Games are often at their best when they give the player a hefty dollop of customisation options, and rarely is that better proven than character creation.
When a game lets you make your own character it’s making an empowering statement. It’s telling you that – even if just for one brief yet important moment – you’re in charge here.
It’s a declaration that the game trusts your judgment and your taste so much that it wants you – not the artists on the development team – to decide the appearance of the lead protagonist. Not just any character in the game but the main one, the guy or gal the entire story revolves around.
For most players this is a positive first step, one that puts them front and centre of a crucial decision-making process and lets them contribute to a game’s design, ultimately making it feel more like an adventure custom-built for them.
For me, though, it’s usually a massive headache, because it almost always brings up a question that I struggle to answer:
Should I make myself, or someone else?
It’s an annoying poser, and one that crops up regularly. Any time I’m presented with a set of character creation tools, I sit and have a proper, 10 minute think about whether virtual Chris Scullion is the man for this journey.
On rare occasions the decision is more or less made for me. When Mass Effect tells me my character is going to be called Shepard no matter what, then obviously I’m not going to make me because every time some wobbly pink alien prick calls me “Shepard” my immersion in the game will take a stiff boot in the dick.
Inversely, when I got a Wii and was asked to create a Mii that would serve as my personal avatar over a variety of games, naturally I had to make myself. It’s my Wii, it’s my save files, so it has to be my avatar.
But these are the exceptions. Most of the time – whether it’s in an epic RPG like Xenoblade Chronicles X, a sports game like FIFA or a wrestling game like WWE 2K16, I’m going to struggle to decide who to create.
I mentioned WWE 2K16 for a specific reason there. You see, it was a certain wrestling title that started this ridiculous problem in the first place, a hefty 17 years ago.
The tale of former WWF Superstar Jake McPake
Jake McPake was born in 1999, on the Nintendo 64 game WWF Wrestlemania 2000. For a laugh I decided to make the biggest and heaviest character I could and make him look ridiculous: a bright red afro, a dark beard and a pair of oversized sunglasses.
He may have been a joke character, but the more I played as Jake the more I genuinely liked him. I started imagining fake wrestling promos in my head as he fought. I lived the professional wrestling career I never had through him.
Underneath that comically large afro lied the mind of a specialist – a man who could play basketball, fight secret agents, master a racing car and, of course, wrestle with the best of them.
Here was a man who had it all – the massive physical presence of a celebrity bodyguard but the delicate precision of a ballerina, the charm of a Lothario yet the tenderness of a Romeo.
It’s because of Jake that my character creation dilemma thankfully never goes much further than the single issue of “do I make me or not”. For the past 17 years, any time I choose to go down the ‘not me’ route, I rarely have to think about what type of character I’m going to make. It’s almost always going to be Jake McPake.
In a way I think it’s another symptom of my indecision. It’s a sign that even once I’ve decided I’m not going to make myself, since I can’t even begin to start thinking what my new character will look like I just resort to the one creation I was truly happy with.
But in another way it’s almost like Jake is my alter-ego now, the video game version of me when a literal video game version of me seems a bit much.
Over to you
I’m curious to know your take on this. Not as in whether I have split personality disorder, but what you do when you’re faced with a character creation screen.
Do you always create yourself when you can, so you can see yourself doing things you’d never do in real life? Like me becoming a professional wrestler, as seen here in WWE 2K16 accompanied by an old no-longer used Disturbed version of the Stone Cold Steve Austin music?
Or do you make a fictional character? And when they’re fictional, is it always the same one, or do you just pull something fresh out of your head every time?
And have you had a single character, much like my Jake McPake, who’s been your wingman or wingwoman for many years and has always been your go-to hero when it’s time for Virtual You to sit the next adventure out?
Please share your stories (and images if possible!) so I know I’m not the only one with a weird polygonal friend.