Impossible Identities: The Limitations of Character Creation Systems

Presented at the 2017 Digital Games Research Association conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Please also read the extended abstract here.

Also see Barker's 2016 work on character creation and chronic health conditions from DiGRA Queensland.

While pre-designed characters allow players to identify and empathise with the lived experiences of these characters, the blank slate offered by player-created characters allow for 'projection'.

Character creation systems are not the best method for incorporating diversity in games; however, it is still important to incorporate diversity into the character creation systems that will inevitably continue to be used in games.

There are pros and cons to using character creation systems in relation to diversifying games. In particular, even when a player creates their own character, often game systems are designed to interact with that character in a 'default' way, so even if you do choose to play a minority, it is difficult to truly feel that this is occuring, as the game system will not respond to you differently.

Queerly Represent Me's 2016 survey was very preliminary, and used to inform the creation of the original database. Two of the questions asked about character creation systems, and inspired further study. More information about this survey is available here.

These preliminary findings about character creation systems were written about on FemHype.

Findings from the 2016 survey led to the creation of a second survey earlier this year. It was still seeking preliminary data, but asked more questions, including some more specific and quantitative questions. Many of these were regarding character creation, and led to some interesting findings. More information about the 2017 survey can be found here.

Players who already have an interest in diverse games care about seeing more options in their character creation systems fairly evenly, and (unsurprisingly) more than those who do not believe that diversity in games is important. Both those who do and do not care about diversity indicated that character creation options are more important than "realistic graphics".

Statistics support that people particularly care about the representation of identities similar to their own. Those who identify as a sexuality other than straight care about diverse sexualities in character creation systems, just as those who identify as not cisgender care about diverse gender identities and pronouns in games.

If you have any questions about this work, or anything to do with Queerly Represent Me, please email us.