What's with the Hate Towards the Word 'Toon'?

Does it really matter what you call your MMO characters?

I've been playing MMORPGs for a long time, since the days of EverQuest and (to a lesser extent) Ragnarok Online's heyday. I'm sure some of you have been playing the genre for just as long or even longer than I have, and I am also sure that most long-time MMO players are very familiar with the term 'toon' in reference to MMORPG characters.

Reading a Massively article on Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, I couldn't help but notice the aggression in reader comments over the use of the word 'toon'. This is something I'd experienced a few times playing TERA last year, but never had I seen it be a thing. How could this possibly be a thing?

A char is a toon is an avvie is a character

The fact that getting snarky over the use of 'toon' is something that people actually do is slightly upsetting, as someone who has been using the word for 13 years. Why should long-time MMO players change their terminology?

I remember a few instances where people would laugh at those using 'char' in reference to their MMO character. I know I used the word a few times before moving on to 'toon', and I stuck with it.

There is a stigma among the overall community that 'toon' originated from World of Warcraft, and as such people who use the word are what some less couth individuals refer to as 'WoW babies'. This is a bit unwarranted, because EverQuest players were referring to their characters as toons before World of Warcraft was even released.

It's hard to imagine [...] not everyone who uses 'toon' is from WoW.

It's hard to imagine considering World of Warcraft has had several million more players over its lifetime than EverQuest and EverQuest 2 combined, but not everyone who uses 'toon' is from WoW. They may have had an affair with it at some point, but to categorize everyone who calls their characters 'toons' as being specifically from World of Warcraft is silly and unnecessary.

Degradation of character

There are some who argue that referring to their characters as 'toons' degrades them, because they are being called cartoons instead of characters (or avatars, which is even worse in my opinion). I cannot fathom this being the intention behind the word, but then again it's difficult to wrap my head around people getting angry at a harmless word I've been using on a nearly daily basis for 13 years.

At the end of the day, no matter what your revered MMORPG character is referred as, it is still not real. It is still a string of numbers stored locally (and/or server-side, depending on the game) that make up your character. Nothing you call them will change that, but treating people who use 'toon' like they have leprosy does affect those actual people and how they feel.

You can dislike the word as much as you want, but equate it to the regional differences between 'soda', 'pop', and 'soda pop'. People chuckle a bit when they hear one they personally don't use -- so why is it people get so huffy about using another term for a video game character? It means the same thing in the end.

On point

Back to the topic of that Massively article...

I understand that the Final Fantasy MMO fanbase is clashing with the casual MMO playerbase in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and the disdain mulling about this topic specifically is just one sign that the game's playerbase is going to split in two over the coming months.

Final Fantasy XI and FFXIV 1.0 players didn't use 'toon', but the surge of players in the game who use the word aren't necessarily 'WoW babies'. You can't group up 'toon' and 'casuals' just like that, and assume you are 100% correct.

The use of a single word says very little about player history or skill, and jumping to conclusions over it is not the way to go. Next time you want to give someone an earful (or eyeful) over their terminology for MMORPG characters, sit back and think about whether it's really warranted or whether you're just being a jerk.

Published Sep. 10th 2013
  • Mr. X_4449
    Some of your claims work in reverse as well. Binary data or not, MMORPG characters exist, and are more than just numbers to the people who use them. It's like saying a war vet's hero medal is just a hunk of steel. There is probably unreasonable hate towards people who use the word "toon", but just as berating such a person for their use of the word is hurtful to that person, it can feel insulting to the person who's beloved characters are referred to as such. Personally, I have fun taking my characters more seriously within their world of fiction, after all it's a "role-playing" game. Compared to single player games, the social aspect of MMOs should inherently encourage that rather than the opposite. Furthermore, the word "toon" is nonsense, it has no attached meaning of a character that a person controls, so it can grate even on the language proficiency level.
  • Mr. X_4449
    PS: As someone else eloquently put it, "Which one would make the most sense to the majority of the English speaking community?

    I'm going to reroll a toon. Or I'm going to create another character.

    Besides, you don't ROLL anything when you create your character, so that term makes absolutely zero sense."
  • Brian Armstrong
    Featured Columnist
    Personally, I just feel like it is a little degrading to me and the characters I've created to refer to them as toons, especially in some of the more hardcore. less cartoony MMOs. For example, in the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online, ZeniMax Online Studios has take a great deal of care to make the visuals and characters look realistic, and I feel like referring to my characters as toons would make them seem less serious and more hokey. It's simply a personal preference, and I don't think there should be hate towards it necessarily, but I certainly don't refer to my characters as toons. :)
  • Destrolyn.Bechgeddig
    Featured Columnist
    Alas, it boils down to mostly snobbery.

    Hardcore gamers are "7331". They have their own pretensions, language, and customs. By singling out people who don't conform to these, they can differentiate players and purport their own narrow preconceptions of other people and make them feel better about themselves.

    Hopefully, these people will soon become a minority in FFXIV, especially with the games mechanics gears and appeal towards more casual players. Fractions within a MMO is just harmful to the experience for everyone. New, inexperienced characters will get turned off and walk away from the game, leaving the 7331 to stand as "martyrs" whilst the game fails and they refuse to understand why.

    And you're right, terminology is meaningless in the long run. I use "character" myself (because I'm British and uninventive). If someone (before reading this) came up to me and talked about their "toon", I'd have to ask for clarification of what they meant, but that's about as much trouble as it causes!

    But there's something to be said in assimilating into a MMO's specific terminology. It shows that you have an understanding of the game and have invested effort into getting to know its mechanics. This will ensure that other players will have more trust in you when it comes to working with them on certain events. After all, whilst it is "just a game", having someone mess up your time because they're rubbish and don't care about the game is incredibly frustrating.

    So whilst I'm totally against the "toon" hate, teaching yourself to use another noun isn't necessarily a bad thing.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    Great point. I've always used 'chara' myself, but between MMOs and the occasional LJroleplay, I've run the gamut and none of the terms sounds any better than the others for me. People who get their elitist boots on over something as silly as that need to re-evaluate themselves and their sense of self-worth, stat.
  • Corey Kirk
    Featured Columnist
    I still use char, but I know a ton of people who use toon as well. Back when I used to be big in Runescape, I heard both words all the time.
  • LordDarkwolf
    Toon sounds stupid. Deal with it.

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