Monday, 27 January 2014

Why getting to customise your looks in games is awesome (and less vain than it may seem).

The field of video games is a pretty fast moving one. I wasn't around when those original arcade smashes like Space Invaders and Donkey Kong were all the rage (although I have played re-releases) and some of my earliest gaming memories was on my family's Atari. They were simple games; catching fish, crossing a road, navigating a moon buggy across a crater... but since then things have become more complicated.

We wanted more interactivity, more customisability. It wasn't just about games letting us play as Mario, they were about letting us 'be' Mario. Role Playing (and fantasy) Games were my first experience of being able to name your character. In particular I remember playing Ocarina of Time on the N64, circa 1997, and deciding to call Link Jennie. As the Great Deku Tree spoke his words of wisdom I remember thinking, 'its so cool that he uses my name... but it is a shame that Jennie doesn't look a bit more like me'. 

When it comes to Zelda games, I learned the error of my ways (I often call Link Link now, although I regularly call Epona Stinky... because I have the brain of a 5 year old), and I thing that changing the look of an icon like Link would be an error, however, in other games I think changing the look of the characters is a huge step into developing more engaging game play.

Very recently I have been playing Pokemon X on the 3DS. There is a heavy element of player customisability in this game that wasn't present in earlier games (most likely due to graphical limitations) but with an improved game engine came more dressing up options. 

Standard options happen at the start of the game, name, sex and then you get to choose from on of 3 looks. I was pretty disappointed by this as none of them were even close to me:

I went for the middle one. However as the game progresses you get to the amazing Lumiose city (blatantly based on Paris) and things start to change, you can get a hair cut! AND Contact lenses! Then things start looking a little more familiar.

This is my character with my customised features, but the default outfit (with a blue hat instead of pink).

It is not long either before you can access the clothing stores in the various cities throughout the game. Some are more expensive than others, and for one of them you have to prove that you're stylish enough to be allowed to enter. 

Just like Pretty Woman!

A stylish establishment... With rude staff.

As a result of this, you are able to build up a collection of outfits to again, make your character seem a bit more like you. The outfits themselves are a little stereotypical, with a bit too much pink and too many miniskirts, but overall they cover quite a few bases.

Towards the end of the main part of the game I found my favourite outfit, and the one I have been wearing ever since. A lovely blue dress coat with fur cuffs. I would TOTALLY wear this one.

And perhaps this is the point, I know this character, I understand and identify with her. She is how I wold like to be if I lived in the Pokemon World.

Oh and did I mention she's a champion?

And she has a kick-ass Eevee team, the original customisable Pokemon.

Nintendo are onto a winner with this kind of game detail, but lets face it, other games have been doing this type of thing for some time. Getting to choose FemShep in Mass Effect, focussing on every minute race and look detail of your character in Skyrim its obviously not just me that likes this kind of customisability or why would other games do it too?

I suppose it is all part of the Effect philosophy, where everything you do, every choice, has an impact on the world you're playing in. A sort of pseudo free will, if you will. Did you ever play with the lives of Sims characters, taking away their fridges and gambling with the Grim Reaper to give them a second chance? Its all just another version of us wanting to have influence over a world we are investing time in.

One game that combines the customisable look element, and decision making/social responsibility beautifully is Animal Crossing. All the AC games have elements of this, but none more so that New Leaf. I mean you're the Mayor! You can build things, approve planning permission (sort of), ban a nightclub or sell at a flea market its all there.

On top of this you get to pay your mortgage and succumb to the pressure of expanding your living space and scouring the shops to ensure that your furniture matches.

This is my green room, I make my guests wait here before I interview them...

And here is my walk in wardrobe room...

And this is me, doing a spot of cosplay...

Just like real life... sorta.

Its not just in game now though, how you look forms part your avatar, you icon for the various social gaming circles out there. Just like your facebook profile picture it says a lot about you.

I initially tried to make my Mii avatar as close to me as possible, similar hair lined eyes red lipstick. But then vanity takes hold and I gave her a smaller nose, I look at the people I meet on street pass and wish i could do something silly with my face but no, I like this one. Because this is the one I can identify with.

Of course, if you play street pass games you earn costumes to wear:

I think I make a good blonde...
And before you start crying out that its not just Nintendo that are doing this, I know, in fact, here is my avatar on XBox, not that it gets used much, as i tend to play on the hubbies.

I love the fact that the 'vintage look' has become popular enough that victory rolls had a hair preset! However, I really feel that this more realistic avatar is least like me, but you know, that could just be because I am too stingy to pay £0.69 to buy a new virtual skirt?

Customisation is a right, not something to be paid for.

Overall, I think changing the way you look is just an extension on game play, and adds an extra dimension of engagement and personalisation, not vanity, but then, I'm someone who likes dressing up. Maybe I was always going to love this aspect of games.

Do you spend much time thinking about your characters look? 

Do you have any cool avatar looks?
Send pics to @JennieDresses on Twitter, I'd love to see your characters.

And my DS friend code is: 1220 - 60646 - 2417


  1. I can spend hours in the character customizer in games like Skyrim or Fallout! While not a lot of people liked it, I always thought it was interesting that the costumes in Final Fantasy X-2 had all different pros and cons and were customized for each character.

    1. Its easy to get sucked isn't it?! I started playing Skyrim with my husband recently and we spent a good hour trying to decide what our character should look like (in the end we ended up with a dude that looked nothing like either of us).

      Gosh, I ADORED the dresspheres in X-2, they totally slipped my mind when writing this, I guess because I've not played in a long time. I'm looking forward to seeing how the different outfit changes are incorporated into Lightning Returns too.

  2. I love that Pokémon embraced their international fans, and made the avatars more diverse! Its fun to get your character to look like you cause its like one tiny step closer to being a part of the story believably.

    I hope the next Animal Crossing follows Pokémon (I know the avatars are traditionally Japanese).

    Until then: tanning on the island! :)

    My DS's code is: 2466-2723-4180

    1. Hi Joie, thanks for reading. I agree that any thing that helps you feel a bit more involved can only be a good thing in gaming. I think pokemon have done a good job this time around, a simple system that doesn't take too long to customise, but gives you enough choice to be worthwhile.

      It would be nice to see some other alternatives on animal crossing too. I think being able to earn the ability to edit your skin tone or eye style, the way you can with your hair might be nice.

      Thanks for the friend code by the way, I'll add next time I'm on my DS :)

    2. Oooh! That would be cool! So you could be tanner in summer and have your winter skin in your little town! I like that!
      PS I can't seem to add your code is there one extra number?

  3. I love the customization in Pokemon! It's great to feel like a character is actually "me." Much more immersive!

    1. Me too!! I really hope they continue with this as a feature in the games. I was really surprised by how much of a difference it made to my enjoyment of the game (that and the roller skates are my favourite of the new features).

      Thanks for the comment Miranda :)

  4. I love the customization in Pokemon. My brother made fun of me with how much I was tweaking my character's appearance.

    But my favorite customization is probably from Mass Effect 2. You can customize your characters look, sure, but you can also customize your armor. My fem!Shep is now running around in a cobalt and bright purple suit with white lining. It doesn't do much for camouflage, but it looks real cool.

    1. Haha! My brother couldn't laugh at me, I've seen his PR video so I know he's messed around with his characters appearance.

      I've still not really played Mass Effect, although I was given the whole trilogy for Christmas *yes!* so I'm thinking there will be an epic play through over Easter.

      That suit sounds like it would be very nice to look at (tweet me a pic if you would like to/have time)! Hopefully I'll spend as much time with the story as I inevitably will do messing around with armour choices :)

  5. Great post! I totally agree with you about naming characters after myself regardless of their gender. I like being able to customise a character so they look more like me (I made The Lone Wanderer on Fallout 3 look like my double!) as it allows me to get more immersed in the game and the world of the game. My Xbox avatar is no different either!


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