The best Jen I've made so far was in Dragon Age 2. Even real Jen was impressed with JennyHawke, though I went a bit overboard with the facial tattoos. Jen was pregnant when I played Dragon's Dogma, so I appreciated the fuller body shape options when making Dragon's Jen, but I botched the nose. At the other end of the scale, XCOM Jen came out looking as much like the real thing as Wall-E's statue of EVE. Ashamed of the monstrosity I had created, I sacrificed her to save some civilians in an early terror mission, then shot her reanimated corpse. lt's what she would have wanted.
See, whenever I play a game that lets me create an avatar, I make my wife.
This act of devotion consumes my first hours with a game. I test how well the game will let me render Jen, seeing how different games do the same thing, like a guy who orders the carbonara at every new restaurant he goes to. Jen is part-Filipina, so I keep particular lookout for versatility in eye-shape sliders and skin-tone range. She also has a slightly pointy chin that can be hard to get right.
Jenning up my avatar has had gameplay implications beyond mere aesthetics. In Skyrim, the race best suited for making a Jen-alike was a Breton, whose starting attributes led me to play as a dual-casting mage. I would never have picked this path otherwise but I ended up having a ball (... OF FIRE). Essentially I played Skyrim as a sometimes-clumsy shooter and avoided its sometimes-clumsy melee mechanics. My FemShep was JenShep and she sure as shinola wasn't gallivanting off with Garrus on my watch — I can be a bit jealous like that. Min-maxers in Fallout games often use Charisma as a dump stat, but to do that with Loopy Jen would be to sell Jen short, as would skimping on Intelligence. I had to make other compromises with my stats (goodbye Strength, hello tough inventory choices).
There's a deeper psychology behind why I always make Jens, and it's not just the perfectly normal desire to make miniature, controllable versions of her that say what I tell her to say. It all comes down to access to our one, precious TV screen.
Like bosses and workers in an industrial-relations court, Jen and I are two parties with incompatible interests, locked into a cycle of perpetual arbitration for TV time. Unlike the court, there is no judge to resolve an impasse, so outcomes are secured by constant dealmaking, score keeping, guilt-tripping, and other less honourable tactics. The standard "Play when she goes to bed" gambit, which suffices for so many gamers, has drawbacks (aside from simple sleep deprivation). I've discovered that Jen likes to schedule our most important and life-changing conversations for that time between switching off the bedside light and going to sleep. These are conversations where it's very important that I at least show up. So I have to do my gaming when Jen's awake.
I can often negotiate a deal where I get the advantage, simply because TV time is neatly segmented, whereas much gaming time is open-ended. We can agree that I will play after she watches Random Cooking Show #26 and Those People On That Island, but rarely will Jen think to argue that I can play until I level up, or hit a checkpoint. This way I can get in 4 hours in of an evening where she only gets 2. Sucker! Except not really; we both know that I'm up on the deal, and I feel guilty for it.
Making Jen avatars is a way of assuaging my guilt over domineering the TV. If I'm honest, it's my feeble attempt to draw her into the experience by assuming she must now be interested in what I am doing on her behalf. I ask her to help me with dialogue choices. I try to derive humour from ascribing the actions of virtual Jen to real Jen, giving her a running commentary of virtual Jen's exploits. It's the gaming version of Stop Hitting Yourself. Recently this included taking St. Jen on a rampage in Saints Row the Third with That Dildo. While I giggled, I could practically hear Jen's eyes rolling a full 360.
The upside is that this has worked to bring Jen into gaming. Jen has been by my side for good portion of many of the Bethesda and BioWare RPGs of this generation, albeit with crossword book and pen in hand. She's great at spotting things on screen for me to pick up and has provided wise counsel during important plot points. Jen persuaded me not to blow up Megaton and to spare the Rachni.
Best of all, she plays some games now. Far and away her favourite is Civilization: Revolution — not a game with avatar creation, but I drew her in by asking her to name my cities. She picked it up a while back, and now she's a fiend. She plays on Deity with a randomly selected leader. She cares little for cooking shows or vote-based reality TV anymore. When I get a jones for an immersive single-player experience and ask for a turn of the controller, she says I can play "just after this Civ." I agree reluctantly, knowing they can take 4 hours or more, especially if she insists on building temples everywhere rather than churning out knights and going for the jugular. If I'm not vigilant, she'll sneakily start up a new Civ as soon as she finishes (after checking the end game histogram, which invariably shows her relentless march to monoculture). One time she got to 400 AD before I noticed she'd started a new Civ. While I huffed and puffed, Jen glanced sideways at me and smirked.
"Just one more turn."
Touché, my love.