If Given A Choice, What Would You Be?

If Given A Choice, What Would You Be?

How important is an in-game avatar? If given the choice, do you always choose a character from the gender you identify with? A recent study by Macquarie University senior lecturer Michael Hitchens has delved into the role of the avatar in first-person shooters. Having read his findings, we can’t help but wonder: if given a choice, who or what kind of character would you be?

Hitchen’s research looks at 550 first-person shooter titles and the roles that gender and race play in the avatars. It’s a fascinating study into the trends that have come and gone in first-person shooters and there are some really neat findings there. For example, of the games surveyed, 390 had default male avatars while 20 had default female avatars (Perfect Dark, Metroid Prime, etc). Only 11 games had an avatar where the gender of the character is not identifiable within the game.

When it came to race, 347 of the games surveyed used Caucasian character avatars, five used African/African American, seven had Asian avatars, five had American Indian avatars, and 67 were classified as “multiple” while 32 fell into the “unspecified” category.

First-person shooters are arguable one of the most immersive genres of game out there; they ask the player to assume the identity of the avatar, to be the eyes, ears and brain of the character. Whenever I am given a choice, I always go with the female character and try to make her look as Chinese as possible. My lack of understanding about facial proportions means she also looks as demented as possible. Despite her unfortunate appearance, I still automatically gravitate toward the character who I most resemble because I find it easier to connect with the character. I feel like I have a reason and a purpose in the game world.

So now it’s over to you: how important is the avatar in a first-person shooter? Do you care what the character looks like? What influences your decision when it comes to deciding on an avatar? Let us know!



    • I want you to be a “silent male” to the next person that tries to have a conversation with you and see how long it takes before they walk away confused as to why somebody would act so strangely.

      In fact there’s a joke in Arrested Development about that very thing, when Gob and Tobias acccidentally pitch the idea of a coffee shop to Michael and he says it’s a good idea.

      Any “immersion” you may think you’re achieving through the selection of a male with your skin-tone is surely shattered by the fact he would never utter a word.

  • If given the choice I’ll always choose male. The only exception I can think of was Arcanum which I have played through multiple times over the years, and had at least one character of each gender and race.

  • Its just sad to see the statistics of our medium. Only 20 out of 550 games assume a female avatar. So for every woman, there’s 26 men. The racial issues are almost as bad. This isn’t reflective of the real world (Men don’t outnumber women 26:1) so why are we continually doing this in our games?

    • Probably because the sort of games that require you to create an avatar arn’t as popular amongst women, Wii, Mario, Zelda games would probably have a better mix perhaps?

      • That is an astonishing stereotype. What evidence do you have that women don’t like FPS games? Besides, Mario and Link are both straight white males.

        • I didn’t see googootz write that women don’t like FPS. He suggested that games which depend on them may not be as popular amongst women. Stop being so reactionary and self-righteous.


          I’d like to see more non-white male protagonists. I enjoyed playing as fem shep in ME3 and I am looking forward to playing the Demon Hunter class in Diablo 3. For me, if the female character looks cooler or more interesting than it’s male counterpart, I’ll use it.

        • @adam
          Perhaps the complete lack of women ever encountered either online, or off, that are into FPS.

          The women I encounter, are either in MMOs, or when I ask them , they are into some rpgs, but generally stick with a male due to story purposes, in my experiences anyway.

          Even my gf plays ME(1-3) with the standard shep, she never even though of switching the sex, saying it seemed weird.

      • And to throw another stereotype that actually has some legs against that point is the Sims. The first Sims was such a hit because it brought in a huge percentage of women into the market. And that is a game that is all about creating avatars.

  • I find this strange, because if I were ever asked to consider my choice of character in a game I would only think of 3rd person games. First person doesn’t come to mind because I basically never see my character, so they more or less don’t exist as far as I’m concerned.

    I can’t actually think of any FPS where I was given a choice of character in single player, which would contribute to why I don’t feel like I’ve ever thought of it. It’s only when it comes to multiplayer that I ever had a choice, so that’s the only time I ever put any thought into it – in which case, it was entirely practical decisions. GoldenEye, go for Jaws because he is huge and makes headshots easier. Perfect Dark, Mr Blonde for the same reason. Timesplitters 2, Sewer Zombie because he looks cool and his head/limbs can get shot off. Also they wouldn’t count as headshots which was handy 😛 Metroid Prime Hunters, I always chose Kanden because the electric weapon was my favourite and using him guaranteed I always had it available. Also his alt form was good.

  • I usually go for the coolest looking one. Race/color/sex play minor roles in that choice. If it is multiplayer I’ll sometimes go with the one that will cause the most embarrassment to the players I kill (Manly Pink Taric in LoL for example)
    Character creation, I usually go for something that looks like a cooler version of me. If the game warrants it, second run through is usually female.
    Depending on how serious the game is I might go for the best demented looking character I can make, like some I made recently in Soul Calibur Create a Soul.

  • In an FPS I don’t care, I never see myself. I mean in Modern Warfare you’ll see yourself in the killcams but your appearance is randomly chosen for you depending on what class of weapon you’re using (snipers have ghille suits for instance). So if you’re a Navy SEAL, Ranger or whatever you’ll be a generic caucasian, black or hispanic. If you’re part of one of the opposing forces, you’ll look more vaguely middle-eastern.
    I don’t think there’s anyone out there saying “well I’m a diehard patriot so if I wind up as Taliban or something I’ll quit out and find a new match”.

    Talking about games with more of a story behind them, I don’t really care because the protagonist (you) is generally designed to fit with the setting. I think the only game I’ve played where your character is Asian, for instance, is John Woo’s Stranglehold and that makes sense seeing as how it’s supposed to be a successor to the Hard Boiled HK detective movies. If not for the box art from Half-Life 1, Gordon Freeman wouldn’t have had to be a white guy with a beard and glasses, he could’ve been a black guy with pink dreadlocks. Maybe pink dreadlocks don’t scream PhD in theoretical physics to you, but I once had a university professor with a buzzcut and a tattoo of a topless mermaid on her forearm.

    Since the protagonist of most games is the white male and I’m in the privileged position of being a white male, I don’t think anything of this. I’m aware a lot of people do because they’re not in my position. Then again, I don’t think anything of it when my character is anything other than a white male either.

    In short: if the game determines what my character will be, it has no impact on my decision to play it.

    On the other hand where I choose or design my avatar? Well, recently I’ve taken to playing female characters, particularly in RPGs. Their skin colour is as irrelevant as ever. What I’m really waiting for is the shitstorm that hits when a game is designed with a gay character. People went crazy about having the homosexual agenda forced on them when they found out about the potential relationships in ME3. Imagine if you had no choice but to be gay!

    That won’t affect my decision to play the game, as long as it’s a good game. But the fallout will be pure internet comedy gold. Can you imagine people starting petitions demanding a straight patch? Sending cupcakes with manly decorations to the developer? I wonder if there would be enough people bigoted enough to actually go that far.

  • I think that a big step in this area has been coming for a long time. Using an Avatar to distinguish one’s self and create a unique identity for you and your character is the direction we need to be heading in for online games.
    I was excited at the prospect of custom colour palettes for Street Fighter x Tekken, as it promised an opportunity to experience something closer to a unique presence, but imagine my disappointment when I found all you have is black or white custom colours until they decide to release patches for new colours.

    Even the new Soul Caliber V custom characters can’t hold a candle to the options they had in SC3, which is a damn shame, because that system gave huge potential for personalisation of a character or fighting style.

    I’m not a huge devotee of the FPS genre, but I’ve actually found my identity and the identity of the character I’m playing comes into it more when I can see my character or the choices I made are reflected in dialogue.
    I usually don’t play a character to represent myself though, and try to create something that responds to the game in my head the right way.
    For instance, one of my friends I were discussing Skyrim and we agreed that there’s almost a paralysing amount of choice available, but we both managed to decide what kind of character to play, based on the motives we as players assigned to the characters we portrayed.
    His was a swordsmen with a suspicious attitude towards magic, and therefore he didn’t use any if he didn’t have to, and mine was a ruthless ‘anything to get the job done’ kind of guy, who used a little magic, some alchemy, and knives.

    Not related to FPS and gender and race ratios, but food for thought.

  • I rarely try and self insert myself into a game, even in RPGs and games that take place in the first person. When I get to create an avatar for a game I usually try and create a main character I’d be interested in seeing go through the games story. This usually results in a female character, caucasian, with short hair coloured either red or black and green eyes.

  • You never actually *see* your character in a FPS. Research is pretty useless.

    Do over, with a game where it actually matters, like an RPG (especially an MMO).

  • i like to play as a bear because then i go around shouting “IMMA BEAR” because that is exactly what i am i would not lie about being a bear trust me

  • I almost always play as a female character for most games, but I prefer playing as male for life sims like Persona and Harvest Moon/Rune Factory.

  • The last FPS I can think of where I had that conscious choice was Far Cry 2… And it made no difference whatsoever.
    Last FPS where I remember caring was Goldeneye 64 multiplayer… And because I was the worst at it I generally picked the generic enemies rather than a character. But I class that choice in the same category as Mario kart – it’s that kind of game (rather than a FPS thing)

    • I chose my character in FarCry 2 because he had cool tattoos and thus had interesting arms to look at 🙂

  • For an FPS I don’t really care, but if I’m playing a third person game and have my character’s arse in front of me for any extended period of time, I’ll always choose a female avatar.

    • While this is my instinctive response I’ve put a little more thought into this today.

      If the character is depicted from the waist up or otherwise at a close angle, I prefer a stronger, larger build. Whether they’re male or female is irrelevant – but if there’s a big strong character in video games it’s probably a guy. I am saying I personally would not mind if it was female, as long as it’s strong looking. In this close camera angle I want a sense of power. E.g.: Gears of War, Mass Effect.

      However, if it’s a more distant angle (Saint’s Row 2/3, Star Trek Online) I feel like my character should be more nimble and agile – thanks to the influence of video game tropes over the years, I associate females with these characteristics. So yes, my avatars for Saints Row 2 & 3 and Star Trek Online are female. Not because I want to stare at a female butt for 30-50 (or even 100+!) hours of gameplay (though that is true), it’s reallym ore to do with the camera angle.

      In first person, it doesn’t matter. I make females in RPGs like Fallout 3/New Vegas and Oblivion/Skyrim, but after spending half an hour shaping my face I never see them again because:

      1) I play in first person view; and,
      2) I cover them up with armour which makes their gender basically indeterminate anyway.

      Name a story-based FPS where your character’s gender effects the storyline. I can think of one: Duke Nukem 3D. If Duke wasn’t a gum chewing beer swilling ass-kicking unapologetic fratboy jock douchebag, 90% of the charm and themes behind the game would vanish and the game wouldn’t have been as interesting – but that hardly counts because it was a 2D platformer that made the transition to 3D.

      So, can anyone name a game that originated in the FPS perspective and the character’s gender mattered even one little bit?

  • As a chap, I usually go for a female character when given the option, mostly because I prefer female voices over male. In SWTOR, I’ve only made two male characters so far compared to 4 female ones and the only reason I picked a male trooper is that jennifer hale was doing the female one and was doing it a bit too close to femshep. Wow, never thought I could be Jennifer Hale’d out but apparently I am…

    I’ve actually found that the male delivery in many games is a bit flat, again using swtor as an example, I’ve seen quite a lot of stuff for the male sith warrior and he’s fairly good but natasha little’s delivery for the female version has a lot more character. Not sure if there’s a reason for it but I’ve seen that kind of thing in a fair few games now

    It doesn’t really matter in first person games that are unvoiced, about the only reason to play a female character in say fallout 3/NV is because of the black widow perk having more potential targets than the ladykiller perk (since tha majority of enemies & conversation npcs are male)

    • Your point about male voice acting often falling flat is precisely why I play a female Shepard in Mass Effect. I can’t stand Mark Meere’s delivery at all compared to Hale’s. I think it’s because the typical male actor seems obliged to deliver a gruff, tough-guy attitude. In SWTOR, I like the male Jedi Consular (it is Nolan North) because it’s a nice break from that.

  • I play as a hot dude. I’m the only girl I know who does that, though. But maybe that’s also because I’m a fan of roleplay and gender fuckerry in general.

  • I don’t particularly care what my character looks like in an FPS, what with it being first person and all but in RPGs and such my avatars are whatever I think looks cool/pretty/badass or whatever at the time.

    For instance, I am a 19 year old white male, yet my “canon” Shepard in Mass Effect is a 29 year old black woman with purple eyes (because adepts rock). It’s not the old adage “If I’m gonna stare at someone’s arse for hours it may as well be a woman/man hur dur.” It’s just what seems right at the time. Incidentally, I practically never make characters that look remotely like me. There’s nothing more immersion breaking for me than running around doing heroic junk and then seeing something resembling my dorky mug staring out at me 😛

  • for some reason, i always make my guys look sorta emo (fringes and such)
    either it’s because
    A) i wish i could have that hair
    B) maybe i am suffering some sort of mental anguish inside, and this is how i let it out
    C)i am attracted to them?

    i think it’s a little bit of everything….

  • I tend to go with default if given the option. I like the game designer to choose the character for me.

    The only game I can think of recently where I didn’t really have a default option was Skyrim, but there I created a hard-as-f*ck looking Nord, because he looked like he’d fit into the environment and because Nords are basically Vikings. Didn’t really try to project any part of myself into it, aside from perhaps my gender.

  • I’ve always opted for female characters over male, in keeping with my gender, where one exception is SWTOR where I deliberately created a particularly hideous looking Sith Inquisitor whom I eventually found ‘attractive’ because of the way I played him.

    In games such as Oblivion, World of Warcraft or Skyrim with multiple races, who don’t look human, I tend to opt for the non-human/elf races, my preference being Argonians, Tauren, Worgen.

    Saints Row 3, I made a female character whom I found personally attractive. A bald, athletic tough chick with the Russian accent. Her face was more ambiguous, I opted for the Asian base though.

    I know someone who sticks to the whole adage of ‘If I’m gonna stare at someone’s arse for hours it may as well be a woman/man hur dur’. Its *Exactly* what he does for *exactly* that reason.

  • I usually go for female, but it depends on how I’m feeling at the time. Male and female don’t matter too much to me. Nor does skin colour, as long as it’s a normal human tone. If I choose an inhuman colour, it’s normally because I’m creating a humorous-looking character 😛

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