Treating a RO's physical description as a mere suggestion

(This is probably more applicable to the players who self-insert to at least some degree, including injecting their own preferences into the MC when it comes to physical traits they find attractive in a partner.)

I’m curious: Have you (as a reader) ever replaced a physical detail - or maybe even the whole appearance - of a RO with another in your imagination? For instance, if a RO was a perfect match otherwise, but their hair was described being a color that wasn’t what you’d have chosen if it had been up to you and isn’t that appealing to you. Or have you maybe even fully body-swapped them for someone you have a crush on or replaced their body with the body of a RO from another story? Or do you treat them as you would treat real people in this situation, by - worst case - simply not dating them and shrugging it off as something you can’t do anything about / isn’t meant to be?

I’m usually not able to change an image in my head as soon as it has been established, which means, if an author says right away character XYZ has hair color ZYX (and, sticking with this example, hair color is usually among the first things mentioned), then that’s how I see the character and there is little I can do about it.
But I openly admit, there were a few instances here and there, where I’ve tried, because I loved the personality of the RO so much, yet the physical appearance just wasn’t that attractive to me. Like many, I have a certain type, and while I’m a bit more open for men who don’t fully match it in real life, I don’t see a reason why I shouldn’t wish for “perfection” in this regard in a fictional story that serves me as a vehicle for escapism.
Yet I hesitated a bit before making this topic, because I’m fully aware there’s a certain type of fan who’d probably take offense to my position, because they love their favorite ROs so much the way they canonically appear that they would consider my position to be, I don’t know, perhaps rude?

Which brings me to the next question: How do you authors feel about this? While I generally think it’s none of other readers’ business how I imagine the characters in a game I’ve paid for, as long as I don’t go around claiming my interpretation is a better one or complain to the author and ask for changes, I can totally see why an author would possibly not be too happy about it. I know some feel very protective of “their babies” and this is something I can deeply relate to. I’m fully aware how much thought and love can go into an OC, down to the smallest detail, and I can see how it could be hurtful to have all of this disregarded for not being “hot enough”. Another, much bigger, issue would arise if an author did their best to provide a diverse cast of characters only to have a reader erase the e.g. race of a character (which is something I’d never do and where I’m drawing the line), but I would think those readers have a bit of self-awareness left and wouldn’t go around flaunting their fan art, but maybe I’m very naive here.

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I latch on MUCH MORE to an ROs personality than their physical traits, to the point that my mind uses them conceptually and not physically. Like, Wayhaven’s Ava has short cropped blonde hair, is muscled, and wears aviators, but that’s about it for me - everything else about her physical looks is mostly blob-y for me.

I don’t think anyone has the right to object to how you imagine the ROs in your playthroughs, provided you don’t use the changed aspects as a basis for discussion (unless the discussion is on the lines of “wouldn’t X look much better if they dyed their hair Y colour, what do you folks think” or something) and acknowledge that if you use the changed aspects to describe a character people won’t know who you’re talking about.

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That makes me think of the song “Build a Bitch” by Bella Poarch lol. Though I see nothing wrong with that. Its in your head and so they can look however you want them to look. I like to try to keep them as close to what the author wrote as possible just to try to see their vision through as they wrote it but some changed features on people or there isn’t really going to change the narritive of the story and even though I try, I caught myself more than once having given people the wrong hair color or length or something in my mental image.

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Unless the character is described to me the very first time, I picture them in a certain way, and it changes very little based on the description. I’m also going to use Wayhaven as en example. I’m pretty sure Felix is supposed to be darker skinned, but I can’t picture him like that! But I was able to add his iconic hat!

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I don’t pay attention to the physical descriptions. I get a feel for their personalities, then cast my celeb crushes accordingly. I self insert, so this is how i like to play. Age and physical descriptions are a mere suggestion, imo.

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I literally don’t even remember what physical looks I give my characters, and if I could get away with it I wouldn’t have either mc physical descriptions or npc physical descriptions in the game. I do know that it helps a lot with immersion for people, so I do it for them.

However, the moment I’ve submitted the game it’s out of my hands. Feel free to have fun and write/rewrite what you want to get your greatest enjoyment of the story. It’s yours now.

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I do remember doing this with at least one LI. I’m willing to headcanon all sorts of stuff as I play a game, even plot that’s happening right in front of me, so to speak - character appearance occasionally is part of that. It’s modding lite.

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I have to admit I do that somewhat. I don’t self-insert at all though my MCs share some traits of me (mainly gender/sexuality). But there are certain aspects of ROs I change in my imagination. That has mostly to do with body/facial hair. I know a lot of people think it’s super sexy when a guy has chest hair or a beard or whatever but I just cringe at the mere thought of that. So if an RO is described to have these attributes I kindly delete them off my memory and pretend I can’t read lol.

I think as long as one is respectful to a characters ethnicities and doesn’t change their skin color/race or anything along those lines it’s fine.

My only problem is that I sometimes want to draw an RO but if he has a beard for example I dread drawing him without because I feel that would be disrespectful since then it’s not just in my imagination but brought unto a canvas. So I usually just refrain from drawing them at all lol

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It takes some effort for me to visually imagine when reading, so I tend to focus on the characters’ personalities and what they’re doing, rather than what they look like visually. I don’t see anything wrong with players imagining characters for themselves - it’s literally in people’s own heads.

I do this so often!

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I normally tend to forget someones physical description the minute I read it. I tend to imagine them according to their personality.
Example for that :Jaime and Woody(from ZE:Safe Haven) are poc for me, I do not even know why they just are.

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I will say, that people like you are the reason I did add the option to get Ricardo to shave his mustache in book two. And it became one of my favorite scenes in the process :slight_smile: I am glad that the mustache was such a divisive subject for people!

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I’m honestly pleasantly surprised by the responses so far, and I can’t help but wonder if this is due to the IF community being different in this regard than the fanfic community*, where my personal roots are, both as a writer and a reader. Of course, in the fanfic community the focus usually isn’t on OCs, but I have experienced a lot of thought policing there, for a lack of a better term.
Reading the replies really makes me feel better about the way I approach this, because frankly, I sometimes felt a bit guilty.

*(Yes, there can be fanfics of IF too, and they overlap to some degree)

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Not really? I most of the time forgot how RO even looks specifically, i usually remember them by their personality. Exception applies, of course

I couldn’t even remember how Lady Venuma from Versus trilogy even looks like, but her manipulative personality? That’s what i clearly remembers.

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Unless we are given a picture (like some of the vampire games), my mind tends to fill in its own details like hair color, etc. even if we are told what they are.

Once a picture is given, though, then it tends to stick out in my head…and like in some of those vampire games, when a description is at odds with the picture then I notice it a lot more.

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At the end of the day, when you finish an IF you finish your own little adventure. Small things like tweaks to the phyical appearance to an RO or companion don’t change anything substantial to the story the author is telling us thus theres nothing to feel guilty over.

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I often ignore pictures or drawings of characters, and one of the main attractions of text-based IF over graphic-based IF.

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In the games I am making, I often change the characters I cast from their historical source. I do this for many reasons: for example, I try to make my game’s historically based narrative more accessible to the modern reader, or I try to make my narrative more inclusive than past historical versions were.

A person that reads my game is welcome to head cannon any way they feel needed, including changing details that makes my game more enjoyable for them.

I hope this answers your question.

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I 101% always end up giving a text physical description of my characters and also give visual description of them.

For the first part, it’s mostly the question the readers ask me all the time lol, “What does RO look like?” and I use that description in the game too for example saying, they brush away strands of their long black hair, or they bury their hands into the pockets of their black jacket. It’s just flavor text, but it feels organic to me.

For the visual part, it’s because I’m a sucker for artwork and commissioning artwork of my characters calms me down when I feel bad about my writing, and having them drawn feels to me like they are alive (I know… I know… I’m weird.)

I have no issue with readers changing some details of those characters, because I love seeing fanfic and love seeing fanart, and also everyone drawing style is different. The only thing I would draw the line is if they change the race of the character that is part of the minority because that will indeed look like erasure.

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Absolutely. I have a specific image in mind for most characters which doesn’t always agree with that of the authors.

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Like some of the other authors who’ve answered, I:

  • Don’t have a particularly strong mental image of my characters – I’m also personality-focused rather than appearance-focused
  • Want a range of different people to be able to see themselves in the world and characters, especially the MC, so don’t give super-detailed physical descriptions
  • Feel that once I’ve put my characters out into the world, I’ve said my last word on them, and my readers can tweak them to their heart’s content (mentally, or in non-monetized fanworks)
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