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How fidgeting helps to bring MMO worlds to life

The next time you log into an MMO, do this simple experiment: Don’t do anything and simply observe your character. Chances are that unless you play a very old MMO, your character’s going to be moving — swaying, rolling shoulders, shifting feet, and performing a set series of small emotes.

We fidget, in other words. Or our characters do, at least.

It didn’t always used to be this way. If you go back to older RPGs and platformers, you’ll find characters that are absolutely stock-still when they come to a rest. In fact, we all thought it was so novel when Commander Keen’s developers programmed idle animations for when we stopped telling him what to do.

Idle animations or fidgeting actually does have purpose, even if it’s not something you normally think about. For one thing, it keeps your character from looking and feeling unnatural. After all, nobody in real life is completely still unless they’re dead, and having a character that moves just a bit makes it relatable.

For another thing, fidgeting gives a character some degree of ambient personality. World of Warcraft does a whole lot with idle fidgeting, perhaps more than other MMOs (seriously, no character is this game ever stops moving if you step back and observe), but most of it does a lot to convey energy, power, readiness, likability, and so on.

I love that some MMOs have allowed for an extra degree of customization with stances and idle animations. Elder Scrolls Online even lets you collect special stances for your character, which is a fantastic idea that should be explored more. I do wish that players had the ability to slot one or two custom idle animations for their character to do without express command — such as a rogue cleaning her nails with a dagger or a bard plucking a few strings of her lute.

Fidgeting, as small as it may be, helps to make these game worlds come alive. I’m glad we have it.

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