Today’s games spoil players with the chance to differentiate themselves by changing clothes. So what does it mean when players choose to stick to their default attire?
The internet is marked by its subcultures. Many people’s favourite thing about a scroll is the sheer variety of collective interests one becomes privy to as they inch down a page.
The same is true for online games.
The rise of creator modes and user-generated content means that symbols are constantly being remixed, and meaning continually redetermined, as cultures and subcultures splinter at extraordinary speeds. Take Roblox as an example — the user-led gaming platform entrancing online youth. Each and every one of its 40 million gaming “experiences” has individual subcultures developing around it.
In games that ask for everyone’s input, pinning down a pervasive culture is often tricky, especially when it comes to clothes. With wildly different meanings across different groups of players (even within a single game), some players think one thing is cool, whereas others think the opposite.
That is, until it comes to defaults.
What is the default?
The default is the preselected option in a game. Its initial settings.
When you first open up a game and get randomly embodied in a character, dressed in any old outfit, you are in default mode. Really, it’s just the base option, the one the game was programmed to choose for every new entrant. But to many players, default holds a lot more connotations than just beginner status.
A Brief History of Hating Defaults
An aversion to default clothing has been entrenched in players for quite some time. Even before the flashy skins of Fortnite made Battle Royale indistinguishable from a fashion show, players understood off-the-rack as undesirable.
In fact, a study from the early 2000s which aimed to unpack the player motivations behind the almost 50 million skins downloaded from major skins sites looked into why players choose certain skins.
The study took 12 skins from Microsoft Media Player Version 7, all with different levels of usability, aesthetics and symbolism and asked players to choose. Shockingly, 80% of people chose an alternative skin over a default skin, even if that alternative skin was less useful in playing the game. The meaning behind default is that penetrable!
Why Dislike Defaults?
The default symbolism, and why it’s so prevalent across games, really comes down to what wearing a default skin means hasn’t happened. Simply, you haven’t been bothered to change your clothes.
As has been widely covered in the many explanations on the immense size of the skins market ($40 billion a year in 2020) — players use skins to deepen their in-game experiences. Digital clothing points to player affiliations. It illustrates their tribalism, working to solidify an in-game sense of self. Through skins, players invest time, money and effort, moving deeper and deeper into their alternative selves in the world of the game.
So, if you’re still wearing a default skin, one thing is very clear — all of that self-creation hasn’t happened. A default skin lets others know that you haven’t taken the next step. You likely haven’t made a choice, come into yourself, invested your time, care or money into the game.
Plainly, it can be immediately interpreted in the world of a game as a lack, a lack of effort, of experience, of identity in your virtual representation. And for many players this just doesn’t slide.
Default as a Fashion Choice
What does it say about you if your default attire stays on for days, weeks, months or even years into gameplay?
You DGAF - As a new player, you haven’t been moved, you haven’t made a choice, you haven’t invested the time to connect to your in-game self because you haven’t had the chance to. Regardless of the circumstances (or lack thereof), the default skin points to an absence of care. These negative connotations are echoed by fashionistas in the physical fashion space who chastise individuals for putting little effort into how their outfits communicate themselves.
You’re being strategic - Some players take advantage of these powerful negative connotations and use default skins as a disguise. In Fortnite, the default disguise allows you to present as non-threatening, tricking your opponent into thinking that you aren’t an ordinary player but are in fact a bot. The reasoning here is that in wearing a default attire, your opponent will immediately assume that you can’t possibly think for yourself, leaving you ample time to make your stealth attack. The surprise, hidden beneath the default skin, is your consciousness.
This cunning tactic shows the extent to which wearing a default skin is equated with a lack of humanity. You can’t really be alive in the game if you choose not to create yourself, or you must be without a heart if you aren’t moved by the in-game experience enough to really buy into it.
Both conclusions — severe and stone-hearted — are similarly drawn about the exceedingly talented players who choose to keep on their default skins, even after hours and hours of gameplay. As some players put it, in games that are so clearly designed to appeal to a casual gamer, nothing is more telling of a player’s ruthlessness than an avoidance of unnecessary items (like clothes). This type of player is so competitive and focused on their gaming goals, it’s un-human. Completely unfazed by in-game identity, they are fixated on success.
In gaming tournaments, such as the Overwatch or League of Legends tournament, organizers often even ask players to wear default skins as a uniform, removing any individuality. This supposedly reduces the chance of distraction that might lead to an uneven playing field.
What's the Default Takeaway?
The qualitative judgment so closely tied to players’ views towards default — that not expressing yourself in what you wear is bad — is extremely revealing of how our relationship between physical clothes and identity is reflected in games.
As one of the few things agreed upon to mean the same thing by so many players across so many games, default culture highlights the greater motivation to develop our virtual selves in much the same way we do our physical selves.
So, just as 'basic' clothes are condemned for failing to contribute to a unique identity, defaults are slated for not participating in the development of their virtual visual markers of identity. Really, the default symbolism shows that, just like in life, outside of all the challenges, grinds and quests, there is a parallel game taking place. This game is just as important to many players, founded on having fun creating an identity through every choice made.
A default skin means you probably aren’t playing that parallel game.