Customization Versus Direction

Girls love choices when it comes to appearances, whether it’s the number of different shoe styles and colors to go with an outfit, makeup shades, or even colored contact lenses. So it’s no wonder that when we are given the option to customize the main female character in a video game, we usually take a crack at it or spend a considerable amount of time perfecting our in-game look.

As a result from the high interest in customizing or “modding” video games from both women and men, websites have been born to solely provide you with every mod you can imagine for any specific game. When you are given the option to download (for free no less) a file that will give you 30 more hairstyles to choose from, 20 new eye colors and unique tattoos for your character, who can resist? I have heard the argument, “I stay away from mods so I can play the game the way the creator intended it to be played and to keep myself in the story and lore as much as possible.” With respect to the game designers, I believe that a game should be played the way the designer intended it to be. You cannot assume that the player will choose a crazy hair-style, wardrobe or eye color just because the option is there. However, there are those who love a game enough to give it a second, third, fourth, or even fifth play-through. Once you’ve given a game its full attention without altering any of the appearances, surely you can have a little experimental fun from then on.

Besides customizing a character’s clothing, what about being able to modify your environment’s colors, theme, weather, and sounds, be it music or sound effects? There are already games in which the player’s input alters the way a song flows or changes the colors on the screen, however, these are usually puzzle games such as Lumines or beautiful indie games like Flower. What about incorporating these elements into an RPG? I would engage with an RPG more if, based on the decisions I make, the aesthetic representation reflects those choices and the personality that my character is developing. Fable 2 and Fable 3 grasped this idea and, in my opinion, stand out from other RPGs because of it.


fable 3


Imagine playing as a chick who is on a journey to avenge her family and also discover who she is along the way. You start the game with basic, modest clothing such as jeans and a t-shirt, an everyday atmosphere such as standing outside of a house in the suburbs, and a soundtrack that is either safe, run-of-the-mill background music or the latest Eminem and Katy Perry hits. Along the way, you make choices that start to develop your determination to succeed and your animosity towards your enemies. By the end of the game, you are wearing combat boots, leather pants, a black tank top with a leather harness to hold your assassin knives, a leather holster for your pistol and a belt of shotgun shells. Your hair has also been chopped and dyed red to disguise yourself, the music has turned to a mix of metal and dark, electronic beats, the world is darker and bloodier, and NPCs look at you with hate and envy.

Or maybe you had your character play it safe, acting nobly and heroically throughout the entire game. Your appearance, soundtrack and environment would look very different from those who took the more dangerous road. This is just one of many different outcomes that your character could have. Maybe you really like pink and wanted there to be a certain pink flower that would bloom everywhere once a town was rescued in your story. Maybe you love thunderstorms and want there to be dark clouds, thunder, lightning, and a swarm of blackbirds circling overhead as you approach an enemy castle because that’s your thing. The possibilities could be endless, or at least to the end of the game designer’s imagination.

As someone who has not played games her entire life and doesn’t know much about downloading and installing all types of mods for a game, I’m more likely to approach games with easily manageable, built-in customization systems. Customization can spark inspiration for future game designers who once thought games were boring and all looked the same. The fact that modding has become so huge and is pretty standard for many gamers (especially PC gamers), it seems only obvious that people like and want customization for their favorite games. As a fairly new medium that is just now reaching out to more and more women and people of all interests and cultures, I say let’s keep our creative outlets open and not close any doors.


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Author: Nikki Lee View all posts by

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