Exploring the hilarious metanarrative of character creators


No middle sliders

When a game gives you a character creator, that mechanic can be more fun than actually playing the rest of the game. How you choose to make your character can say a lot about you — maybe you want an in-universe version of yourself to roleplay with, or an original character, or maybe you’re just trying to make the most hilarious monstrosity you can think of.

Sometimes playing around in the character creator becomes the point of the game entirely — this can happen often with The Sims, especially those who enjoy making Sims that look as close to their favorite celebrities as possible. Some even go out of their way to create meme icons like Shrek or Handsome Squidward. And I can’t be the only one who has made multiple joke Bloodborne characters without playing with them at all, right?

Bloodborne's silly character creator
[Image Source: YouTube user Dalaric Wolfborne]

No matter what you make your character look like, something that always interests me is the metanarrative that can emerge from custom character designs. Players often prescribe their own narratives outside of the game’s story to their characters, with players eventually overwriting the built-in narrative with their own, like how people will watch a movie with the sound turned off and make up the dialogue to their liking.

An awesome example of this is the series Monster Factory created and hosted by Justin and Griffin McElroy of My Brother, My Brother, and Me, and The Adventure Zone fame. If you haven’t seen this series on Polygon’s YouTube channel, it’s absolutely worth a watch. It started back in 2015, and regardless of how you feel about the McElroy’s, you can’t deny that the series has produced some true comedy gold during its run.

Each character they make in a new game, which usually constitutes at least a few episodes of the series, has its own personality and story that the hosts impose on it, which can lead to some downright hysterical roleplaying moments. My personal favorite is The Final Pam from their Fallout 4 series, which is so ridiculous and goofy and something that still makes me laugh to this day when I think about it.

While games obviously let us live out our stories while playing, I think character creators go even further, because they allow us to attach our story that extends beyond the game’s own. This kind of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking is often more aligned with tabletop games, but I honestly think that’s because most of us don’t realize we’re even doing it.

I personally don’t plan for my own original characters to be any certain way when I play them, but lo and behold, it ends up happening anyway. Take my Mass Effect playthrough, for example. I started playing through the series with my friends, and after learning that I could in fact get with some aliens through the course of the series, I decided to camp up my character creation a bit. I decided my version of female Shepard was there to save the universe, of course, but also had a highly prioritized side goal to hook up with Garrus, and in turn created her to look as close to the Instagram beauty standards as possible, with blonde hair, a tiny nose, and huge lips. After much debate, I ended up naming her Boney Shepard for obvious reasons.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

While I definitely found this a great deal funnier than my friends did, it was a really fun way to blow off some steam, and create my own version of a classic character, even if it is a purposefully silly one. More serious roleplaying in a game can be equally as fun, but I can’t think of any other media that would let you experience its otherwise very serious story with the same level of whimsy, and I find that delightful. The whole thing ends up feeling much more personal, as you create your own memories of the experience that otherwise wouldn’t be there.

So what’s your favorite way to roleplay in a game with character creators? Do you have any fun stories of your characters’ adventures? Which game has your favorite character creator of all time?

Story Beat is a weekly column discussing anything and everything to do with storytelling in video games.