Character Customization: The Importance of Being Represented

Mass Effect

RPGs are my favorite genre of video games. Part of it is my love of story; I grew up reading voraciously, and RPGs feel like another great way to receive a story. They’re like choose-your-own-adventure novels, but even better. Another reason is that they often allow you to decide how your character will appear.

When deciding what my character should look like, it’s always been an easy decision for me. Right away, I start making her look like me. People have questioned me about it in the past, and I spent some time wondering if I was vain or egotistical. Why didn’t I want to play as someone who looks different from me? Was I so wrapped up in myself that I couldn’t imagine not being me?

After some reflection, I realized that there was nothing wrong with wanting to play characters that resembles me. The people questioning me were mostly white cis men who got to see themselves represented so ubiquitously that it was novelty to play as a character different from them. For me as a mixed race woman, I so rarely get to see any characters that look like me, so that whenever I have the chance, I am going to create a character that does.

While I am noticing more mixed race characters appearing in media, the characters that share my particular mix are still uncommon. Furthermore, I don’t look like what I’m ‘expected’ to look like, so any mixed race characters that do exist don’t really look much like me. I don’t complain too much about that, because of course other mixed people still deserve to be represented! However, this means that the only time I get to have characters who resemble me is when I make them that way. Of course I’m going to grab the chance whenever I have it, and I don’t feel bad about it!

There’s already been a lot of discussion about how important representation is, and I have firsthand experience that supports it. When I started making my character in Mass Effect, I gave her my own unique blend of features and could even give her a scar like the one I have on my face. I never realized how nice it feels to see a character who resembles me! Since I never really had that before, I never knew what I was missing. The effects on my self-esteem have been astonishing.

Mass Effect

Just by seeing this one character—who I created by choosing her features and making choices throughout the game—I began to see myself in a different light. For the first time, I got to see someone who looked like me starring in a story with an important role within the Mass Effect world. She could be strong and kind, but always assertive. I started to see these positive traits within myself, which has made me feel more confident. And once I learned that those traits exist within me, I have been more able to express them. I’m less afraid to talk to people and face other things that once made me anxious. It’s been months since I finished Mass Effect 2, and I still feel the effects.

Representation is so important, and for me, character customization is such an important way to see myself represented. Even just in this one instance, seeing myself represented has had such a hugely positive effect on my everyday life—and everybody deserves to feel that way. For this reason, I will never stop celebrating when someone from a marginalized group is represented and never stop denouncing things like whitewashing.

Character customization is still not yet a perfect solution. I know not everyone can represent themselves because this feature can still be limiting. I am privileged in that I’m thin and able-bodied, and I’ve noticed that characters usually cannot be made fat or disabled. However, I know there has been a big push for diversity in all media, and I have hope for the future that things will improve. It will be a hard fight, but I know it is worth it and I’ll never give up.


3 thoughts on “Character Customization: The Importance of Being Represented

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  1. I completely agree with you! I frequently get asked in different groups in so many words, why I always make my characters too like me. Because like you I’m a mixed woman. There aren’t that many characters that represent people other then cis white men. Although games are changing for me, I’d rather play some one I can easily identify with, which is a woman that resembles me rather then a cis white male. I enjoy that we have the option of creating diversity within a game even if the majority of our companions are not anything but a single pigment.

    And I’d be beyond shocked if my particular mix ever ended up in a game. 😮

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Shiny New Gamer and commented:
    I wrote another piece for the blog FemHype, about how important Mass Effect is to me. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that the first and second games literally changed my life. I am so excited to get around to playing the third one. Since I didn’t get a chance to play anything this past week, I’m reposting it here. I hope you enjoy it!


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