A think piece on how the characters we create in video games impact who we are today.
An Avatar of Our Own Design
An article by Conner Bridel
Way, way back in 2001, I was a ten year old kid with a rapidly increasing passion for video games. Having already immersed myself within the vast and treacherous worlds that were Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I was ready to explore a new one that my cousin had just told me all about; a world filled to the brim with swords, magic, quests and adventure, one that we could even traverse together. It sounded amazing.
So rather than boot up my Nintendo 64, I chose to abandon my post in the living room and instead take up residence in front of the family computer. I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to become hopelessly addicted to one of my favourite MMORPG’s of all time:
A game called ‘Runescape’.
There’s a select few people in this world that I can share such a fondness for this game that, even though I don’t play anymore, was once a home away from home. For those unfamiliar, Runescape was one of the first grandly successful games of its kind, remaining so even today. It allowed players to create an account with a character to whom they could name and take on sprawling adventures through a richly populated game world, leveling up both passive and combat skills along the way. Additionally, it allowed for the collection of weapons, armor and trade goods that could be shared or bartered with both strangers and friends alike. Among countless other features, it was and still is a community driven game that allowed many players to interact with each other in ways they had never before.
From the very moment I was thrust into its mystical, 2-dimensional realm, Runescape blew me away by providing me with a character of my very own, one without an identity already defined. An avatar that, for the first time in my relatively short gaming career, was one which I could customize to my liking and claim ownership over. It didn’t matter that all I was able to do was pick his hair style and the colour of his clothes. No, what mattered was that I was able to give him a name, and something to stand for.
An All-Too Familiar World
To this day, I have never created another Runescape account. With a character dubbed ‘Linkman100’ (an admittedly poor homage to Link from The Legend Of Zelda games), I travelled from the peaceful logging town of Lumbridge to the searing deserts of Al-Kharid, running errands and completing quests along the way. I cut down trees, fished up anchovies and mined from rocks so that I could collect resources in my fight against cows, town guards and the occasional unicorn I found outside the market town of Varrock. I communicated with players all over the world and traded them either coins or goods for some of theirs in return. The best part wasn’t even the game itself; it was more so being able to enjoy it with the companionship of my cousins and friends from school. Together, every moment spent online was a potential adventure, and it was even worth suffering through the age of dial-up internet just to experience it.
Alas, the ending of one age paves way for another, and another, another. Over the next fifteen years, I would grow up to play and become addicted to countless other games across all consoles and genres, including Halo, Metal Gear Solid and, of course, the titanic World of Warcraft. But there isn’t a game to this day that I haven’t eventually circled back to as often as I have Runescape. Whether it were for just a few weeks or sometimes several months, the nostalgia of immersing myself in that all-too familiar world with a character that truly felt my own was enough to keep me coming back each and every time.
The Beautiful Truth
Nowadays, the adventure I live is one of a twenty four year old adult doing his best to balance family, friends, bills and a relationship on a plate all at once. It’s a game that many of us play, if not all in at least some small way. But sometimes, I think back as to how my time spent as a virtual avatar in a virtual world has helped to shape the one that I control today, in the real world. I like to believe that there were moments throughout my life where I, as a passionate and devoted gamer, was able to recall upon the character-defining moments that I spent playing those games; moments spent either alone at three a.m. before a school night, trying to squeeze out just one more mining level, or moments spent together as allies, celebrating the completion of a quest that took several months to prepare for.
But the beautiful truth of it all is that in order to truly understand the magic of such a moment is to experience it for yourself. To some, slaying Elvarg the Dragon or beating Halo: Combat Evolved on Legendary difficulty would mean very little. But to others, such monumental achievements would instill a sense of deep respect and recognition for the hard work spent pursuing them. I believe it’s these kinds of shared experiences that help us to unite as gamers, and to forge a strong community like no other, one which thrives on excellence, accomplishment and the dedication towards a collected goal. We are not simply ‘playing games as players’; we are playing games as Gamers.
Our Real-World Characters
In addition to Runescape, another of my favorite games of all time is one I mentioned earlier, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. So much so, in fact, that about a year and a half ago, I got a tattoo on my left shoulder of the games iconic sword, shield and crest. That tattoo, along with the many shirts, hats and other apparel I’ve collected over the years instantly identifies myself to other people as someone who loves the game so much that they’ve gone so far as to brand it’s significance to their very body. What I like to think is that, just like so many years ago, I and countless others are able to customize our real-world characters into something that others instantly recognize as one that we can truly call ours; an Avatar of our own design.
At the very least, we’ve come a long way from being able to choose between just a few goofy hairstyles and a couple colours of clothes.