In a lot of my favorite RPGs, you can create a customized character to play as throughout the game. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Skyrim, Fallout, Saints Row, Destiny, Star Wars: The Old Republic, EVE Online… Designing a character is one of my favorite parts of playing a game like this, because I get to create someone who represents me.
The vast majority of the time, I design characters who look at least a little bit like me. I might make them a different alien race when I can — such as my elves in Dragon Age or my Awoken in Destiny — but I still try to give them pale skin and red hair because that’s what I look like. The one thing I do experiment with is their eye color. My eyes are green, but I love warm browns and hazels or steely grays or blues, so I usually choose something along those lines for my characters. It’s not like I’m completely modeling my character on me in real life — I’m designing a fictionalized version of me. The brown-eyed, short-haired, elven version of me. Or the strong, blue-eyed alien version of me. It’s like me in another universe or something.
Occasionally I’ve experimented more and created other types of characters — a black-haired Mass Effect heroine, a male avatar, a Khajiit in Skyrim whose only resemblance to me is the tufts of reddish fur around her ears. (See? I still tried to make her look like me!) However, sometimes I end up not enjoying playing these characters quite as much as I do playing a character who looks like me. For some reason, as shallow and unimportant as the visual aspect is, putting a look-alike of myself into a video game helps me get into character and makes the experiences — especially on a first, canon playthrough — feel personalized. They’re mine. I didn’t just create a character to role-play as — I’m role-playing myself in another world.
The funny thing is that despite the visual resemblance, I don’t usually play characters’ personalities like my own. In real life, I’m pretty shy. People have used adjectives like “sweet” to describe me. I like to think I’m nice to people and accepting, and I’m not a big fan of confrontation. But my characters are the reverse of that. They’re tough and outgoing. I play Shepard Renegade and my Grey Warden intimidating and go with the Dark Side whenever I can. That’s where the escapism is for me. I’m role-playing myself in the shallow ways, but I’m way more daring in games than I am in real life.
Maybe it’s a little bit of wish fulfillment. My video game characters are certainly prettier, more badass versions of me, or at least that’s what I think of them. It’s not that I lack confidence in real life, it’s just that playing a game gives you all this freedom to do things however you want. You make more mistakes too, because the consequences aren’t real. And all this can be true even if you’re playing, in some ways, as “yourself.”
The funny thing is, I know one friend who creates characters who look nothing like him — often female characters, and he gives them interesting appearances and backstories so they’re totally unique — but then he plays them to make nice, moral decisions because he feels too guilty to do otherwise. It’s like he’s so invested in the character on that deeper level, he plays every decision as “himself” even though the characters don’t look like him and aren’t supposed to be representations of him.
It makes me curious how other people handle character customization in games. Do you design characters who look like you or not, and do their personalities match yours at all?