There’s a singular moment for every gamer when the playthrough transcends simple mechanics to reach us emotionally. When we identify with our first character in a video game, it’s an experience that often leaves us reeling. Much like reading a book or watching television, we’re uniquely hardwired to seek deeper understanding of the symbols and narratives that surround us, and gaming is far from exempt. To identify with a character and, subsequently, to relate with their narrative is like meeting a part of ourselves we didn’t have the words to describe before that moment. It’s the kind of experience that defines a “gamer,” despite that connotation currently being jockeyed.
Let’s jump back in time a few years to relive the defining moments a few of our writers reminisced about. Don’t forget to share your first experience in the comments!
For me, this moment came in Tomb Raider II. I’d played my fair share of games on the PS2 up to that point, though none of them inspired me to dream big the way Lara Croft’s narrative did. She faced down tigers and sharks alike with unflinching determination, exploring the farthest corners of my imagination with nothing but a pistol and torch at the ready. It was my first real taste of a female character who not only lead the narrative, but did so with all the agency a woman should have. At the time, I was just shy of my teen years, and for a confused queer girl trying to ignore very clear signs, meeting Lara meant the world to me. She helped shape my wanderlust and the confidence I needed in order to embark upon the journey itself.
Though the franchise has come a long way since the pixelated days of tricking your butler into a meat locker (it never gets old), there are still persistent, problematic themes that need addressing.
The first character I remember really identifying with was Terra in Final Fantasy III (or rather, VI, but I didn’t know that back then). I was ten and already confused about my sexuality, so Terra being different in mysterious ways struck a chord with me. Young me also latched on to a brief exchange between Terra and Celes, believing it to mean there was something more between them, but let’s not talk about any fanfiction I might have written twenty years ago. I would later find out I was a lesbian, not an esper like Terra, but my summon ability involving rainbows and sparkles is pretty great.
Vivi from Final Fantasy IX was the first character I strongly identified with. He’s this little guy, scared and unsure in life with this massive potential to be a great magician but sees none of it. He doesn’t think he’s enough, despite the encouragement he gets from his friends. He’s also battling with who he was supposed to be, who he is now, and where to go from there. I’m very similar to him, with his whole ‘fear of never being enough/amounting to much,’ and especially when I started playing the game when I was around 12-13 years old. But Vivi grows so much as the game progresses. I was proud to see him believe in himself and the strength that alone gave him. Unfortunately, sometimes I still feel like the Vivi I played at the beginning to middle of the game.
For the longest time, I played whatever game my older brother was playing and did not actually develop a personal taste in video games until a few years ago. I started playing Knights of the Old Republic after seeing some old ad for it and deciding it could be really cool. Boy was I in for a wild ride. The game was actually my first RPG (other than my attempt at Skyrim—it gave me motion sickness so I had to quit early), and I loved that I could make the character my own. Throughout it all, Allya Vey, my created Scoundrel-class character, was amazing. I loved the choices I got to make, and I really felt like I connected with her as I played her story. The huge plot twist in the middle threw me off a bit, but I adjusted to it. After all, if the character I modeled a little bit after myself can handle it, so can I. That’s one thing I love about RPGs and one thing that has continued for me; I always feel a connection to my characters. Still, I’ll always identify most with my first Revan.