If you play video games, you have probably made more avatars than you can remember. Many of us make a fantasy character who is more fit and attractive than we are in real life. Others want desperately to see themselves reflected in video games, but the system doesn't give you the option. With that in mind, seven of us decided to make character in the newly released Fallout 4 who were more or less reflections of ourselves.
I am basically a GIF in human form, so making an avatar of myself in video games is usually fairly painless. That being said, I almost always play as "Ahmed" and with good karma. If I don't make myself the hero, the only time I'll see a brown bearded dude reflected in a video game is down the barrel of a gun.
I struggled with the same two things I usually do with video games: my character's skin tone and my imperfections. There was one shade that was too light and one that was too dark. I went darker because it felt uncomfortable making a whitewashed version of myself. I don't think I've ever been in a character creator that accurately had my specific color.
On the hotness factor, I tried to reel it in, but I couldn't handle how mole-like my eyes are! I usually hide them under glasses, but without that option, I couldn't help making them bigger. Otherwise, I really tried to make myself as accurately as myself and kept pulling out the cheeks to add weight and making my natural smiley face come to life. When I look at the final product though, I failed at that. This is basically a leaner, meaner version of myself who has survived a nuclear apocalypse.
Usually when I have to make a character in a game I make something that looks different from my IRL self. In an RPG, I might give myself red hair and a pixie cut or play as an old man. I usually enjoy the escapism part of gaming, but for the purposes of this post I tried to make something that looked like myself.
First impression when making my character was that I already resemble the default 'generic white girl' option, so it wasn't too much of a stretch. But I was a little disappointed with how many of the "average" features I ended up choosing. I guess I am not that unique!
I felt very self-conscious looking at pictures of my own face, trying to re-create it. It was incredible how you could sculpt every millimeter. Is that how big my nose is? Are my eyebrows that close to my eyes? Do my lips jut out that far? Also, I have a lot of problems with acne in real life, so when I realized how many different options there were for blemishes it got a little too real for me. The hair options weren't very extensive, so I ended up settling for hair that's a lot shorter than my own. Hair plays a big part in creating your silhouette, so if you can't find the right one, it will be hard to make it look like you.
I play a lot of iOS role-playing games that don't have a lot of character customization, so my priority is always to make sure my character is at least as close to my skin tone as possible. This time, I was really dedicated to making sure I got the details of my face right, instead of making a generic hot brown woman with dark hair.
I found that as I was making my character in a room with other people, I felt the need to explain my choices in a deprecating way, like, "Oh, my nose is way more bulbous than that" or "my lips clearly aren't puffy enough." I'm still unpacking why I did that. Actually, I didn't think my character looked much like me until we put some glasses on her. I wear glasses every day and have since I was a kid, so I don't easily recognize myself without them.
For my hair, I had to compromise with this wig-looking Fallout '50s bob haircut because the only options that read as African-American or multiracial hair were a Grace Jones flattop or a teeny little fro. Curls are real, people!
I rarely ever make an avatar of myself in video games — I usually make characters from the stories I write just to see what they might look like outside of my head. They always have brown skin, and if I'm playing a tabletop RPG where I have more flexibility, I give them braids or locks that they can easily tie back for fighting. Essentially, I model my characters after what I wish I could see more of in the fantasy and sci-fi I love consuming.
When I started to make my character, I really struggled with the facial features I felt most self-conscious about. I would vastly exaggerate them, as if to say, "Hey guys, don't worry! I've noticed these flaws and I'm not trying to pretend like they don't exist!" But luckily there were other people in the room who reined me in and were like, "lol don't do that."
I was unsurprised to find that matching skin and hair was an issue. In fact, the hair textures offered were so different from my own that I just opted to go bald. I also wanted to give myself darker skin than what I ended up settling with, but the darker skin tones had strange bluish and purplish undertones that just didn't look natural. Maybe beauty shouldn't be a top priority when you're facing a nuclear apocalypse, but dark skin deserves to look as beautiful in the game as it does in real life!
When I finally saw the photos side by side, I freaked out a little because they look eerily similar. She could potentially be my postapocalyptic cousin who's seen some shit. I'm also proud that this character didn't come out looking classic-video-game hot. There are definitely some differences between us, but I think she does a decent job of representing me.
BONUS PICTURE! Anjali with hair:
Usually, I just make a hyped-up version of myself: cooler hair, stronger jaw, etc. If I can pretend for a little while, then why not? But a lot of times, my skin tone doesn't show up as an option in video games. I'm Filipino and have lighter skin with olive undertones. The many variations in skin tone in the world are too plentiful to put into a single video game, so I understand that my exact color doesn't show up in Fallout; it's not L'Oréal True Match foundation.
The interface was really overwhelming here. SO MANY OPTIONS! The preset combinations were convenient, but I didn't closely resemble the Asian male option they had, so I opted to build my face with the first white dude as a base. The way that much of your facial features are determined on a sliding scale made me realize so many things I didn't know about my face: Are my eyes sunken in? How high are my cheekbones? How big is my jaw?
Ultimately, I didn't compromise anything, making an avatar that was a cooler, hotter version of me. If anything, I just sort of gave up on trying to emulate what I looked like, because the myriad options were overwhelming. You could spend DAYS perfecting your player and still not be satisfied. He ended up being a really sexy version of me, so I'm satisfied.
I've made so many characters over the years, in video games and tabletop role-playing games, but this is probably the first time I've ever even considered making someone who looks like myself. I usually create very skinny, lanky-bordering-on-frail men or women as my avatar, probably because I've never been particularly comfortable with my weight or my shape. I tend to view games as all about escape and the fantasy, so why would I want to play as myself?
With that in mind, it took a while to actively concentrate and make my character. Two minutes into it, I thought: "Oh crap, wait — what do I look like?"
The hardest part of character creation was getting the dimensions of my face right. I wanted it to be wider overall, but it was hard to achieve that without completely changing the shape of my chin and cheeks. Things felt easier, to be honest, once I added facial hair. That's when it felt a little less like I was molding a stranger's face and more like I was making some sort of avatar. After a lot of minor tweaks, I was pretty satisfied with the forehead, hair, and eyes. I wasn't as satisfied with the eyebrows, chin, or general shape of the face, but I'm not sure I could have done much more than this.
I always strive to create characters that look as much like the real me as possible in video games. Most of the time, the character comes out looking nothing like me. I'll spend a lot of time creating the face, only to add a gigantic scar that the real me doesn't have and a lengthy beard that the real me can't actually grow. I'll also add a lot of muscle tone and bulk. I usually make a version of myself that the setting of the game calls for — I suppose you can call it an "idealized" version. I love action heroes, and I use video games as an opportunity to transform myself into one.
My approach here wasn't any different. I set out to make a badass version of myself, and in that sense I think I succeeded. I added a chin scar, which I actually have in real life. However, my desire for an awesome beard took priority, so the scar isn't even visible.
I spent roughly an hour on character creation, meticulously adjusting the width and length of the nose, making sure the chin is just right, obsessing over the eyes and never feeling all that satisfied with them. But when I finally finished, I took a step back and realized my character looks more, rather than less, like the default character that everyone starts off with, and I wondered what the hell I spent all that time doing.
Maritsa: Definitely an insightful process, despite it being a low-level existential crisis.
Jean-Luc: The process was actually less horrible than I thought it would be; I'd assumed I'd come out of it much more anxious and self-conscious than I already am. But it was honestly pretty interesting, and a reminder of how many seemingly small features make up my appearance. That being said, I'm probably never going to do this again, because escapism is the best-ism.
Anjali: Tbh, I had a lot of fun with this, but I was definitely upset when I didn't see anything close to my hair represented. It just seems like a huge oversight to have very detailed blemish options but virtually no choices for curly hair. Boo that. Curly and natural hair textures shouldn't be less of a priority than acne.
Alexis: Curls are real, people. They might be hard to animate, but they exist. I'll even take box braids or dreads!
Ahmed: Every time I open an avatar creator in a game, I'm worried that it'll be another time someone who looks like me is excluded from a game. I was happy that I could actually make a character who resembles me, but looking at them side by side, I feel like I have a long way to go in accepting what I actually look like and learning to love my facial features despite their imperfections.
Andrew: When I pick up a controller, I'm ready to hunker down to some vicarious living, do things that the real me can't do, be someone I can't be. My version of that happens to involve controlling a character who looks exactly like me. As the person in the group who looked most similar to the "default" character, they had pretty much everything I'd ever need to replicate a version of myself, and this is probably the closest I've ever come.
Matt: If I were more into this type of game (I'm more a Pokémon man myself), I'd probably breeze through setting up my character to just get to the meat of it. But the designers and developers definitely need plenty of kudos for this character-building engine. Bethesda, I'm sending you cases of Veuve Clicquot. Cheers.