What a Videogame Taught Me About Personal Perception


I’m loathe to make such a sweeping statement about women gamers but it does seem that many of us (perhaps also including men) take particular time over creating our characters. Whether it’s the Sims, Skyrim or Mass Effect, I’d seen my friend take hours over each careful detail, only to see them slapped in a helmet the moment the game begins. I’m especially prone to this and ever since my early days with Sims 1 I’ve enjoyed recreating my friends as video game characters. The goal was always to get as close as possible to a recognisable character, even though I often could only do this in the loosest possible fashion.

More recently, I’ve noticed that games have really upped the ante with the impressive details you can add to custom characters. In the lead up to the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition there were several posts that ended up on my social media feed just announcing the incredible character creation options. Not the gameplay or the story but the opportunity to create a character exactly as you envisioned. Clearly there must be a demand for such options.

One of my particular favourites (though it can’t compare to DAI) is Dragon’s Dogma, which has a character creation model that is quite deep but also accessible. You can create a character in quite a short space of time and get them pretty close to your desired appearance. Whilst having a few friends over (gaming friends and otherwise) I wanted to demonstrate how exact this could be so, on the spur of the moment, I asked my friends – one by one – to recreate themselves.

The results were shocking.

Almost instantly there was a huge gulf between what my friends thought they looked like and the reality. People gave themselves long faces and tiny eyes. Defining themselves by what they considered their worst features, the characters were quickly becoming caricatures. When someone proclaimed they were done, the rest of the party couldn’t stop themselves from leaping on the controller to “fix” the character and make it look more like our friend.

This is made all the worse by the fact that you can edit body shape in Dragon’s Dogma beyond the usual scale. I gave myself hips so large that my friends were stunned, another friend gave herself uncharacteristically boyish proportions and (despite the fact that height and weight are displayed at the bottom of the screen) one friend made herself shorter and heavier than the reality.

The entire experience was a revelation for me and I couldn’t help thinking back to the Dove advert that went viral last year, where a woman and a stranger both described her appearance to a police sketch artist to demonstrate how differently we view ourselves from the reality. Obviously we see our own faces constantly, in the mirror, attached to our profiles and even in selfies, so how can we be so incorrect about what we look like? Perhaps because the reality is that you see yourself less than those around you. I can recreate my friends more accurately because I can look at them, whereas they carry around an impression of what they look like rather than the constant reality. And this impression is easily manipulated, especially when we look at our reflection with pre-existing expectations. If you think about it, we actually see less of ourselves externally, objectively, than anyone else.

So, what’s the good news?

Well, taking part in this accidental experiment has really revealed to myself and my friends exactly where our insecurities lay. It also meant that we could offset the insecurities of our friends by presenting them with something we all considered to be the “reality”. Seeing how my friends think I look was shocking because I didn’t entirely recognise what they were presenting to me, not after I’d carefully created a character that represented my own perceptions. I’d love to do the experiment again with an even more recent character creation model, so I invite those of you who have something more advanced to give it a go! You might be surprised about what you discover regarding your friends’ perceptions of themselves.