I just recently bought Monster Hunter World, and let me tell you, I love the heck out of it. I’ve never played a Monster Hunter game before, and from the moment it was announced to a week ago, it wasn’t even on my radar, outside Capcom announcing that it wouldn’t have any loot boxes or paid expansions. It was worth an applause from me and a silent, approving nod, but otherwise I just left it well enough alone.
But then, I played Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, and I fell in love with it. I craved it, I wanted more, and while depressed on a Thursday I happened to see an early review of the game released on Kotaku. I read it, and I was intrigued: not only because I was told it streamlined the once extremely complicated series, but also because I noticed it looked startlingly similar to Dragon’s Dogma, in terms of gameplay and combat. I did more digging. And, thanks to my weak will and the hype surrounding the game, I pre-ordered it the day before it launched and waited eagerly to put my hands on it.
I was excited, boys and girls. Very excited. But as I sat down late Friday night to give it a play, I found myself paralyzed at the very first juncture. For the moment the game started proper and the first cutscene ended, I was asked a haunting, terrible question: what’s the gender of my avatar?
I was so unprepared for this.
If you didn’t know, I’m a big fan of dressing up in video games. Long after I grew comfortable and familiar with the Dark Souls series, what kept me coming back and making new characters was “fashion souls”, the practice of combining different armors and weapons to make the most fashionable undead possible. I have upwards of seven characters in Dark Souls, five in Dark Souls 2, four in Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne… almost exclusively so I can dress them up in pretty outfits as they go gallivanting around in their post-apocalyptic nightmares. I probably spent more time making my little goblin girl character in Dragon Dogma than I ever spent saving the world:
And of course, given how much fun I had doing that, I very much planned to do the same for Monster Hunter. But I had no idea who had the better fashion: men, or women? Worse still, at that point, I had no idea there were multiple save slots, and even after a quick google I was horrified to discover I was limited to a poultry three. Three chances!
And let me tell you guys, this is not an easy decision to make. Especially going in blind.
There are a few factors to consider from the onset, of course. Some pros and cons of each. Unfortunately, Monster Hunter World muddies even my steadfast and typically reliable method of determining which gender to choose.
- Typically for RPG’s, I start with a guy, and then on my second play through, I switch to a girl. This is a method that I’ve reliably used for years, with games like Dragon Age (all of them), Mass Effect (Just the first two, then I ran out of steam), Dragon’s Dogma itself, Pokémon, the whole Souls trifecta, the Elder Scrolls… typically it’s because I’m role-playing in these games and it’s easier for me to do that if our genders match. So on that count, I should start as a guy.
- That said, if I’m just playing a game with heavy character customization with no reason to replay it, then I typically start as a girl. Since I’m not role-playing, it’s significantly easier, girls tend to have more varied hair and clothes options, and yes, it’s just more fun to make a pretty girl than a handsome boy. Plus, I play so many other male protagonists, it feels like I’m evening out the gender ratio if I play a girl when I have a chance. Since Monster Hunter isn’t heavy on story, and there’s no real reason to play it more than once, I should be a girl.
- But! If I play any game with online and social components, I almost always play guys. This is especially true for MMORPG’s and the like, and while I will play online with female characters on occasion with Souls, all of my dedicated online characters are men. Particularly if I’m playing with friends. And that’s more of a weird quirk of mine than anything: I feel like the MMORPG world feels more “honest” if avatar gender matches my own, like, I’m not trying to trick people into thinking I’m actually a girl. I don’t expect anyone else to play by those rules, it’s just a thing for me.
Here's my garbage boy and his beautiful cat-pal.
Turns out, that was a huge problem. Not only because it meant I was playing the game twice (I’ve sunk about 20 hours into the game, 10 into each character because I’m literally the worst), but also because the online component was more important than I first realized. There are some monsters that are almost impossible to hunt yourself, so I found myself going online anyway with my supposed-to-be solo girl.
She also got a lot more friend requests, imagine that.
Both accounts were the same. Doing the same quests. Playing online. I was doing everything twice because I genuinely couldn’t decide if I wanted to play a girl or a boy. It was a nightmare scenario. I was trapped by my own desire for fashion: a desire made worse when I realized that armor looked different depending on who was wearing it. While both genders are pretty liberal with the midriff, females, as it turns out, show far more leg than fellas do, which just looks good in most cases. Call it impractical and unrealistic if you want but it looks damn good and guys can’t really get away with that kind of fashion.
But there was something that finally swayed me. I have, I think, finalized my decision on who I’ll be playing from here on out. And it’s something I discovered playing online.
See, in Monster Hunter World, you can trade Guild Cards with your fellow hunters: kind of like customizable trading cards you can swap that has some of your data and statistics, and a neat pose for you and your Palaco - the picture above is an example. And as I was playing, I would receive and send them, and I started to notice a startling trend: most of the avatars I was hunting beside were women.
Men, as it turned out, were rarer. Which meant by default, whatever armor I chose to wear would be more exclusive, less frequently seen, than anything a female chose to wear. And suddenly, the tie is broken: for the sake of looking the most special and unique, I’ll choose the thicker, uglier man armor than the more lithe, leg-friendly armor of the ladies.
And for all the repetition I had to go through to reach that conclusion, I had fun doing it. Dressing up, experimenting, figuring out what looks the best and what would make my Guild Card look fun. And while I haven’t really commented on it… this is one of the big reasons I find loot boxes so frustrating. Dressing up and looking good is a huge reason why I play games: it’s certainly going to impact Monster Hunter when I willingly go into battle in non-optimal armor for the sole purpose of fashion. So when people say it’s “Just cosmetic”, I can only gaff at their assertion: “just” cosmetic? Cosmetics are one of the biggest reasons I play!
And loot boxes only make it worse: not being able to choose how you look. It’s even worse when you can get cosmetics for characters you don’t own, like, say, Battlerite. In some games, like League of Legends, a skin is a sign that you both love a character and are confident that you can play them well. But in Battlerite, if you have a legendary skin for a character you never use, it loses the status that a legendary skin is supposed to have. It’s just a different way to look. It doesn’t say anything about you or your style, and oftentimes, those “rare” skins are the ones you see more commonly because people default to whatever skin is the hardest to come by.
But hey, at least I won’t have that problem in Monster Hunter World. There, I have to grind for my fashion through good ol’ fashioned gameplay.
The way god intended.