My Rock Band 2 character tips her hat.

This may be an unpopular view, but I can count the gaming characters I have genuinely related with on both of my hands, it is a tiny number, a feeble landmark considering all the thousands of games I have played and enjoyed.

While I can share the moods of any given character, appreciate their tragedy or enjoy their success, the average video game story feels more like their narrative than mine, I am borrowing the moment from them, and I hand it back when the goal is reached.

Valeska the PSO android looks out over the crater sunset.

Me, myself and I

The exception to this rule are the characters that I have created, these are the personas I can identify with best as through time and emotional toil I’ve had a hand in their making. They share my personality entirely rather than me attempting to bash mine into a predefined character, they have my appearance preferences, they share my hair colour, eyes and sense of self, they even wear the clothes I desire (or sometimes the things I wouldn’t be caught dead in.)

But above all they cannot exist without me, the adventures we partake in are ours, they stop when turn the console off and they return when I resume. These characters exist only for me, while we explore the world of any game, many others will follow the paths I take, and many more will see the places, but few if any will decide as I do, move when I do, explore and run and enjoy the ride. So even if another plays them, their journey is not quite the same as my unique playthrough.

That’s not to say that looking back on an adventure played with a normal character can’t be a brilliant experience also. Sometimes it’s nice to escape from our own image, to walk a mile in someone elses shoes, and in that regard the majority of my favourite games have involved playing as another person, following their unique stories, watching the influences of the other characters around them. The key is to maintain a healthy balance between playing the character that you want to share your personality with, and the character who will invariably end up lending you theirs for a moment.

My oblivion assassin at the Imperial waterfront.

The free-world agenda

If I find myself playing a game when I am a rigid character I long for the ability to customize, all too often this means the ability to choose the correct gender, to mould a gruff male warrior into the being that represents me. An average game (despite its apparent excellence elsewhere) leaves me little room to be anything other than “him”. As a result very few video game characters meet with me eye-to-eye – certainly compared to the characters that I have made. I have admired the adventures of Jade and Alyx and many other magnificent men and women. I have appreciated their intelligence and personality, but bold – yet engaging – (female) characters such as these are still sadly the rarity not the norm.

As long as developers continue to dictate that “I” must play “he” in certain games there will be a minute distance between the games I like and the ones I love. This doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the narrative or even the fun of the characters or any of the many other hundreds of enjoyable components of a game – but it does highlight the contrast between who I am for that game and who I want to be, and it’s jarring.

Sadly even the biggest, most open gaming world is usually closed to females in this regard. The world may be enormous, beautiful and begging to be explored but it’s slightly hollow if the character you’re exploring it in is usually the same generic male persona.

Valeskaleneux, the Rainbow Six Vegas Senior Master Sergeant.

It’s in the best interest of everyone that more games blend the themes of character customization and story-led content. Bioware have shown us that how a game can work in duality, allowing for both male and female audiences, for personal traits and preferences, Bethesda have shown us that this element can work on an open landscape, and Valve’s Left 4 Dead along with Gearbox’s Borderlands has shown that including a playable female character even in the most percieved “male genre” does work.

The gaming characters I identify with most characters are the beings of my own creation, most people will never meet them, they will never gain the notoriety or credence of bigger, more popular personalities, but that’s okay, I know how unique they are, and that’s all that matters.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part, please email him for details.

Other takes on this topic:

Silvercublogger: Will Sing Opera For Italian Food

Game Couch: Gabriel Knight

Aim for the Head: Friends Through The End

Extra Guy: Who I Identify With

Next Jen: I Rather Be Me

carocat.co.uk: A rushed love letter

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