls are remarkably clear in comparison to most games, however: Click where you want to go, click what you want to fight.
There are other actions you can use of course, but the game forces you to keep it simple by limiting the number of abilities that you have access to at one time, rather than overwhelming players with rows upon rows of hotkey skills. It seems like it should be be irritating for more experienced players, but this system forces you to play the game smarter and makes you think about what skills really are the most useful in a given situation. It both simplifies controls and challenges players depending on their level of experience, which makes it work for casual and hardcore gamers alike.
I play a lot of games with my best friend, and as a veteran of tabletop gaming he always wants to wade into the numbers. He's hardcore about his stats and builds, but for me... I can't say that I have a mind for it. My lack of interest in the fine details is why I would never call myself a serious gamer, either. I want the bottom line--things like "Am I doing enough damage?" or "Am I survivable enough?".
This is why I love all the detail that Diablo III offers about your character's stats... and the fact that you can hide it while still seeing the most vital numbers displayed right next to your equipment. The picture above shows the incredibly thorough list of traits and numbers you can access by clicking the "Details" under the much simpler stats listed in your inventory. If you're as serious about your numbers as my friend this button will be your BFF, but for less intense gamers the ability to immediately find the most important stats makes managing builds and equipment a far less overwhelming prospect.
These and other features of Diablo III manage to cater to both experienced and inexperienced gamers without alienating either side. Here's hoping that with more games as accessible as this one, the future of gaming won't be as sharply divided between the casual and the hardcore as it is today.
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.