When you step into a virtual world these days, whether that be an actual simulated world like Second Life or your run of the mill game like World of Warcraft, you’re playing as what most computer type people would call an avatar. A virtual representation of either yourself, an alter ego or the character themselves. Games over the past decade have become increasingly more detailed and as a result many of them allow a user to customise their appearance in game. This can range from simple choices like tall or short all the way through to the little details like eye colour or the amount of stubble on your character’s face. There are now many games which have the ability to manipulate almost all features of an avatar, allowing you to recreate yourself in the game.
I’d never really played around with the in depth character customisations like that of Oblivion and the like, I just wanted to play the game. However that all changed when I got Mass Effect, and I wanted to recreate myself so I could literally play through the game. Queue about 10 minutes worth of me fumbling with the controls and an awkward picture of myself taken on my digital camera to try and get all the features right. I didn’t do too well and my fiancée and one of my female friends decided they could do a much better job, and I became their model for the next 30 mins. We eventually got pretty close, most of the major features were correct but it was still a little way off from being exactly me. It was at this point we realised that there were just some things you couldn’t do and left it at that. He did bear an uncanny resemblance to me however and I must say this did make me empathise just that little bit more with the character, as whenever the camera switched to him speak it was like looking through some futuristic space mirror image of myself.
I’ll be honest and say that I find that the fairer gender seems to enjoy the customisation a lot more than us typical blokes. Whilst at least 50% of my creations in customisation wizards are hilarious uses of the extreme levels offered (sure you can have a nose half the size of your face!) I’ve found any game I’ll give to my fiancée that allows her to customise the character she will spend a good 30 minutes creating either herself or what she considers the most pretty avatar. She always does well with this (damn her creativity!) and I think this is where most of the joy is for her. I’ve also noticed quite a lot of my fairer World of Warcraft players keeping vast wardrobes of pretty things to dress up their characters with. Although I must admit I keep a lot of junk just for the novelty value as well.
Ever since then I’ve noticed the tendency whenever I’m playing a game to naturally gravitate towards either recreating myself in either appearance or play style. Whilst I did enjoy my second play through of Mass Effect being a right evil bastard I didn’t do it with the character that looked like me, and I think I would’ve had a tough time doing it if I did. I guess I empathise pretty deeply with my characters and customising them to be closer to me only serves to deepen that. Although I do see the other side of the coin though, and sometimes its great to abstract yourself away from the norm and do things that you normally wouldn’t do, that’s why the Grand Theft Auto series is so popular.
Customisation is one of those meta aspects of gaming that traditionally you don’t take much notice of. With the advent of games like the Sims the focus shifted heavily and now many games feature in depth customisation which draws you even further into the game. Whilst I found myself none to bothered with it initially I’ve grown accustomed to recreating my virtual self and it never ceases to take add about 30 minutes worth of game time (depending on the editor). It’s a little bit of extra value that I’m starting to look for in any future game.
Or maybe it’s that repressed creative child in me trying to escape after being imprisoned by the cold adult engineer, who knows! 🙂