Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Puppeteers: Elizabeth Bursick

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 beautiful Elizabeth!
Star Wars: TOR Smuggler 
Dragon Age II Mage

Name: Elizabeth Bursick

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

The first is my Smuggler from Star Wars: The Old Republic. I chose her because she’s my most recent Avatar.

The second is my mage from Dragon Age II. I picked her because I wasn’t really a fan of the game, but I loved how my Avatar looked.

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

My Old Republic character makes me feel completely badass. She’s very much a “shoot first, ask questions later” kind of character and it’s fun to play someone way more reckless and short tempered than I actually am. I also just really love the juxtaposition of this petite, freckled, redheaded girl zooming around and saving the galaxy armed with only a pair of blasters and a foul mouth.

My Dragon Age II character feels more genuine and similar to my real life personality. She really just wants everyone to get along and stop hitting each other, and wishes everything could end with rainbows and sunshine and ponies. Part of what frustrated me so much about Dragon Age II as a whole is how it constantly fought my instinct to try to make everyone happy. No matter how hard my Avatar and I tried, nobody wanted to get along. Having an Avatar that I liked kept me from getting too angry with the game though. I enjoyed her attitude and appearance enough that I wanted to see her get through to the very end.

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

With my Old Republic Smuggler I really enjoy getting to make choices I’d love to in real life, but wouldn’t dare to because they’d probably result in jail time. It allows me to step away from how I would actually act and take on a devil-may-care attitude without having to deal with the consequences of it.

In Dragon Age II, on the other hand, I enjoy putting my own personality and decision making into that setting. Unlike my Smuggler Avatar, my mage Avatar seems less about taking on a different personality to suit the game world and more about trying to influence the game world with my real personality.

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 always make my Avatars look as much like me as I possibly can. I figure that if I’m going to spend upwards of twenty hours playing as a character, I’d best be able to relate to and care about her. For me, the best way to relate to that character is to make a doppelganger of myself. My Avatar should be me, but a little bit better. I want to be a little braver, wittier, and more charismatic; I want to have the ability to shoot lightening bolts out of my fingers, to somersault across a room without breaking my neck, and to maybe make my nose just a little bit smaller. There are so many video games out there where I’m forced to play as a muscular white male protagonist that when I get the chance to customize a heroine, I want to play as me.

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

In Dragon Age II, absolutely yes. I think this Avatar is the closest I’ve ever gotten to creating a character that actually resembles me. I loved that I can have traits I can’t usually find in most character creators, like round cheeks, a round nose, small eyes, and long blonde hair.

My Avatar from The Old Republic was a bit of a letdown though. I went into the game wanting to make a blonde bombshell Smuggler, but was disappointed when I fired up the character creator and discovered there was no option for blonde hair. There are about ten different shades of brown, but only one shade that could pass as dark blonde. I was a bit stunned at the time because it kind of felt like the developers didn’t think a blonde girl could possibly want to play a Star Wars game. It probably sounds silly, but I felt a bit like Bioware was calling me a dumb blonde. After I scowled at my computer for a few minutes I finally settled on red hair. I’ve been a redhead in the past and figured that was the next best way to physically match my Avatar to me. It was disappointing at first, but the Avatar has grown on me and I like her a lot now.

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

Options for body type. I think body type for females is such a huge problem across all video games. We have games like the Soul Caliber series giving us gravity defying physiques and back breaking poses that are designed specifically for the male gaze, and then we have games like Fable and Fable II that make us subsist solely on water and celery if we want a female character who doesn’t have a hulking masculine figure. I don’t like it when my escapist fantasy video games pressure me in the same way real life does or when they remind me that I’m not their target audience. I would love to see more developers realize that there is a demand for unique, customizable female models. I think some games are heading in the right direction. The Old Republic does have a handful of body types to choose from and EVE Online has an amazing character creator that let’s you customize your pilot from her nose down to her calf muscles,. And for video games in general, things like the popularity of Female Shepard in Mass Effect and Lara Croft’s new athletic redesign for the upcoming Tomb Raider game are really promising too. I do think developers are starting to notice that we want female characters that reflect us, so I’m hopeful that we’ll soon start seeing a wider range of available female body types in games.