character creation Guild Wars 2
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The RPG Player’s Lament

by erikab
Games and Gaming

“I envy people who never play RPGs,” I thought, as I adjusted the nose height of my new character a fraction of an inch, for the eighth time in a row.

I started playing Dragon Age Origins this week. I bought the game on Thursday, but I couldn’t start playing it until Saturday, because I knew I would need to invest a big chunk of time in the first session. Not to get through the tutorials or learn the controls; to get the face right.

Over a decade spent playing the Sims franchise has left me with an insatiable need to tweak facial characteristics, coupled with high standards for character design modules. If your game doesn’t allow the player to adjust the character’s chin depth, I don’t know what to tell you.

character creation The Sims 3
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Dragon Age Origins passed my test as far as options went. Although I wish they had brought a few more lights into the dungeon where you create your character, which is apparently lit by distant torches. Romantic, to be sure, but it made my task a lot more difficult. I had to resort to looking up the eye color options on the internet. (Bless you, internet. You were there when I needed you.)

I would like to customize my goat. I would give it spots.

This aspect of RPGs is as maddening as it is delightful. I feel the truth of this comic on a spiritual level. You can create a character who looks exactly like you, or your best friend, or your favorite celebrity.

The results are often hilarious, and sometimes bizarre. Occasionally both, as when my Sim versions of Hannibal and Will Graham autonomously dressed up in hot dog costumes then started making out in Hannibal’s office.

Some RPGs aren’t as generous with the design options. South Park: The Stick of Truth boasts “millions” of customization options, but your character can only be male. A curious oversight, in a game where there is literally no difference – either functional or visual – between female and male characters.

Other RPGs, like Outlast or Goat Simulator, offer no character design element. You’re just plunked into whatever character the game designers built for you.

I inhabit the body of Outlast’s rogue reporter, but I don’t feel that I become him. I don’t have that sense of ownership that comes from having created a character. Sometimes when his big hairy man hand comes into view I am startled. I forget that it is “my” hand.

I would like to customize my goat. I would give it spots.

I have yet to find a game that matches The Sims 3’s character design tools, although many come close. Guild Wars 2 offers something like 75 different shades of skin color, which is highly commendable. A slider is better, but I still appreciate games which offer a wide variety of skin tones. Not everyone is white, although you’d never know it from most video games.

character creation Elder Scrolls Online
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One of my tests for a character design studio is, “Can I create a frumpy female character?” The answer in Elder Scrolls Online was “Most definitely, yes.” My character had a flat chest, crow’s feet, and a broad, sagging bottom. It was delightful. I was delighted.

Most people try to create female characters who are beautiful, ethereal, magazine makeup ad quality stuff. I prefer characters who are a little bit plain, a little bit frumpy. They look so much more real, more human. I feel like it’s easy to be heroic when you’re beautiful. Me, I root for the scrappy, odd-looking underdogs.

default shepard
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Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to adjust my character’s cheekbone height just the tiniest little bit.

erikab

has written 2 FGEC articles.

ErikaB is a professional freelance writer who frankly should spend more time working and less time gaming. She also writes about video games at No Quarters Required.

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