Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Puppeteers: Karlyn Meyer

I was inspired by a photography project done by Robbie Cooper where he took pictures of gamers and matched them with their in-game Avatars called "Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators". I thought it was a fantastic idea, so I decided to start a similar project. I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the people behind the Avatars, the puppeteers if you will, and why they designed their Avatars the way they did. If you are interested in participating, feel free to email me for details!

The wonderful Karlyn
Fallout 3 badassery

Alistair lovin' City Elf from Dragon Age: Origins

Name: Karlyn Meyer

Why did you choose the Avatars you did, and what games are they from?

The first is from Fallout 3. This was my first experience with character creation. The whole process was really thrilling for me, and this remains one of my all-time favorite games. The second is from Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings. She's a City Elf rogue. I included her because she's a character I really wanted to be able to identify with, but I had to work pretty hard to get her to that point.

How do you feel when you play this Avatar? Does it elicit any special emotions, or is it just there to reflect your style? 

Both avatars are near to my heart because I created them to reflect my personality. I select attributes that feel realistic so my characters remind me of myself. They tend to be intelligent, cunning, and persuasive, but not really strong or graceful--and they know nothing about magic. I like giving them other little pieces of myself as well. For example, my Fallout 3 character always wears glasses, like I do. I love that there's this little woman out there dominating the postapocalyptic wasteland in glasses.

Why do you think you need/like/want to feel that way? 

I love the fantastic setting that gaming provides, but I relish the ability to experience it through characters who approach situations as I would. I prefer there to be very little disconnect.

Did you try to create your Avatar to look like you actually look, or did you make one that looks how you want to look? Why?

I spend far too much time attempting to create avatars who look like me. I've been excited by the surge of women of color in video games; I rushed out to preorder Left 4 Dead 2 when I saw Rochelle on the poster, and it meant so much to have Alyx Vance alongside me later in the Half-Life series. But on balance, I've spent years playing beautifully written games in which my onscreen persona was a white man. I so seldom see a playable character (or even a meaningful NPC) who resembles me physically, so when given the opportunity, I create her.

Do you feel like you succeeded in creating the Avatar you imagined? 

In some ways. But I always struggle with skin and hair. I've run into the same problem that Eye-shuh mentioned in the first Puppeteer's interview: I have never been able to replicate my skin tone in a character creator. I err on the side of selecting shades much darker than I am (as with my Fallout 3 Avatar), just because I like seeing a brown girl on screen.

The Dragon Age character was especially frustrating. I achieved her shade only by completely maxing out every color bar, and she's still barely browner than a cafe au lait. This was compounded by the fact that all the NPCs in the game appeared white, including my character's family. Incidentally, both of the characters I included here have an origin story in which their mother passed away, and they interact with their fathers in-game. The Dragon Age character's father was of light complexion, as were all her cousins in the village where she grew up. In contrast, the father in Fallout resembled my character. In Dragon Age, it was hard not to think that brown-skinned characters--and the players who would create them--just weren't contemplated. But I just decided that the City Elf's mother had been very brave, very clever, and very dark.

If you could change one thing about Avatar customizations in video games, what would it be? 

In addition to my thoughts on skin tone, I'd love to see more options for hair texture. You'll notice that my Dragon Age avatar is bald. I have natural hair that ranges from a tight afro in the winter to a large, wild, kinky masterpiece in the summer. It's my favorite thing about my appearance. In games, however, I see dozens of choices for straight hair in many lengths and styles, but very few different textures, if any. You're lucky if you find loose waves. I'll stay on the lookout for a game that will let me give my character a nappy fro. In the meantime, I use the "male" styles in games that share one hairstyle bank between male and female avatars. And where that isn't an option, I go bald. :)

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