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Aesthetics in Action

Posted on the 13 December 2012 by Findthebluekey @FindTheBlueKey
Aesthetics in ActionThere was an idea that occurred to me recently as I was playing AirBuccaneers, one that I honestly hadn't considered thoroughly until then. This was the idea that aesthetic differences - even ones that are often considered superficial - can have a profound impact on the nature of the game if they are implemented properly. What I mean by superficial aesthetic changes is anything that the game allows you to change visually, but don't affect the gameplay in any way. This often takes the form of character customization, allowing you to tool your character to whatever image you prefer. Normally, these add nothing to the way you will play, being merely for your own personal benefit.
However, sometimes a superficial change can take you by surprise.
As previously mentioned, this idea occurred to me while playing a round of AirBuccaneers(which I reviewed here, just so you know!), and it came from a mechanic I had previously disregarded as superficial. AirBuccaneers introduces a mechanic where you unlock various articles of clothing and armor to outfit your character as you progress through levels. Fairly standard stuff. Players tend to equip their new items as soon as they get them, simply because there is no reason not to.
But the oddity that begins to arise from this aesthetic change is the outfit of your character begins to be indicative of your rank within the games hierarchy. Simply put, more equipment = a more experienced player. I found myself a little surprised about how much this ended up changing my decisions in gameplay. This aesthetic difference becomes the quickest way to find how experienced the crew around you is, especially those in key positions. While at the helm, I found myself making battle decisions based on the experience of my cannoneers, or deciding whether I should take over the helm in a tight spot, depending on the look of our captain. Without this system, that would have been impossible.
Now, only certain aesthetic systems will allow this type of decision making, not just any character customization system will do. Take MMOs for example, which often laud themselves on the variety of gear available. However, given a single glance at a character, it is not always easy to distinguish between experience levels. Certainly new players will look different from the rest, but after a certain point, everyone begins to look relatively similar.
I think more games should take advantage of this idea that small aesthetic choices can allow us to make snap decisions in game. Such a system gives the player a greater feeling of knowledge and control, and this feeling is especially important in strategy games. Like they say, knowledge is power.
Now I don't believe this is a particularly original idea, but was simply a notion that occurred to me in game, and was nagging at me until I went and started to write. I find it fascinating how the smallest additions, even if they are merely superficial changes, can have a profound impact on the way we play.

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