Are Your RPG Characters Anything Like You?

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.

My recent Destiny character

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.

01 My Khajiit
One of my Khajiit characters in Skyrim

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.

96 Meeting Arl Howe - LOOK AT MY FACE
One of my (many) Dragon Age: Origins characters

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?


15 thoughts on “Are Your RPG Characters Anything Like You?”

  1. I’m sort of the same with my characters. Half the time I try to replicate myself pretty realistically into the game, but I like to experiment often too. For instance, I like to play as female characters sometimes, but I’ll still make them with my general build, hair color, eye color, etc. Like how the Lutece Twins were alternate reality versions of the same person. And like how you said your Khajit had your hair or how you said it’s like an alternate universe version of yourself. That’s usually all I need. I always play as the same “paragon” type personality, though. I’ve tried being a renegade on ME once and I couldn’t do it. I ended up somewhere in the middle. So, I guess I like to use my imagination with really different versions of myself sometimes, but the personality of my characters always stays the same.

    1. Interesting, I never thought about it like the Lutece twins but I like that idea. I guess I’ve had trouble playing as male characters because I create them as “characters” instead of like me, the way I do with my female characters. Maybe I’ll try that sometime!

      1. It can be a fun change of pace sometimes! It’s worth noting that I never really considered creating a female character before Mass Effect. FemShep opened my horizons!

  2. As far as appearances go I normally find myself being similar (hair/eye color) but normally becoming fiction such as an elf, or taller, etc. Sometimes on occasion I will do something random and outlandish. On the decisions side I find that I put myself in the situation and make the decision I personally would not a fiction version of myself.

  3. I experiment on things. I really like dark/red hair with pale skin too, which does represent me. But then sometimes I go for dark grey skin just because it can be done. I usually never choose the human race, because I’d rather be something more exotic than the regular “somewhat good in everything, all around mediocre” type.

    These days I especially love playing male characters because men are super beautiful and I can’t really change my sex that easily irl. My men are usually still not bulky, more lean and fast and smart. I never was a fan of the regular fighter type.

    I’d like to play evil characters but not many games give the player a real opportunity to be anything more than this super petty douchebag who just kicks puppies for the fun of it. I’d be more interested in the supervillains that aim for global destruction, or some kind of deranged types who passionately drive their agenda thinking it’s the for the better.

    1. Interesting, yeah I agree that playing the “evil” route is usually pretty mild when you compare it to what a supervillain would do! I never thought about that. It would actually be cool to play a game that sets you up like that, just for fun. But for me, I like playing heroic types, just who are still tough and badass rather than super-nice all the time.

      I agree it’s fun to play someone more exotic and also choose different races, including alien or fantasy ones. I do play human quite a bit too, though — it’s about 50-50 for me!

  4. Oh, why we play what we do in RPGs! One of my favourite topics.

    I’ve already spent much time musing about this on my blog, but the short answer is I try very hard to make sure my characters are nothing like the real me. Often they’re a completely different species and/or gender, and even on the rare occasions I do play a human male, I’ll make them very unlike me. Usually a different ethnicity. For example, my main in The Secret World is black.

    I’ve also noticed I design characters differently if they’re male or female. With females, I generally make a point to avoid making them physically attractive. I don’t want them to be, well, ugly, but plain at least, and I’ll often include some deliberate imperfection, like a ridiculously big nose or a nasty scar. Whereas male characters I usually do try to make very handsome and dashing. I think with female characters I can maintain objectivity, but male characters fall more into the realm of wish fulfillment. This may explain why I’ve tended to favour female characters in my fiction, as well.

    As for personality… it’s hard to judge. The situations in video games are so far removed from real life it’s impossible to say how the real me would react. I guess I’d say my character’s personalities are pretty unlike the real me, too. I almost invariably play goody two-shoes types, true heroes, whereas in real life… well, I’m not a particularly nice man is the truth. I think I like video games because they’re the only place I’ll ever be the sort of person people can look up to and admire.

  5. Great discussion! :) I tend to do a combination of both myself and not myself when I create a character. For example, I have olive skin, I’m short, have black hair, and dark brown eyes in real life. I might create my character to have olive skin like me and maybe is about the same height as me but then my character has a different kind of hair color or eye color than me. I guess it’s like injecting parts of me in my character, but at the same time they’re completely different from me. I sort of don’t want to make the roleplaying part of a game to be too real for me. When it comes to making decisions, however, on the first run of the game I tend to make decisions based on how I’d make them in real life if that were me in that situation. You could say I’m sort of like how your friend plays RPGs.

    1. That makes sense! Similarly I do like to play with hairstyles I don’t have or can’t have in real life. Like I’ll give a character super short hair or a style that’s very fancy and fantasy-looking (weird braids, etc.) to fit into the world. So it’s me but with differences, like you said!

      It’s funny how people make decisions in games so differently. I can see where playing as yourself or basing decisions on your own gut instinct could feel really right. I suppose I do that in the sense that I can’t make a really awful, immoral choice in a game, especially on the first playthrough! Even if I’m playing Renegade, I couldn’t commit genocide or anything like that. Which is why my characters tend to be a little bit of a mix of traits, I guess. :)

  6. Great read! Personally, I never make characters that look like myself. (I have to look at myself anyway, why would I want to do the same in a game? Haha.) I treat character creation in the same manner as one might go about when creating a character for a novel — the sky’s the limit! (Shameless plug, see my Fallout 4 character creation video: This pretty much sums things up for me.)

    As for actually playing those characters, I suppose that some of my own personality traits might come into play, but I’ll usually decide on a character’s backstory beforehand and then try to make my choices adhere to that as I’m playing. Sometimes it works, and sometime I find myself playing down a path unintended. (i.e. I think my character’s going to be a paragon but I end up making mostly renegade choices.) I guess it keeps things interesting!

    1. That sounds fun! I like the idea of making a character with a backstory that informs your in-game decisions. I guess I want to do that sometimes but never feel quite as connected to those characters. Which is funny since I do creative writing all the time and invent characters there! Checking out your video now… :)

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