I Am Not My Hair: On the Politics of Character Creation in Games

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1 Response

  1. I’m a fat, mixed-race (half Pakistani, half French-Canadian) middle-aged male who mostly dresses with “geek” signalling. I also find it hard to create myself in games, and frustrating. It’s good that more games are giving options of different skin complexions, but in a lot of cases these are “black” (but lightly-complected, as you say) or “white”. Even disregarding the mixed-race aspect, it’s very rare to be able to play an Indian or Pakistani. If I want something even vaguely close, I can choose the hispanic character, in some games, if they offer even that. Sometimes there are a number of skin hues that you can custom pick, and if that’s the case, I can often find one that’s kinda close, which is luckier than many people get. The big one for me (literally) is that it’s almost never possible to be fat. Even in games that allow it, their definition of “fat” is not really mine or the “real world’s”. Also, while fat female avatars (rare though they are) often scale sort-of-credibly, fat male avatars more often than not suffer from the “I have a bowling ball in my belly,” syndrome — their legs and arms don’t get thicker and their frames don’t adjust at all, they just grow an increasingly large round belly.

    The other thing, as you point out, is the clothing. In a lot of systems, the *only* clothing available for males are variants on the “tight shirt fitted jeans Jersey shore look”. In Sony Playstation Home, I wound up just creating a female character, even though that’s problematic in itself, because it was possible to make a slightly-more-realistically-fat, geeky-looking woman, rather than a guy who looked like a reality TV dropout with some sporting goods tucked under his shirt.

    On the one hand, I don’t really get why companies don’t believe that people want to make themselves in games, even after people keep telling them that, over and over. However, what’s even worse is that if the answer is that people play for fantasy and escapism, the message is that whoever you actually are, these are the people who you should want to be.