Video game character creators bring out every ounce of my neuroses. I’ve sunk hours into each one I’ve used, preening and polishing the most minute detail. My first encounter with Mass Effect: Andromeda was no different.
My inevitable panic spiral led me to restart the game seven times in a single sitting. Seven! Even I know how deranged that sounds, but when you plan to spend a good 50 hours staring at a character, you better get what you want up front. Whomever I choose to play as will become my canon Ryder. She’ll always look that way, she’ll always sound that way, and if they decide to make sequels, she’ll be a multi-game investment.
Very few games let you make changes to your character once they’re finished, let alone minor tweaks like hair or makeup. And no matter how good a game’s visuals are, your character is guaranteed to look a little different from creation menu to in-game action. It’s a recipe for frustration. Until I finish my meticulous creation process and get my character up and running in a new game, I have no idea how good the final package is going to look.
Are you bothered by a lipstick shade that’s not quite right? I know I am! Better restart with a new file. Wow, this eye color makes me look like the name inspiration for The Neon Demon. Restart. And then there’s my personal favorite, “Finally my masterpiece oh wait oh no I forgot to fix her blush and she looks like a Glo Worm.” Quietly weep and restart.
These little fixes are frustrating, but at least they mean I have my final character in mind. When I’m given carte blanche to do anything I want, I panic. I have so few chances in video games to play as a non-white, non-male character that the choice feels precious to me. Persian characters are few and far between (unless we’re literally talking about the Prince of Persia series... and I guess also not the adaptation with Jake Gyllenhaal). Should I create a character that resembles me? Do I make someone completely different? If she winds up wearing a helmet the whole time, was it even worth it?
I’ve repeated this cycle ad nauseam, and so I know how this will end. My nitpicking will give way to burnout. The “flaws” I’ve forgotten to fix will become endearing and unique, and when I’m in the thick of it, it’s not important. A badass Persian woman is still a badass Persian woman, regardless of how good her hair looks that day.
But until I’ve fallen off that emotional cliff, it all matters. I am Victor Frankenstein, and until I’ve created my perfect monster, I’ll keep chucking body after discarded body onto a pile.