I spent most of yesterday trying to find a game. Not a specific game just any game that would fit the criteria for what I was craving. I was searching for a specific experience. Half the problem is that I’ve built myself a comfortable nest from xubuntu, dockbarx, conky and kupfer and Steam on linux has convinced me that now I don’t even need to leave that for gaming. However the specificity of my desires and budget constraints did mean that the limitations of the library of linux games hampered my search. Wine and Play-On-Linux have, thankfully allowed me to broaden my search to other titles and at the moment I’m trying out Elder Scrolls Online. Why that particular choice? Partially because it apparently runs pretty well under Wine and has no ongoing subscription fee, but mostly because of it’s character creation.
The experience that I’d been missing for a while is that of creating a character, statting her out, choosing skills, playing as her and developing her through advancement through her story. I realised I haven’t really played that experience since Skyrim and that experience is an important one to me. 2013’s Tomb Raider was hugely valuable because I’ve always looked up to Lara and that game made her so accessible as a real person that it does remind me that we can choose games where we identify with a static main character but creating a character from scratch and playing as them is a form of self expression. As a person who struggles with identity both at a gender level and in a broader sense playing games where I can shape my character’s image and act as them is as soothing as any other form of artistic creation. Often my own creativity operates at an abstract, intellectual, structural level, devoid of personality and narrative and I can get lost in those clouds but when I sit down to play games like Skyrim, Fallout or even WoW I can connect with the the person I’m making and being. The ability to adjust my character’s appearance with ease allows me to talk to myself about myself through that imagery. When I choose my character’s strengths and weaknesses I tell a story, saying “this is what is important to me” and that story can be different each time, but always valuable. Playing as that character validates their existence. It says “yes you can exist, have a story and be valuable in a form you create or choose” and for people who are living in circumstances where they are not afforded the luxury of being themselves, that can be the difference between someone believing that “it gets better” or choosing what looks like the only other option. My WoW character is Violace, a forsaken fire mage/engineer and she has been so important to me growing up as a symbol of my own ability to be intimidating, chaotic and feminine while finding community outside the narrative of “normal life” and I have failed to be invested in any of my other characters in that world because hers is the story that is most important to me there. But at the moment I need a new space to tell new stories about myself to myself, so it’s time to look at what games will let me tell those stories.
To those of you out there designing games with deep customizable character creation, thankyou. Allowing players to shape who we play as is an important feature that allows us to craft our own stories and self-empower which can literally save lives. Additionally, I’d like to issue a challenge: So far in all my searching I’ve not found a single game that completely eschews a binary sex/gender choice for a slider or similar mechanic. Why not allow us to adjust the position of a character’s masculinity/femininity on a spectrum and choose pronouns/voices/etc from a set after that? The representation this would allow for intersex and non-binary folks would be incredibly powerful and would allow for a way more diverse range of interesting characters.