Video Games with Characters are Incomparable to Video Games Without (and other musings on video game characters)

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Video games can certainly be enjoyable with and without characters. Although I will explore arguments in favor of having characters, I believe they are two separate entities and can’t be thoroughly compared. However, the presence of characters in video game play leads to much needed diversity that character customization so greatly brings, among other benefits. I’m not sure if you can get this same kind of diversification without characters.

SimCity is an open-ended city-building video game published by a company now owned by Electronic Arts. The success of SimCity led to the release of the famous spin-off game, The Sims. A major difference between these two games, although you can build your environments in both, is the lack and presence of playable characters.

In Ian Bogost’s article, plainly titled, “Video Games Are Better Without Characters”, you can guess what he’s arguing for. Bogost tries to argue how great SimCity is because it does not have characters. “This was a radical way of thinking about video games: as non-fictions about complex systems bigger than ourselves. It changed games forever — or it could have, had players and developers not later abandoned modeling systems at all scales in favor of representing embodied, human identities”( para 6). While Bogost has an almost accurate point, I don’t think you can compare video games with and without characters to each other. They are fundamentally different in goals, objectives, and genre.

Bogost continues, “The best games model the systems in our world — or the ones of imagination — by means of systems running in software” (para 12). At this point, he’s just stating opinions. Saying “the best games” is such a subjective sentence. It could be argued he isn’t, but he states personal experiences he has had that led him to this conclusion, garnering his argument useless. Video games with characters have their own benefits and can be talked about in a separate sense.

Take for example the Wii games that allow you to use a Mii as your playable character. Although the customization options are not endless, as a child this allowed me to create a character that looked like me, to a certain extent. The whole family can make their own Mii, or better yet, have one made for them by the other family members. When you play a game that uses your Mii, you can immediately identify who is who. I remember playing this at family Christmases where everyone got their own Mii made. It was an enjoyable experience and enriched gameplay, serving as a personalized piece of the play.

We’ve seen this customization of characters continue into SimCity’s spin-off, The Sims. As an avid player, I’ve witnessed the progression of these options with Sims. In the beginning, there were limited skin tone options, facial manipulation, and even culturally-diverse clothing options, but now you can pretty much customize every single part of your Sim in the Sims 4. Additionally, there are options available online to download customized content created by fellow users to further personalize your characters.

These options for character customization allow players to create diverse characters that completely resemble their own unique features, or represent any other look/race/gender that a player wants. Players can embrace their cultural identity and differences, creating players that look like them. This is huge! The freedom to create a diverse character allows the game to be easily diversified and more attractive to consumers.

In “The Pitfalls of Trying to Tell Stories Outside Your Own Experience” by Kat Brewster, we see how difficult it can be in trying to make a diverse game. “There are any number of pitfalls when a developer attempts to tell the stories of marginalized people and creating diversity.. but making sure to do it for the right reasons” (para 40). EA has a responsibility to its audience to add more diverse and ethnic options for appearances. While the tools available in The Sims 4 allows you to virtually adjust any part of the face and body, there are limits with hair, makeup, clothing, and other appearances.

Character customization is an easy way to draw people in, but it’s a double-edged sword. You must also realize you can never please everyone. While video games with characters have the chance to offer up diversity and the pleasant experience of character customization, it’s difficult to capture the uniqueness of the entire human race. I applaud EA for their options for character creation in The Sims 4, yet still recognize they have strides to go in order to equally represent all ethnicities, cultures, and identities.

Bogost, I. (2015, March 13). Video Games Are Better Without Characters. Retrieved September 27, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/03/video-games-are-better-without-characters/387556/

Brewster, K. (2017, May 22). The Pitfalls of Trying to Tell Stories Outside Your Own Experience. Retrieved September 27, 2017, from https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/9k9vw5/the-pitfalls-of-trying-to-tell-stories-outside-your-own-experience

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