Character Customization: Reliving My Dress Up Doll Days Through Video Games

saints row 4 gang
The Saints conquer the White House in Saints Row IV

A few weeks ago, I was playing around with the Saints Row IV: Inauguration Station to prepare for the latest installment of the Saints game. This time the Saints are moving all the way up to the White House where your character is now the President of the United States. If you have ever played any of the Saints games, the level of absurdity knows no bounds which is part of its charm for this series. The game hardly takes itself seriously. It’s meant to be enjoyed and laugh at the craziness this game throws at you.

I downloaded Inauguration Station for the Xbox 360 and began changing up the look of my Asian Saints character from Saints Row: The Third. The amount of options you have to choose from is staggering. Aside from changing the usual: hair, face, body, skin color, race, etc. you have a ton of clothes and accessories to choose from.

Going down the list of options for outfits I can mix and match for my Madame President Saints character is a dream come true. I sat in my chair with controller in hand as I very seriously considered all the possible looks and styles my character could wear. It ranged from the very normal to the super crazy. Want your Saints character to run the White House in a spandex superhero outfit? Go right ahead. Let the American public try to laugh at you as you deliver your inauguration speech for the first time.

You may think it’s silly that I would take something as trivial as customizing the look of my character so seriously, but it brings out that time in my childhood when I loved dressing up my Barbie dolls. Any chance I had where my Barbie had optional clothes, shoes, and jewelry to wear for her job, a lunch out with friends, or a date night with Ken I scrutinized each piece of clothing very carefully.

Clothes not only expresses who you are as a person, but it’s an extension of your personality. It’s also about having fun dressing up in whatever you choose to wear. It may take me time to really be happy with the way my character looks and is dressed before I can officially start a game, but I want to look on proudly as my character steps out for the first time and struts her stuff among the rest of the characters she’ll be interacting with.

The closest thing to the real me. I'm super girly
The closest thing to the real me. I’m super girly

Hell, I even take time changing the outfit on my own Xbox Live avatar. I should be thankful it doesn’t take me this long to get dressed for the day in real life. I promise, though my obsession with character customization might make you think otherwise.

With so many options to choose from, customizing your character gives you access to a limitless amount of clothing options you normally won’t have in real life. I kind of think of it like that scene from the movie Clueless where Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz opens up her walk-in closet and starts perusing her organized and color coordinated closet for an outfit to wear for the day. So many clothes and all sorts of styles you can put together to suit your mood and occasion. Must be nice to be so rich.

I always wanted a closet like this one. Look at all the clothes and colors!
I always wanted a closet like this one. Look at all the clothes and colors!

The beauty about video game customization is you can be as normal or as crazy as you want with your character’s style without even having to wear something like it in real life. If you spend hours deciding what your character should wear before stepping out into the game world, don’t worry. It’ll be worth it when your character kicks major butt in a clown suit. At least if you ever wondered what it’d be like to fight in a clown outfit.

9 thoughts on “Character Customization: Reliving My Dress Up Doll Days Through Video Games”

  1. Character customization is just as fun and important to me as well. It’s a tad ridiculous how long it takes me to create a new character in some games. The more customization options usually means the longer it takes. I mean, if they’re going to give us all these options why not really decide which you like? Right? 🙂 Although, I have been told that the geek girls tend to take customization more seriously than guys do. Oh well.

    – Britney

    1. Maybe not so surprising! They always say girls take the longest in getting ready to go out than guys do. It can’t be helped when we want to look our best in public and by extension that idea transfers over to video games. I think the more options we have to customize our character the better. 🙂

  2. There’s something magical about being able to control how your character looks on the screen. Like you said, it’s a reflection of you and how you approach the game. The added control doesn’t feel too bad either. I know in this piece you were working with Saint’s Row, but what game would you say left you the most satisfied with its level of character appearance customization?

    1. That’s a tough one. I think it’s a tie between Mass Effect and Dragon Age, though I may be leaning more towards Dragon Age. Mass Effect does give you plenty of options to change the look of your character, but I do feel there’s more to choose from in Dragon Age than Mass Effect. I could be wrong too. I like mixing and matching armor for my character, but the only downside is the armor or weapon you equip on your character matters in terms of stats and power boosts for your character. Even if I liked the look of a shield or dagger, if it’s pretty weak against enemies, I’ll have to choose something else. At least Mass Effect doesn’t have that same vital decision making process that Dragon Age has.

  3. I’m the same.. in fact I’ve never even played Saint’s Row but I downloaded the Inauguration Station thing to play with the other week (I had a load of data to use up on my internet and that was the best free thing in the marketplace!) .. It did make me think about actually getting the game because it’s so rare to find games where you have that much control over how your character looks. Maybe when I’ve got through the stack of un-played games I already have!

    That’s one of the reasons why I’ve loved the BioWare games KOTOR, Dragon Age and Mass Effect because it lets you decide how your character looks and well as making decisions that inform on their personality – it feels like real Role Play, particularly Dragon Age: Origins. I know the Bethesda Elder Scrolls and Fallout games let you personalise a character too, but I miss the personality input.. it’s no where near as a satisfying (plus you hardly ever see your character’s face anyway!) and I don’t find those games as much fun.

    I don’t know of any other developers that allow you that level of customisation.. I wish there was more!

    1. Yeah, I agree. While games like Skyrim or Fallout never really grabbed my attention like it has for other people, I always prefer to have a chance to see my character’s face. I suppose that means I prefer to have a third-person game where I get to enjoy how I dressed up my character as well as fixing her face and hair the way I like it. The Borderlands games let you customize the look of your character to a certain degree, but not in the same way as the Bioware or Saints Row games does. If you choose an outfit, the most you can do is change the colors of the full outfit and that’s about it. I want the freedom to change every ounce of a character’s clothes, right down to the shoes! Hopefully more games will give players more freedom to change the character the way they want and truly make them their own.

  4. I change my Xbox avatar regularly too! I mean, she has to fit the season, right? And there’s just no sense in wearing shorts in January. You know how I feel about character customization and how awesome it is in most games. We sometimes spend months on end with these characters that we come to love, so why not invest the time in making them look as fantastic as we can?
    Great post!

    1. I do the same thing too! I always change my Xbox Live avatar for the season. This reminds me that I need to do that soon. Fall is coming. 🙂 I definitely know your love of customization. You did write a guest post on my blog about it! But I agree. If you have all the options at your disposal, why not use it to make your character fabulous?

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