What is the appeal of character customization?
With video games, there are always those certain genre’s or certain features that gamers are drawn to. With first person shooters its the weapon types, for RPG’s its the classic turn based system, and for fighting games it is the ease of combos and activation of special moves. However, I’ve noticed that there is one particular feature that has been used in a multitude of genres over the past decade. To either positive or negative effect, character creation/customization has been utilized in most of the aforementioned genres. Though RPG’s seem to be the genre that use provides character creation more often than others, games of different genre’s have used it as well. Such as the Noble 6 from Halo Reach, character creation mode for the Soul Caliber series, even skate board games such as Tony Hawk’s Underground.
Even games in the RPG genre have been expanding on this feature, adding more details and methods to individualize each creation to the player’s liking. On top of that more franchises seem to be utilizing character creation in order to enhance the game’s experience like never before, such as Fire Emblem Awakening and Pokemon X/Y. Looking at this changing trend, a single question has been consistently nagging at me. Why is character creation becoming such a popular feature is so many genre’s?
I believe this trend is the response to two potential ideas. One, that it adds to a gamer’s satisfaction on expressing themselves through play, and second, to further immerse the player’s experience.
The first point is fairly obvious to people who have used this feature before. Its a major reason why MMORPG’s are so popular. Creating a character unique to you and how you want to be seen in game, is an easy way to express yourself. Without the pressure of outside forces telling you what you should or shouldn’t be. This method of expression is powerful to a gamer both in game and out. According to a study conducted by Stanford University in early 2010, creating a virtual avatar that is similar to how we look in real life has the potential to affect our behavior in the real world. For example, say you were playing Mass Effect and modeled Commander Shepard to look like you. Depending on how you play, there is a possibility that Shepard’s behavior could influence your behavior, for better or worse.
In regards to my second point, on how character creation helps with game immersion, can happen on a multitude of different levels. A good portion of Mass Effect’s success relied heavily on how the various interpretations of Shepard’s character and interactions with his/her surroundings affected the story. The same can be said with most games where these avatar characters have a larger role, even without having to choose character dialogue. I can say for certain that the ending of Halo Reach, wouldn’t have been as emotional or dramatic if the player had just been given an established character from the start. The same goes Fire Emblem: Awakening. Though the dialouge for the player character has already been scripted, it doesn’t take away the impact of the story but actually makes it even better.
It is interesting to see how each year go by and how new games with character creation add new innovations to make creating these avatars just as fun as playing the actual game. There a chance that with the demand to have more features like this in more games that it will eventually get stale. However, with the release of the next gen systems, there is an equal chance of seeing a new way for players to express themselves in a way that no one would have even thought of. We will have to wait and see.