Video games

The importance of character creation

This may be an unpopular view, but I can count the gaming characters I have genuinely related with on both of my hands, it is a tiny number, a feeble landmark considering all the thousands of games I have played and enjoyed.

While I can share the moods of any given character, appreciate their tragedy or enjoy their success, the average video game story feels more like their narrative than mine, I am borrowing the moment from them, and I hand it back when the goal is reached.

Valeska the PSO android looks out over the crater sunset.

Me, myself and I

The exception to this rule are the characters that I have created, these are the personas I can identify with best as through time and emotional toil I’ve had a hand in their making. They share my personality entirely rather than me attempting to bash mine into a predefined character, they have my appearance preferences, they share my hair colour, eyes and sense of self, they even wear the clothes I desire (or sometimes the things I wouldn’t be caught dead in.)

But above all they cannot exist without me, the adventures we partake in are ours, they stop when turn the console off and they return when I resume. These characters exist only for me, while we explore the world of any game, many others will follow the paths I take, and many more will see the places, but few if any will decide as I do, move when I do, explore and run and enjoy the ride. So even if another plays them, their journey is not quite the same as my unique playthrough.

That’s not to say that looking back on an adventure played with a normal character can’t be a brilliant experience also. Sometimes it’s nice to escape from our own image, to walk a mile in someone elses shoes, and in that regard the majority of my favourite games have involved playing as another person, following their unique stories, watching the influences of the other characters around them. The key is to maintain a healthy balance between playing the character that you want to share your personality with, and the character who will invariably end up lending you theirs for a moment.

My oblivion assassin at the Imperial waterfront.

The free-world agenda

If I find myself playing a game when I am a rigid character I long for the ability to customize, all too often this means the ability to choose the correct gender, to mould a gruff male warrior into the being that represents me. An average game (despite its apparent excellence elsewhere) leaves me little room to be anything other than “him”. As a result very few video game characters meet with me eye-to-eye – certainly compared to the characters that I have made. I have admired the adventures of Jade and Alyx and many other magnificent men and women. I have appreciated their intelligence and personality, but bold – yet engaging – (female) characters such as these are still sadly the rarity not the norm.

As long as developers continue to dictate that “I” must play “he” in certain games there will be a minute distance between the games I like and the ones I love. This doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the narrative or even the fun of the characters or any of the many other hundreds of enjoyable components of a game – but it does highlight the contrast between who I am for that game and who I want to be, and it’s jarring.

Sadly even the biggest, most open gaming world is usually closed to females in this regard. The world may be enormous, beautiful and begging to be explored but it’s slightly hollow if the character you’re exploring it in is usually the same generic male persona.

Valeskaleneux, the Rainbow Six Vegas Senior Master Sergeant.

It’s in the best interest of everyone that more games blend the themes of character customization and story-led content. Bioware have shown us that how a game can work in duality, allowing for both male and female audiences, for personal traits and preferences, Bethesda have shown us that this element can work on an open landscape, and Valve’s Left 4 Dead along with Gearbox’s Borderlands has shown that including a playable female character even in the most percieved “male genre” does work.

The gaming characters I identify with most characters are the beings of my own creation, most people will never meet them, they will never gain the notoriety or credence of bigger, more popular personalities, but that’s okay, I know how unique they are, and that’s all that matters.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part, please email him for details.

Other takes on this topic:

Silvercublogger: Will Sing Opera For Italian Food

Game Couch: Gabriel Knight

Aim for the Head: Friends Through The End

Extra Guy: Who I Identify With

Next Jen: I Rather Be Me A rushed love letter


A love letter to the Monster Hunter community

I’m ashamed to admit that I underestimated Monster Hunter for many years. However the last year has led to a series of epiphanies – this is a game that calls for more thought than most games, encouraging you to improve with the promise of a thrilling and compelling experience just out of reach.

The community is at the heart of that experience – so here’s what Monster Hunter feels like to play with them in tow.

The Qurupeco flies over as I reload.Cheering a Rathian Victory.

Fighting through difficulty with others

Camaraderie is at the heart of this game, and that works because of how the rewards and drops are independent to other players, there is very little sense of competition, and the balanced etiquette of play means that the focus is on information sharing, helping each other avoid failure by striving to make a strong group. The deepest criticism about this game is the steep learning curve, but ultimately all that is needed is time to learn each monsters patterns, made infinitely easier by a group of friends willing to spread the difficulty between them. Even the vastest struggle becomes a series of battles made fun just because of the thrill of play.

So all at once what was once a slow, unwieldily weapon, transforms into the tool right for the job, utilized with new-found precision and fluidity, no levels have been gained, no experienced unlocked just a better sense of how to succeed. The only thing that has improved is your intuition of how to play, amassed after observing every monster for minute weakpoints, evening the odds over time, and as such each victory feels all the more rewarding.

The balance of tension and humour in this game is paramount, after a hair-raising fight or titanic struggle against a new foe nothing beats the comic relief of playing with others – a perfectly timed comic gesture shared between one another, a playful kick once the fights over – sending someone flying using a powerful attack. With no friendly fire the moments of hilarity are ripe, easing the tension after short, very focused moments of concentration.

So in Monster Hunter success is hinged on the collective skill of your group, clawing back respect from a monster as your group grows in confidence, all with the encouragement and support of each other. This is a game of friendship and initial gameplay complaints aside the synergy between community, the lush environments, and captivating music are a fantastic reward to those bold enough to keep going.

A Rathian flies overhead.Cooking some meat on the BBQ to restore some stamina.

Mind over matter

Like any healthy community there are veterans and newbies, all drawn together by Monster Hunter’s stylish, old-fashioned gameplay elements. The old idioms of risk and reward from 8-bit consoles and older have returned; nothing is for free, everything has to be crafted, bought or grown.

As a result most objects in Monster Hunter come from toil. Money comes purely from finishing quests, meaning everyone has everything to play for – constantly. While it’s a different item mechanic to most other games, starting to gather the money and resources to start a hunting career can be tricky, but this doesn’t mean that the game is punishing, it simply takes more patience to get started.

In the beginning the camera can difficult to manage, the individual weapons take some time to register in the memory, the lack of enemy health bar can be a burden. But slowly but surely over the course of each hour things begin to click and Monster Hunter sprinkles you with hope eternal. Be it in the form of your post-battle reward or the rush of success. Suddenly the game becomes less about constant struggle and more about a comfortable dance around your enemies, as you revel in your new-found mastery of both combat and self-sufficiency.

Over time we become master hunters capable of moving between strict professionalism in the face of danger and comic relief, as we fight enemies methodically with the smartest movements between evasion and attack, we move between the role of hunter and player behind the persona with ease; destroying a foe and then returning to laughter, gestures and drinking, relieved to have succeeded, or simply laughing because of how badly we failed.

With a good party not even winning becomes too important, just the idea of completely escaping the normal online pressures of competition.

Selecting a Herbivore egg quest.

The Great Baggi rewards screen.

For the greater good

This represents the sort of online game we should be getting from developers – a simple to play, hard to master challenge supported by a free drop/in out model that is the antithesis of modern MMOs. Monster Hunter comprises a friendly, co-operative community bound together by a common goal – to succeed and to have fun while doing so.

This is Monster Hunter’s addictive element and it helps to create a game that is vastly improved by the quality and character of others playing.

Most of the appeal at the moment surrounds the buzz of the online version, because it’s a game of vivid experiences and memories, this is the sort of game you think about every waking moment, looking back on your time played years after with nothing but the fondest of memories.

Ultimately this is a game of friendship with each person bringing skills to the table, offering a different tactic or approach, and while Monster Hunter Tri is by far the most accessible by quite a margin, the elements of the gameplay still left explained in both this game and previous iterations are clearly meant to be a point of discussion.

Monster Hunter has built up a ferocious reputation for being hard to master, but this is offsetted by the genuine passion its fans have for the game, they are its ambassadors, helping and explaining its intricacies to others so no one is left behind, and that’s the way it should be.