If anyone wants to psychoanalyze us, they could just take a shortcut and go straight to our the results of our character creation attempts in big RPGs like Mass Effect, or find us as a sexy Blood Elf in our favorite MMOs. The type of hero you make says a lot about you, and how you see yourself. Is the real reflection of your soul you with better hair, or a big blue man with freakishly large eyebrows? We asked our team what happens when they get busy with the sliders.
This is the latest in a series of big questions we'll be interrogating our writers with, so share your answers and suggestions for topics with us on Twitter.
A Frankensteinian manifestation of my own poor self-esteem
Let's be honest, a lot of people make their video game counterparts with rose-tinted glasses. We're not really that tanned, brawny, or wide-eyed, after all. No one is. I've learned that the hard way whenever I turn off Animal Crossing: New Horizons, my adorable avatar waving at me before the reflection of my own, lockdown-weary face is seen emptily staring back into the abyss. With that in mind, I try to be as self-deprecating as I can when creating myself in video games, conjuring up the person I think I look like, rather than the one I'd hope to be. Is that unhealthy? Maybe, but it's also refreshingly satisfying to play as a hero who isn't, for once, dashingly good looking, but a regular schmuck. Who saved Skyrim from its dragon problem, cured Yharnam of the plague, and is currently living their best life in Los Santos? An awkwardly proportioned, curly-haired, big-nosed weirdo, that's who. Alex Avard
Rugged, agile, and with an unpredictable face hardened by years of underpaid wetwork
If we're talking MMOs (which I almost always am), I like my characters to resemble the sort of stealthy, sure-footed mercenary I'll never get to be in real life: rugged, agile, and with an unpredictable face hardened by years of underpaid wetwork. Since in reality, my ghostly white complexion and doughy, lumbering physique hardly make for an effective assassin, in games I like to play the opposite. Think Bronn from Game of Thrones, because that's usually what I'm imagining when making a custom character.
Black leather armor, a dagger at my waist and a longbow strapped around my back, my character's sly mystique starts with the right physical attributes; a lined face and scarred body proving years of experience; built, but nimble, and with a long shock of hair to cover my face and hide my intentions. Essentially, everything I'll never be because I'm too busy cosplaying my Animal Crossing character, who's an utter slob. Jordan Gerblick
As much like myself as humanly possible
Back when I first started to play games, the option to even choose a female avatar was rarely there. Nowadays, where character customisation is much more intricate, I do my very best to recreate myself in video game form. I spend far too much time doing this too, especially in The Sims, where this realism extends to my friends, my family, and my pets too. Being able to look like myself in a game still feels like a huge deal, adding to the immersion and making the connection between player and events even stronger. Sam Loveridge
The love child of Stretch Armstrong and a Victorian wood elf
Being yourself is great and all, but nothing beats getting silly. Pump those sliders up, that’s my motto. Anytime I'm given the option to tinker with a custom character – be it Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Skyrim, or any other game foolish enough to give me even a modicum of creative control – I just max out the options as much as humanly (or inhumanly, as the case may be) possible.
That means super skinny, lanky men with rubbery foreheads, toothpick shins, and a chin even Thanos would think is a bit OTT. Blue hair too, naturally. Bonus points for any title that bends over backwards to put my monstrosity into cutscenes. Everyone’s chatting away, dishing out exposition and my nine-foot creature lumbers into sight. Brilliant. You’ve got to make sure you nail the facial hair, though. Pro tip: Green skin + a handlebar mustache is a great way to go and will only make your eyes bleed a little bit. Bradley Russell
Whatever the "Randomize button" gives me
I used to carefully move the sliders back and forth, trying to capture the perfect vision for a character I had conjured up in my head. Nowadays I can't be bothered. Assuming I don't just stick with the default settings, which always look better than anything I could create myself, I immediately mash that Randomize button. Randomize, randomize, randomize, all the way through an upsetting menagerie of bizarre specimens, until something looks sort of alright. Then I give it a few tweaks and I'm off to the races.
It sounds lazy, and it is, but it also makes me play characters with all kinds of looks that I might not otherwise consider. Rather than hewing to some personal aesthetic I carry from game to game, I just take what this particular virtual world throws at me and I roll with it. I lean on Randomize so hard these days that I get genuinely indignant when a character creator leaves it out. Connor Sheridan
Sort of like me, but not
I very much used to be similar to Connor in the respect of meticulous creation, but I'd produce a likeness of myself so I could live my life vicariously through video games. On the whole, that's long gone now. I'll still try to get a bit of me in there with broad brush strokes though - the right style and colour of hair, eye colour etc - but now I like to add flourishes of the ridiculous, to create a kind of caricature of myself. Massive tattoos down the arms and legs? Absolutely! The biggest hat going? Yup, give me that plus some ridiculous aviator glasses or something and we're flying. One of my weirdest favourites was in Rory McIlroy PGA Tour where the dude looked (a bit) like me, had the left-handed swing, but was dressed in complete luminescent green; from hat to shoes, both gloves to sunnies. He looked like a garbage man.
And this hybrid of me/not me is particularly fun in co-op games with my friends: they won't know it's me at first glance when I turn up in outlandish new hats, pyjamas, or with bandana and sunglasses combos in Wildlands or Breakpoint, but the face is familiar and reveals my ruse in the end. You've got to laugh at yourself occasionally and I'll embrace any way to do it virtually too. Rob Dwiar
As far from me as possible
I used to bend over backwards to create a character that looked like me. Even in the days of Oblivion - when everyone's face was the humanoid version of a melted candlestick - I was a melted candlestick that sort-of looked like Benjamin. Then I discovered Mass Effect. Despite giving it a good go, I quickly realised that no avatar I created could match the default Commander Shepard. Rather than a hero, my protagonist always looked like a neanderthal who'd gotten lost on his way back from clubbing a mammoth over the head. And that got me thinking. This isn't really supposed to be me, especially with characters like Shepard that have a pre-existing backstory. And to be honest, that's no bad thing. I know how I'd react, but how would someone else respond? So I started creating characters that were, for the most part, very different to me. That usually involves choosing an unusual or cool-looking preset and tweaking them a bit. Benjamin Abbott
Giant blue lad
I'll be honest, most of the time my character creations look a bit like me, because the game's I play with them - FIFA, XCOM, and Pokemon to name the most recent few - don't really give you too much to work with. However, when I get my hands on a really good character creator, I go hog wild with the options. EA's UFC games, for example, let you create some real grotesque lookin' people, but my personal favourite is Everybody's Golf. Good lord can you create some real abominations with that, with my pièce de résistance being a giant blue lad with an orange afro and pursed lips. If I could put him in every game I play, I would. Ben Tyrer
Me but hot and an elf
Now more than ever, I’m venturing into gaming worlds to escape reality, so there is no way I'm making a realistic recreation of myself in a game. Especially in games where I can be creatures of different species. So, as a general rule, I make a skinnier, clear-skinned elven version of myself with a smaller nose and a cool hair colour that I could never pull off. Usually with a scar across the eye or on the cheek. You know, somewhere badass that doesn’t take away from their overall hotness. Rather than making me feel insignificant, it just makes me want to venture back into the worlds they live in all the more. It also deludes me into thinking that if I was born an elf, I could be that attractive too. Ellen Causey
Usually someone who looks like a badass with great hair
Whenever I dive into a game with character customisation, I spend an inordinately long time picking what hairstyle to go for, and agonising over every little choice. Before I know it, an hour has passed by and I haven't even seen them in action yet. As a big fan of RPGs, I like to lose myself in the role-play and fantasy of it all, so the character I usually end up making doesn't look remotely like me (and there's a high chance I'll have a crush on them several hours into the game, too). I'm basically a potato in human form, after all, so I try to create someone who's a lot more exciting than I am. Let me fill the shoes of someone more courageous and badass than me, with a hair colour I wish I could have in reality without absolutely killing my hair - I'm talking bright reds and pastel purples. Heather Wald
Call my therapist
How do you navigate your shifting sexuality as a young woman in the early aughts? For me, it was a highly specific combination of ripping out pictures of Megan Fox from J14 magazine and creating custom characters that looked like super hot punk chicks who would bully me. It wasn't until recently, when I started creating a character for The Outer Worlds, that I realized every single character I create looks like my ideal mean girlfriend, and I've been doing that for nearly twenty years. If I were a dude, this would be infinitely creepy - it still is a bit, no? But it's even creepier when I point out that all of the characters I have ever built look like Parallel Universe Alyssa. Call my therapist.
Problematic associations with attractiveness and crippling narcissism aside, my affinity for creating a character who looks like she would step on your throat in platform Doc Martens began with WWF SmackDown! I would make just a slightly altered version of Lita, the sidekick for the Hardy Boyz who wore mesh tops, baggy pants, and a neon thong hiked up to her fifth rib. Give me a partially shaved head, severe eyebrows, and searing green eyes that promise to look right through you as a pointed voice calls you pathetic, and you've got any character I've ever made, ever. Alyssa Mercante
Me and I hate it
Every single time I sit staring at the character creation screen I think ‘This time I'll make someone cool’ but it never materialises. Under the misguided notion that i’ll somehow identify with the character more if it looks like me, I always end up creating someone that looks a bit like me only with a better hair cut. Ooh the creativity. It does mean I don’t tend to spend too long in character creation menus playing with sliders until the eye colour is exactly how I want it to be though. But that’s mostly because I can create something that looks close to my likeness from the first few options in any character creator menu as that’s where the blandest options tend to be. Out of all the wonderful characters I could create and go on an adventure with, I'll always end up with: Face option somewhere between one and three, no higher. Middle of the range body type. T-shirt, jeans. Short spiky hair. Sunglasses if i’m feeling adventurous and you have the option to take them off. My brain is stupid. James Jarvis
Honestly? Me. Just me.
I’m not playing games so someone else can have all the fun. I play a lot of story and adventure stuff as a mixture of wish fulfilment and escapism, and I basically want the starring role. There’s no point steering someone else to all the glory if you can possibly help it. That means I spend far too long trying to make customisable characters look like me, as my Commander Shepard up there goes to show. If anyone’s going to be pretend flying through space, fighting monsters or leaping death defying chasms in a game, it might as well be me. If it’s not then you’re basically watching a movie and there’s already enough people without my face in those. Leon Hurley
Whatever pops into my head first
After spending years agonizing over character creators, I eventually just accepted the fact that I'm not a creative person, so I started going with the first thing that came to mind. For Monster Hunter World, I thought it might be cool to play as a grizzled silver fox, so I made an old dude. When I played Monster Hunter World: Iceborne on PC, I wanted something different, and I thought a tanned, toned warrior based on the Dragon's Crown Amazoness might be neat. Final Fantasy 14? Dragon mage based on Cynder from the Spyro trilogy nobody played. Dark Souls 3? Gotta be a tall pyromancer chick with red eyes. Code Vein? Also a tall pyromancer chick with red eyes.
Look, I never said I was original. My point is, creating characters on impulse alone has saved me a lot of time and frustration, and it's forced me to try styles and aesthetics I might normally avoid. If you regularly wind up thinking yourself into a corner when creating character, I highly recommend this method. Austin Wood
‘90s surfer dude
I grew up on an unwavering diet of WWF wrestling, Baywatch and Chesney Hawkes songs – yes, he does have more than one (and only) – so it’s the early ‘90s surfer dude look for all digital doppel-Benjamins. Long blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, ripped biceps, ripped jeans. Not to diss the place where I grew up, but why go for the Croydon look when you can get free Californian plastic surgery? The single exception, oddly enough, is the WWE 2K series. Here, my dude going back years has been a Hawaiin colossus named Jason Occean. Even more boulder-shouldered than blonde digi-me, Jase’s locks are similarly lustrous yet long and dark, and – cliche alert! – he sports a tattoo of Neptune on his chest. He’s also a closet Little Mermaid devotee. Er, totally unlike his creator. Ben Wilson
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