Superfluous Physical Attributes


#1

I’m talking about physical descriptors that have no use whatsoever as the story progresses. As you might be able to tell I’m actually not a fan I’ve found.

I’ve found a thread on genders but not much else but I’ve been wondering about this one and other physical attributes of our characters. I’ve played games that go to some lengths to make us define our character’s looks and then never use that information. Gender obviously plays into things like addressing our character but if their build or height or hair or eye color never gets used in the story… what’s the point?

Obviously there’s uses for these things like if your character has a mystery relative making an appearance and their relation can be hinted at by giving them the same eyes. Or by describing NPCs as taller or shorter than the player character. But assuming an author skips all that and gets around the address bit…

Is there any point to allowing people to set all these things? Don’t we make up the way our characters look in our head as we go along anyway? (A lot of people do from what I’ve gathered here and there.)

This is just something that occurred to me replaying Mecha Ace. Half the game is over before you’re even required to name your character and I really enjoyed that. But on the other hand, as mentioned above, a lot of games seem to consider setting all kinds of physical attributes a somewhat vital step even if said attributes only show up on your stats page.

Is there a community consensus on whether this level of superfluous descriptors is welcome for some reason or do people find it as bewildering as I do?


#2

Well, both community exists.
There’re ppl who love if the game they’re playing contains “set up your character” section, although these cosmetic stuff won’t be necessarily used in-game (nor even being mentioned!)

When you think about it, Skyrim has those facial slide-bar-thingymabob, but even the game itself didn’t… “use” these… “stats”.


#3

I’m absolutely of the mind that there are many games around that lean too heavily into the customisation idea.

Name and sex/gender are obviously the two ones that I’d say are just about always required. I think with every other one, any prospective Choicescripter should ask themselves: what am I going to do with this? For a lot of games, I don’t think an Orientation is necessary for the player character either.

I think a lot of them are just the result of people including them without much thought to the why of it. I can’t remember a single game where defining my eyes, hair, build, height, whatever, ever added to the experience. If I name the character like me, I just imagine him looking like me. Or, if I name them something else, I just imagine whatever.

You could maybe do a really good story with customisation for things like height, weight, eye color, hair color, and so on – but I’m honestly not sure what.


#4

Hmm hmm hm… :upside_down_face:


#5

I hope that’s a ‘hmm hmm hm’ of proving me wrong! :grin:


#6

Well… I haven’t prove it. Not yet :grimacing:
But yeah, coding in those cosmetic “stats” are somewhat pain-in-the-hole, if not for the latest version of CScript.

P.s. Thx @dfabulich!


#7

I don’t prefer setting the character appearance as the choices usually aren’t well integrated into the story, and come off like answering a long list of quiz questions, they don’t impact anything, and I usually don’t picture how my MC looks unless she is wearing some elaborate costume. There is also limited customization like the MC can’t have fire ombre hair.

In visual games or visual novels, it’s nice to define the main character’s appearance because you can actually see the MC and post pictures of the MC You created. In a text game, it’s less important (well, unless you are a fantasy character. I would want to know if I’m a thin single as flying Chinese Dragon or a big Western dragon).

Gender doesn’t impact anything, usually. But, it’s good to have a choice because it avoids finding out the character is gender locked half way through the game.

Appearance that impacts the game like a big character kicking a door in or a small character sneaking in through the dog door is ok. A small character is able to stand in front of a tall shooting character and not get hit. If I’m trying to impersonate someone and I look like them, that would be easier and I wouldn’t have to worry about my natural hair roots showing up in dyes hair. If I look like a foreigner in an homogeneous society, people might think I’m ritch and want to rip me off or might think I’m scary. I might figure out that I’m adopted sooner.


#8

Height is definitely the one I could see. If you play a huge character and you meet a fellow giant it could be really rewarding to see his description as ‘you’ve finally met another human being as tall as you’ rather than just ‘he is a giant of a man’.

I’d also considered allowing for NPCs that mirror or contrast your looks and thus be visually marked as similar or opposite to your character in some regards.

And you could always have a setting where certain eye colors have particular meanings, maybe delineating ancestry from one of several ancient families or tribes. But this is almost something you’d need to build a setting around.

Without anything like this however it still seems rather useless to me.


#9

Funnily I considered not giving a gender for the player character would solve problems if you can work around people referencing or addressing the character in gender-specific ways. I admit that I plain don’t have a grip on modern day gender politics nor do I have a lot of interest in them. As far as I’m concerned anyone can express themselves in any way they care to do so as long as they don’t try to force anything on me. And since there seems to be a vocal group interested in non-binary gendering in CYOA style stories just doing away with gender flags and allowing the player to imagine themselves as any form of gender identity they wish to seems a bonus. Of course such a game would have to dance around that issue too.


#10

With the use of first or second person and a modern or gender equal society, gender doesn’t really matter and there’s not a whole lot or any gendered dialogues except for some titles like Sir, Mr., Ms. Some readers might still think a work is for a certain gender even if there is no gender choice, but I guess you can’t always please everyone.


#11

Yeah I’m not usually a fan of long drawn out character creation that has no impact on the story (especially when you spend time putting in things like hair and eye colour and they’re never mentioned ever again even as minor flavour text changes). But, lots of people really do like spending time building their characters and creating an exact image of who the MC is going to be and look like. In sea maiden, I had some “premade” characters to select from, as what you look like doesn’t affect the story much but I had requests to make each trait set-able so I allowed both. I kind of think that’s a happy compromise, for people that just want to get into the story, pick a premade appearence, if you like spending time making the character that’s fine too.


#12

No.

I’m fairly confident there’s no consensus on the matter.

That said, the simple act of inputting such information changes many players’ perceptions of the game even if said information is not used again. This can even improve players’ engagement with the game and emotional attachment with their characters. Sometimes, this may be related to their ability to represent themselves within the game. Other times, it may be the questions or options directly caused the players to consider an aspect or attribute of their characters they wouldn’t have normally brought their imagination to bear on.

For example, while scars are to be expected among characters routinely engaged in violence, they’re so far outside my daily experience I don’t even think about giving them to my characters… unless a game explicitly asks me about them. And then I add them to the considerations for the character. And if I end up decided a scar or three actually is appropriate for the character, I stop and take more time to consider how she got the scar(s) in the first place. I create more “backstory” for my character, and understand her more completely, all because the game asked me an otherwise superfluous question about her appearance.

I’ve noticed a fairly common complaint among players who dislike physical descriptions of their MCs seems to be something along the lines of “Well, you can just imagine her appearing however you want, so why do you want to ‘officially’ describe her in-game?” I honestly can’t understand this line of thinking. Creating a character’s appearance is a minigame in and of itself. Sometimes, it goes beyond, and is a complete game. It’s fun. By itself, without any real connection to anything else, it’s still fun.

Would you consider saying “Well, you can imagine your character romancing whoever you want, so why do you want to ‘officially’ describe the date in-game?” After all, who your MC does (or doesn’t) romance has no real bearing on whether she solves the mystery and arrests the murderer, or wins the battle and defeats the necromancer, or flies the helicopter through a storm to pluck survivors from the deck of a sinking ship. So why bother including romance at all?

Because it matters.

Because it’s worth it.

Independent of anything else, it’s worthwhile. It matters entirely on its own merits, even if it doesn’t sculpt the major events of the plot.

I strongly believe providing options for customizing characters is much the same as providing options for those characters to romance. I strongly believe it’s worth it on its own merits, independent of its influence elsewhere in the game. Sure, some players will enjoy it, while other players won’t. Some players gladly throw themselves in, others would rather avoid it. How do we handle that with romance? How should we handle that with character customization?

We let players who dislike it skip it.

Mandatory character customization should probably go the way of the dodo. Or rather, the way of mandatory romance. Unless the entire point of the game is romance, we don’t want it to be mandatory. Unless the entire point of the game is customizing a character’s appearance, we probably shouldn’t be making that mandatory either. And some games are just as well off skipping it entirely… though most games should include some level of it as an option.

Now, there has been one fairly major thing I’ve been dancing around and ignoring throughout this whole reply. I mentioned it in passing at the beginning, and haven’t returned to discuss it.

Frankly, I don’t feel qualified to.

But minority representation matters.

If you don’t bother including options to be a woman, or to be Asian, or to have one leg end at the knee… do such people actually exist in the game, or is it just another “sausage fest” of straight, white, able-bodied men like so much mainstream media? When you add options, you’re explicitly saying “All these different kinds of people exist in this game, even though it’s okay if you chose the familiar option.” You’re indicating those characters exist in all versions and instances of the game. Leave those options out, and while I can imagine they continue to exist when I’m playing, do they still exist when someone else plays?

I’m really not the right person to discuss this particular aspect of the topic, so I won’t be going any further into it. I apologize for bringing up something so important and sensitive then promptly bailing out of the discussion. I understand it’s not exactly fair of me, and I am sorry.

Going back to what I was saying earlier, I genuinely believe this is typically worth including even if, like romance, it’s almost always best when optional.

Perhaps we should have a separate discussion on how to set up character customization so that it can be engaging for as many players as possible, and boring for as few as possible. What kind of traits and attributes are more likely to tempt players into pausing to think about what it means for their MCs’ pasts and futures… and what kind of traits and attributes have become so generic players are more likely to click through with a “Yeah, whatever. Next.”


#13

All other things being debatable this is not entirely true for_most_ games that I’ve played round here. At the very least Romances tend to tie a specific character more closely to yours. And most ROs have a gameplay function.

In Life of a Wizard, if you get married you can go on a honeymoon and get a skill boost from that. Likewise you can place your spouse (and child from said union) in a position of power for political gain. Though most games don’t take it THAT far.

Edit: But wait, there’s more!

And what if they don’t exist? The WiP I’m conceptualizing and asking this question for is set in a harsh high magic fantasy setting with Slavic influences. While there may be a range of skin colours and other physical markers they don’t even conform to earth ethnicities. Cause it’s, you know, fantasy and not representative of anything but itself.

Edit to the Edit: Just cause I forgot it. If the above is my vision as an author, wouldn’t not giving people the option to physically describe themselves allow more wiggle room for them to look however they like in their imagination? Carry on.

Never mind that ‘white’ is as much of a misnomer as any broad stroke you care to brush ethnicities with. There are physical and more importantly social differences between, say, a Bavarian and a Hessian even though they’re both German and their areas border each other. Likewise people from Berlin look and act completely different than people from Hamburg even though they’re not even two hours apart. One people sprang from Friesian stock, the other is Prussian shot through with Slavic DNA. It gets worse if you cross the border. French people look distinctly different from Germans and one country over Spain might as well be on a different continent.

Migrations, religion, wars… They all left indelible marks in the people and their culture. In the 90s Yugoslavia broke apart because it was a country made up of peoples that had nothing in common other than being situated next to one another. The Serbs went after the Bosniaks citing grievances over three centuries old.

This is the same level of tribal difference and conflict you can see crop up in Africa now and then where the colonial powers drew tribal borders randomly across maps regardless of who lived there. Same thing happens in the Middle East though with the added element of sectarianism. And I’m sure Hmong and Khmer would gladly point out what differentiates them from one another too, though that’s just an assumption on my part. I’m not even going to start on the various peoples of China.

At the risk of derailing my own thread, the argument is for one not universally applicable and secondly short-sighted as heck.


#14

I disagree. A RO shouldn’t disappear off of the face of the Earth (or whatever planet the game is set on) after romancing and the romance should impact the story in at least some small way for the romance to be good.

There is no universal “bad” or “good” physical customization for MCs. The main problem is that the customization is not used and has no impact on the story. A magic stat would be bad to have if the story doesn’t contain any magic and the stat is never used, and not because it is generally bad.

There’s a thread about games without people of color neutrality. Video games without people of color are not 'neutral’
If people are multiracial, that can get difficult to describe and how do you describe an Asian person when Asia doesn’t exist, etc. Descriptions of the MC can often be lacking for certain people which is kind of anti-inclusive. I don’t mind if the NPCs are physically described.


#15

Ok so first off if it’s fantasy you can pretty well include who you want. If it’s set in a realistic time period, sometimes having certain ethnicities or genders commonly present in certain areas of the world or doing certain jobs wouldn’t always make sense and could be excused (for example if you were to set a game pre-european settlement Australia, having lots of people with fair skin running around wouldn’t make sense). But, often there is wiggle room. Even if uncommon, you’d get genders or ethnicities in places you wouldn’t always expect throughout history. If it’s not set in real life, you’ve got even more leeway. Even if you want the setting to be slavic, you could still include the option for people to pick skin tone etc and just have them (or their ancestors) have migrated from elsewhere as a quick and easy way to keep what ever vision you have for the story in place while still allowing people to play as the person they want. If it really bothers you, yeah you could drop character creation entirely but it will be missed by some players and you might want to explain why the setting appears a bit white washed.


#16

Doesn’t whitewashing relate to explicitly removing ‘non-white’ (see above why that’s a misnomer IMNSHO) people or replacing them with ‘white’ ones in a context that explicitly includes them?

(And is there a term for the reverse? I was somewhat perturbed by ‘Chinese George the Kung Fu guy’ in the recent King Arthur movie. More for the Kung Fu and them referencing China than his presence.)


#17

Yeah, I’ve always found this kind of annoying. Not so much the whole choosing your character’s appearance thing, but the fact that the choices are completely pointless. If, for example, you mentioned early on that your character had long, blonde hair and then later in the game it says something as simple as, “Your long, blonde hair blows in the wind,” then it’d be worth it.

I generally like to choose my character’s appearance in games, but If you input your character’s race, hair colour, eye colour and other physical features, but then your character’s physical appearance is never described again throughout the rest of the game, it’s like… Why bother? I can easily just picture my character in my head.


#18

Well, gender does tend to impact the game to some extent, because depending on which gender you choose, you’ll be referred to as “He”, “She” or “They” throughout the rest of the game, reminding you that your character is whatever gender you chose them to be.

Things like hair colour literally don’t impact the game at all, because you’ll just pick from a list of colours and it’ll never be mentioned again. :yum:


#19

I think that actually demonstrates more why I don’t like physical descriptive choices that never get mentioned.

If you choose what your character looks like and then these physical descriptions get used throughout the game, I’d consider it an asset. On the other hand, describing your character’s appearance and then never having their appearance mentioned would be more like choosing a romantic interest in the game, and then never seeing that romantic interest again.

Romantic interests are something that I always like to see in any game, but if the game described a bunch of characters and then asked you, “Which character would you like to date?” Then after you chose, it turned out to be a fake choice and none of those characters were ever mentioned again, I’d consider that REALLY annoying. :yum:


#20

I actually had a thread about this… Didn’t really find an answer :yum: