Putting Yourself in the Game, or Not…or Never

Joining with masses, I recently took advantage of PlayStation’s holiday sale in picking up Grand Theft Auto V: Premium Online Edition. Outside of the online extras, it was a good deal, and it would finally allow my husband and I to play side-by-side in Los Santos. (Which we’ve been doing, hoo boy, it is ever a good time.) But, before we could get rockin’ and rollin’, I had to create a character. No big deal, right? I create hundreds of characters all over the place, and…an hour later…I had her.

Meet Jazminn, i.e. not me in any way, shape, or form

And as I sat there, ready to push the all-important “lock your character in stone” button, I hesitated.

Maybe this time I should have created myself?

Now’s there’s a wild thought! And honestly, it’s one that truly never crossed my mind before when creating a character in any game. This question of such a usual nature has stuck with me for the past week, and I can only guess that something about the real world-ness of GTA V might have played a role in its formulation. That’s to say, part of me thought that perhaps since the fictional city of Los Santos is based on familiar Earth cities, rather than being set in a world of pure fantasy, that I should be a part of it.

But the thing is, I never create myself in games.

On this site, we’ve had interesting discussions about how we, the players, mentally and emotionally interact with the characters we play. The existence of character creators in many modern games can go a step or many steps further in supplementing those interactions. I’m sure there’s a certain psychology that might say something to my lack of wanting to see myself in a video game, but ever since my first experience with character creation in Mass Effect, it just hasn’t been my “thing.”

In this, I’m really just talking about the physical look of the person created on-screen, not necessarily the notion of foisting one’s own values onto your blank slate of a character. However, the two could go hand-in-hand, especially when we’re talking about games with carefully crafted protagonists, like John Marston or Senua or Aloy. With many RPGs where I get to create characters, once those characters start interacting with others, I’ve often found myself at odds with the backstories I’ve created for them and the dialogue choices from which I have to choose. It’s one of the reasons I found myself disconnected from my hero in The Outer Worlds. But I digress.

The point is, I can’t think of a single instance, from Mass Effect to The Outer Worlds, where I felt compelled to recreate my face in any character creator. However, if I do have a “calling card” when it comes to character creation it’s that when given the choice to play as a male or female, I will always play as a female, and I’ll continue to choose and make female characters in the same game until I feel satisfied and am ready to switch things up.  So it’s overtly fascinating to me to watch others painstakingly recreate their own faces in games, in as much as it is to watch when someone has to find a certain feature for their single character they’ve created a thousand times in a thousand plays. The latter idea is perhaps even more intriguing, because it’s hard for me to think about what my landscape of RPGs would look like if I only ever created my first Commander Shepard over and over and over again.

I’d like to think that all my Shepards and Wardens and Heroes and Wanderers exist in their own universes with their own interactions and reactions. But, at the end of the day, I suppose, they are all “me,” even if the look like the exact opposite of what I see in the mirror. Maybe someday I’ll put myself in the game, but for now, I’m perfectly fine with my “others” saving the day.

In games that allow character creation, do you prefer a lookalike avatar, or not?

All images including lede taken by author during PS4 gameplay of Grand Theft Auto Online © Rockstar North, Rockstar Games (2013).


  1. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    I’ll undoubtedly have more to say about GTA Online in an upcoming Virtual Bastion post, but for the moment, its character creator *still* has me thinking and me and games and me IN games.


  2. That’s really interesting about making the same character over and over again. I find that, once I found a character I liked for, say, the Dalish elf origin in Dragon Age, I re-made her a few times because I legit just wanted to replay her story. But for other origins, I made different characters, and did (gasp) make a male Dalish elf. Ditto for Commander Shepard… once I settled into my “canon,” I wanted to play that story over again (when I played with a femShep).

    But yeah, the closest I came to actually self-inserting myself into a game was my first RPG experience, and I gave the character the same hair color as me. Wild and crazy me, I know.

    You’ve got me thinking about character creation now…. I’ll have to puzzle over this some more. Excellent thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      There’s got to be a psychology behind character creation, right? 🙂 I mean, it’s fascinating when you really think about it – that process of making our ideal (or un-ideal) selves in fictional worlds. As well, there’s something comforting when you find your own character niche, like you and your Dalish elves or your canon Shepard. For me, I wouldn’t say I get out of sorts when I don’t have the choice to play as a female character, though I do get bristly about all the recent nonsense about *why* devs say that can’t make female protagonists. But that’s a talk for another day.

      Anyhoo, in my own circle, the things I’ve seen character creation-wise run the gamut, from those who will only play characters of the opposite gender to themselves, to those who always try to make some version of themselves, to those who always use particular features, hairstyles, make-up options, etc. As both my husband and I have gotten older, you’re more likely to see our characters with graying hair! There’s just something relatable in that; and having the option to do that is part of what make the character creation process so enjoyable.


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