Character Creators Need To Die
Character creators are, generally, terrible. Even the most advanced ones are limited and small, making the experience of whatever game they’re in feel less than it could and should. Look at nearly any game that you can create your own character and you will find it lacking. In my experience I’ve found two games that have not made me feel less attached to my character and those are Saint’s Row 3 and IV.
For minorities games are already challenging to find connections with, considering the vast majority of games feature scruffy, gruff white men, but it’s an added challenge for MOGAI players. SR3 and IV are the only two games where I’ve been able to make trans characters and even then they didn’t pull it off that well with bodies locked to genders.
Character creators with gender-locked hairstyles, voices and basic features are just outright bad. Even not considering trans, non-binary, and intersex individuals not every cis dude on the planet has short, slightly mussed up hair in one of eight slightly varied styles. Not every cis woman has the ‘can I speak to the manager’ look or an undercut. Even games that give you a few dozen options just for your hair are still limiting those hair styles to whether you clicked male or female on the first screen.
That doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that even the most robust character creators limit you to male or female. Honestly, we’re at a point in society, hell we’ve been at this point for years, that you should be writing with multiple genders in mind. If you can write around never using a character’s name you can sure as hell write around using their gender, which allows you to open up who and how you write.
Honestly, I’ve become far more attached to written, fleshed out characters that were created expressly for the story being told than I have for watered down half characters I’m able to make in games today. Hell, I’ll take 100 Nathan Drakes over another lifeless Ryder or Agent or Lone Survivor.
You can do so much more with a curated, established world and character than you can trying to give players ‘choice’. Overwatch is an example of a well rounded cast of interesting characters and that’s a game about moving a damn glove a couple blocks down the road. Horizon: Zero Dawn, NieR: Automata, OneShot, The Banner Saga, VA-11 Hall-A, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery; all are examples of games with incredibly written characters and stories. Someone spent time designing and crafting the people in those games to feel like they belong in the world, not weak imitations that never fulfill what people want out of a create-a-character.
Give me more Aloys, 2Bs and the entire damn cast of Watch Dogs 2. Give me more Maes and Greggs, give me more characters. Write, create a person for your world, to give it life. You can make whoever you want that way; you can provide games that can give people new experiences, playing as a trans person or woman, or another racial group. You can do so much more with well written, well designed characters than you ever can with a limited, slapped together creator.
I want so much more from games than they currently provide. I want different experiences than gruff white man and characters I’ll never be able to make look like me, or not like me, or anything I want. I want to experience things I can’t experience otherwise and haven’t before because I’m not part of that group. I want other people different from me to experience things they want in games.
Of course, all of this would require hiring marginalized peoples as writers and designers and I think, as a industry and society, we have a long way to go before that will happen, sadly.
I want characters who are characters. I want characters that are more than a genericized script and some sliders. Games have the potential to do so much to show diversity, so help people experience things from a point of view they can't have, if they're made to do so.