We've played some of the greatest heroes in the video game world, such as Master Chief as he takes down the Covenant, Niko Bellic as he shoots his way out of a musuem in an Impossible Trinity, a young horned boy who guides Yorda out of a castle, Wander as he fell each and every colossi, Link as he saves Hyrule, etc. Their stories are great, with each character facing seemingly impossible odds, wading through strife with stride, as they achieve victory at the very end as our palms become sweaty as we pat ourselves on a job well done (remember to change your shirt). Once everything's all said and done, we put back the game disc back into the case and store it away, marking the official end to a character's story.
But what if there was a character whose adventure doesn't end? What if this character's story keeps going well after a game's done and we put another one in? You may be asking yourself "Who? Who could be such a character?" when, in fact, you should already know the answer yourself.
Namely, that character is you.
PA Nights over Blue Slide Park
No, I'm not talking about YOU, as in the player... I mean, after all, you ARE just a gamer clutching your controller possibly with a beverage of choice well within reach (which would make for one pretty boring story), but I mean YOU, the character who's in the game. With character customization, you can essentially become a character within a video game's world, becoming a part of a universe where you matter (more or less). And when the time comes to switch to another game, who's to say that your character's story has to end right there? I mean, what if instead of making a new character for every game, what if you just pretend that all the characters you "make" are actually the one and the same?
Let's take my character for a second... What has he done? Well my friend, he had joined the Jedis in their fight against the Sith, raced in the Modnation Racing Championship, fought as a member of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad, took over the city of Stilwater TWICE before bringing his reign to Steelport, AND saved the world of E.D.N. III from the Over-G. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Count in his time spent in the Wastelands of Washington D.C. and the Mojave Desert, his adventures in Boletaria and Lordran (are those the names of the places in Demons Souls
and Dark Souls
, respectively?), and his days spent catching Pokemon and he has QUITE the interesting journal.
How is this all possible you ask? Through the clever use of character customization and integration of course!
Character customization is, to me, quite possibly the greatest innovation in the world, a concept that allows us to create and become a character that we would like to play as through his (or HER before anyone says anything) adventures. However, despite games like Grand Theft Auto 4
and Assassin's Creed: Revelations
offering slight customization, it doesn't feel like we are the characters (well, to the point that we can't say that that character is ours), but rather, just a fashion designer of a movie. I mean, even if you put White dye on Ezio, he's still the same guy, doing the same thing he would've even if he was dressed in Crimson.
Under Ground Kings
No, the best kind character customization is one that integrates YOU into the character themselves. My favorite example of this (despite all the great games like is Persona 3
; You can only make a name for him (and in the newest iteration, her), which is limiting, but throughout the game, with the amount of things to do and the amount of freedom, you become the character, deciding how to spend your time: Will you stick to your studies? Or will you hang out with friends everyday? Are you going to join an afterschool club? Which one? Will you balance your life between school and fighting Shadows or will you lean too much onto one side? How deep will your friendships be (which makes the ending one of my favorite video game endings of all time)?
At that point of the game, it isn't a character you just control like Ezio from Assassin's Creed
... It's a character who is essentially you (or at least someone you choose for that character to be). So whenever you play the game, you decide how the character acts what he wants to do (like hey, you're not FORCED to study though you are somewhat forced to fight Shadows) rather than being a character who is basically told what to do. For example...
I've been playing Dark Souls
and I've been making up my own stories. I mean, as we speak, my character, still in his starting Thief gear, is treading around the Darkroot Forest, waiting to be summoned to repel any intruders with his trusty Claymore, that he had to risk being roasted by a Hellkite to acquire, and Pyromancer's Flame, which he had ascended by becoming a pupil of the legendary Quelana of Izalith.
I mean, I KNOW I have to try to save the world or something, but the game doesn't really force you to do anything, and you're free to screw around and make up the story as you go. Maybe my character is in love with Quelana so he dedicates his time learning pyromancy to spend time with her. Maybe he wields the Claymore as a trophy from his near death experience against the feared Hellkite who guards the bridge with a very REAL "firewall." Maybe he keeps the Thief's gear on because he doesn't want anyone to know he's just a high school tranfer student who's in the S.E.E.S. club. And that isn't the story of someone else, oh no, this is the story of MY character.
You may have noticed that maybe I was getting too immersed in the universe of Dark Souls
but video games are so immersive that it's easy to lose yourself in it. But what about movies and books? While those are immersive as well (well, I don't READ myself...) but, aside from playing the game, character customization and integration is practically the sole difference in being immersed in a video game and a movie: When you watch a movie, you know that there's these characters and what they are like, and you know that it's going to end one way or another and you can't change that (unless it's Final Destination 3 with that stupid alternate scenes and such). And with video games such as Assassin's Creed: Revelation
, you again know who the characters are and what they are like, as well as having an ending that you can't change.
But with character customization and integration, even if it ends in the same way and the same manner, at least you yourself feel like you were a part of the story because essentially you put the character there yourself. In Saints Row: The Third
, despite what the Boss is going through and going to do, since I can customize him, I can make it feel like it's my character who's going to do that all. I mean, it's one thing to say "Oh, that guy just jumped through a frickin' plane" but to say "Oh, MY character just jumped through a frickin' plane" makes it feel a lot more personal despite the fact that they both do the same thing. You really can't do that with a movie... I mean, what are you going to do? Imagine that the character in the movie is acted by you?
Actually, funny enough, there ARE games that let you do just that. That's beside the point, but hey, go figure.
Now I'm not saying that we SHOULD have character customization in every game... I mean, the Uncharted
and [i]Metal Gear Solid[i/] series gets along just fine without trying to make you feel like your part of the story by showing you character whom you might truly care about. I mean, I can't imagine a world of video games without icons like Nathan Drake, Solid Snake, Master Chief, and Mario. But there are some games that, if they aren't going to give you an interesting character to play as, why not have it so you could make the character your own, even if he doesn't have that much screen time?
Make Me Proud
(character below is my guy, sorry about blurry resolution)
The game that comes is Ghostbusters: The Video Game
: We know that the main appeal of the game is rolling with the Ghostbusters squad, but since we're a nameless and sorta faceless generic character, why not go to some lengths to make that character our own? Take the original Saints Row
: You are a nameless guy who barely talks (he has like what, four lines throughout the whole game?) but since we can customize him, we can at least feel like that's our character with our sense of style (with later iterations of the game offering a selection of voices, walk, fighting style, and more). It isn't much, but the phrase "a little goes a long way" applies here quite nicely.
So with all that being said, I'm very thankful that character customization exists; Being allowed to create characters and such is always such a fun thing to do. I have like a dozen unique Soul Calibur 4
characters that I regularly match up in fights for a faux story mode, a dozen more characters who won the Modnation Racing Championship, and I plan to create a least two more characters for Saints Row: The Third
. And this is just this current generation: I had multiple copies of the game Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
just so I could create custom teams such as all Black Mages (in honor of Vivi), ninjas (a slight Naruto craze got to me), and Gunmans (though I HATE moogles; Sorry kupo), half a dozen combinations of teams in the original Final Fantasy
, and don't even get me started on how many Sims I have.
I can't stress enough how thankful I am that character customization (and proper integration) exists (when stacked up to things like mini-maps, checkpoints, and oh my lord REGENERATING health) because it's something that allows me to get more immersed into video games. Yeah, I get sucked in reading a book and watching a movie but unless I'm roleplaying, I can't feel like a part of the story when I'm reading someone else's thoughts and having no personal attachment to a character (what I mean is I LOVE the character Nathan Drake, but I don't ever feel like I'm Nathan Drake; like all I'm doing is just showing off how badass Nathan Drake is rather than how badass I am).
And that's the advantage video games have over any form of entertainment media: Having the ability to make the player feel a part of the story. While some of the greatest games in the world don't even try to utilize it, and again, not that they need to (especially if it would feel tacked on and limiting), the games that do are always personal favorites in my book.
Hell Ya ****ing Right