Steve sets out to fix the looks of character creation screens
Yank those sliders up and down. Embiggen that conk. Now stretch out your earlobes and paint your entire body a sickening shade of acid green. Make one leg extremely long, the other loop back on itself, then retract your fingers so much that they turn inside out like a horrible Marigold made of human skin. Finally, shrink your eyeballs down to the size of dried peas, so that they rattle around inside their empty sockets like beads in the saddest pair of maracas you’ve ever known.
No, not some fancy new yoga workout from London. I’m talking about the process of creating a custom character in a videogame. But where does this longstanding practice originate? Well allow me to completely fabricate the history of character creation to explain…
The very first character creation screen appeared in 1972, when Atari allowed players to dress up their Pong bat in a two-pixel wide moustache and suspenders, and choose from one of three voices: sassy, gruff and Tim Curry.
Since then, character creation screens have become increasingly elaborate, adding different varieties of bow-ties, top hats and hand-painted wooden clogs to the mix. In the 1985 platformer classic ‘Lord Montague’s Horrible House Of Spikes’, players could adjust the protagonist’s neck to one of 256 different lengths. Later, with the advent of 3D graphics in the 1990s, character creation tools could allow players to enlarge different facial features to grotesque proportions, such that each bit of the face would tussle with the others for domination of the head.
By the time we reach the modern era, the degree to which you can customise a character has reached new and ridiculous heights. What began as a way to subtly curate the appearance of the game protagonist, and therefore make you empathise more with them, became a means to spawn nightmarishly disproportioned clown monsters.
Open-world games are especially notorious for allowing players to create these obscene mutants – to play as a living, breathing refutation of a caring god – and then have those inhuman disasters appear in otherwise normal cutscenes, sobbing over the body of a friend as they bleed out in the street, or waiting patiently to receive orders from a mob boss who doesn’t seem to notice or care that you’re a 24 stone bearded man wearing star-shaped spectacles and a fluorescent orange nappy.
We players have proven ourselves incapable of handling the responsibility of choosing how large our virtual chins should be, and we should now be stripped of the privilege until such time as we’ve collectively learned our lesson.
Character customisation panders to the worst of our consumerist instincts, this idea that the customer is always right. But the customer is a gibbering idiot. Imagine if you were forced to choose the shape of Marlon Brando’s face before watching The Godfather, or if a cinema audience could toggle Daniel Day-Lewis’s moustache on and off mid-scene. That’s no kind of world I’d want to live in.
Evidently, I’m not the only person who feels that the job of character creation should be left to the developers. Sea Of
Thieves takes character customisation and reduces it to a dice roll, offering just a handful of randomly generated pirates to choose from, and not allowing you the option to fine-tune their knees to your exacting specifications.
This is progress, but we can do more to reduce customisation in games. Going forward, we must replace every protagonist in every game with just one default person, called Sharon, with perfectly average stats and very normal shoes and a regular sized face. Then, and only then, will we be rid of sliders that give your character a big arse. Steve writes for City A.M where he isn’t known as Sharon either.
“We can do more to reduce customisation in games”