It’s time to write a story about yourself. Wait, come back! Come on, don’t be shy. This will be fun! It involves video games… I promise!
So… Do you want to be the fabled hero of legend, sent by the heavens to purge the land of evil? Are you a hardened space captain whose arsenal is only emasculated by the size of your own ego? Or are you simply a lowly thief, stalking prey in the night and trying your best to avoid conflict? It’s exciting, isn’t it! No matter what your choice, there is nothing more exciting than starting up a new RPG.
Let’s talk about it.
Unless you’ve cheated and watched a play through, you typically start an RPG completely blind. You don’t know what to expect and it’s amazing. Before you stands a vast unknown land just waiting for your traversal. At this point, as your quivering hands fumble to get the box open, your character doesn’t exist. But in just a few moments, you’ll be immersed in a world that will be forever changed by your being.
Power on. Intro screen. Time to play.
Already, even if you are unaware of it, you are preparing to become somebody else. Even something as simple as the first choice you make in a game sets you up to enter the life of a brand new person. But, first you have to pick a name.
In most RPG’s, you are prompted to name the main character. It is here that we set up the first presidents of customization. You, the player, are in charge of who the hero is. Now, for some games, it ends here. You name your character and proceed to live out the most exciting moment in their lives. Even though this is a small choice, is it often the most important one. Picking a name instantly brings life to the character you play. An example is the Legend of Zelda. You pretty much decide if you want to be “Link” or someone else. There is a lot of power in that choice. Simply changing someone’s name can drastically alter who they are. Just imagine if your favorite movie character had a different name. Would they be the same person?
Some games go a step further and allow you ways to customize your character’s appearance. This makes it more personal and immersive, but further prompts you to answer a very important question:
Who do you want to be?
This is where the fun truly begins. While naming the Hero Of Time “Buttlord” is good for a laugh or two, nothing get me more excited than that moment when I am truly free to play around in the character creator. Be it The Sims, Skyrim, or Starbound, character creation lets you really personalize your gaming experience.
So who to create? The most obvious choice is to put yourself in the game. You give the hero your name, maybe tweak their appearance to more resemble yours, and then you’re off on an adventure. If the game allows, you go a step further and add in your real life aptitudes and flaws. This is the Digital You. It is fairly easy to get your head in a game when you can clearly see yourself on the screen. The controller becomes an extension of your body as they act as you would in that situation and make decisions based on your own personal though processes. Before you know it… you’ve been playing for six hours and you REALLY need to go to bed.
You’d think this is the most narcissistic option, when really it’s the second most.
The most is to create the Ideal You. While Digital You can sometimes be more accurate to whom you actually are, Ideal You is everything you wish you were. They are stronger, smarter, better looking, able to carry more gigantic swords, the whole package. They even complete missions and interact with the world how you would consider to be the perfect way. Ideal You tends to be an exaggeration of all your positive merits without any of your flaws. They are perfect and the game is lucky to have them exist within it.
Both of these options are equally valid. It’s a game after all, do your thing. But they are both choices for how you want to interact with the world. Either way, you have made a choice.
The third choice is more thought provoking and possibly more terrifying! You can play… someone completely different!
*Thunder and lightning*
“But Nate,” you begin to feebly protest, “we always play someone different. I don’t actually think I’m in the game.” While I won’t punish you for speaking out of turn, please allow me to destroy your argument. When you aren’t clearly recreating some version of yourself, a change occurs in your mind. This change is simple: You are adjusting your thought process to that of a temporary persona.
A mental liberation spawns during those precious moments when you are creating a brand new person to play. At first, it is superficial. Hair color, body type, facial features, what hand they hold their oversized warhammer in. The surface thing. But then you start to imagine the more complicated aspects of their personality. Their past, their likes and dislikes, what they are good at, what they struggle with, and even their overall temperament. There are so many things you consider without even knowing it. The game can prompt you only so much. Eventually, you’re going to start answering your own questions. Forgive my language, but character creation in modern RPG’s can take a butt load of time. A metric butt load.
Then, you’re playing. You’re in the game and given even more choices. What weapon do you want to use? Do you want to buy that spell? Will you help that person find their lost family heirloom? As you play, you are continuing to create your character. Every choice becomes part of their history. Every decision adds up and subconsciously fuels future ones. I WANT to kill this really annoying guard, but I promised the guild leader I wouldn’t spill any blood. Perhaps I can figure out an alternative way…
This is the reason we love RPG’s. To get inside the skull of another person for a little while. Take on a whole new way of thinking. A new set of moral codes and opinions. Maybe you’re a perfectionist and want them to accomplish everything there is in the game. Maybe they have an addiction of some kind and you are doing all you can to keep it in check. Or maybe there is that one thing that drives all their decisions. Some promise made or vow sworn. Perhaps they are out for revenge against an evil tyrant. Perhaps they ARE an evil tyrant and will stop at nothing to amass power. You get to have emotional sensations and experiences without real world consequences!
Of course, some people don’t care about making the perfect character. Some people are just fine with the preset hero that came in the box. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, many games are designed so that you have very few choices you can actually make. The game turns on and you are handed the same hero another customer was. But I would argue that everyone plays that hero differently. I doubt people playing Frogger complained about only one frog color, but I bet they each debated what route was the best. This is why games are so great. It can be something as small taking a minute to stop and view the scenery in game. A long glance to appreciate beauty in a world amidst impending doom. That’s a decision that’s unique to your personal experience. You can’t avoid making decisions in games.
Even if you are given none.
But in the end, we are just talking about games. Eventually, you turn them off and they cease to be a factor in your life.
So why spend the time? If it’s just a game that will end, why spend so long creating your character? Because this is the temporary persona you will adopt. This person you’re creating, unbeknownst to them, is about to become the most important person in the game. If you’re like me, wise beyond your years with a body carved from marble, you too get totally sucked in during a Role Playing Game. The edges of the screen fade away, all other sounds vanish, and your mind is pulled into the world of the game. So grab your controller, throw on your headphones, and hit that “New Game” button. This land is in serious need of a hero… and you look like you can handle it.