Justifiable Homage

JenShep, mass effect 2 character, femshep, wife

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.

Comments

I really enjoyed this article, super interesting stuff

I too am familiar with the single-TV household, but thank god I have my computer to hide on.

Welcome to the Front Page, Felix!

I'm really interested in trying to get character customizations to fit real people--especially people who don't fit the dominant aesthetic stereotypes of most games (Sgt. Buzzcut, etc.). I don't remember if I ever wrote about it, but I modelled my Mass Effect character off a friend whose perspective I often had trouble understanding, so I tried walking a sci-fi mile in her shoes.

wordsmythe wrote:

Welcome to the Front Page, Felix!

Butt pats all around!

I really liked this piece. It's not something I've ever thought about much; but then, I mostly create my characters based on the voice actors, assuming I get the chance to hear them first. Hence me being quite happy with my MaleShep whereas everyone else seemed to think he was horrible.

Because BroShep IS horrible, even if his voice was actually fitting for my Arelias Shepard.

Welcome to the front page, Felix. Your article was a lesson in "sometimes, teaching non-gamers how to game has its consequences". What has science done, indeed?

A fond welcome to our second addition via the Call for Writers!

Congrats, and welcome to the Front Page!

Maybe I ought to try doing something similar with my non-gaming wife.

Hee! All Hail Sid, the man who has probably brought more women to gaming than any other game designer on the planet. Great first entry to the FP. Say hi to Jen for us.

"Half-Filipina" sounds awkward. "Filipino" is the accepted gender-neutral term, used universally by Filipinos from the islands to refer to themselves whatever dangly bits they have. "Filipina" is generally reserved for those occasions where it's important to emphasize the gender as well, which it wasn't in this usage.

Example: Overseas domestic helpers going to Singapore, Hong Kong, and other destinations are overwhelmingly female. We call them and they refer to themselves as "Overseas Filipinos."

Spoiler:

Our native languages typically do not distinguish between male and female roles. "Asawa" refers to both husband and wife. "Anak" is both son and daughter. "Kapatid" is both brother and sister. They do not have gendered forms. Even our pronoun "siya," is not gendered. "Ama" referring to father and "Ina" to mother is one of the few instances of gendered naming.

We carry the mentality over when we communicate in other forms. Thus, "Filipino" is considered strongly gender-neutral, just as "chairman" is also gender-neutral in Filipino English. We haven't had many male department heads in OB departments for decades, but we all call them "chairmen," not "chairpeople." "Man" is assumed to refer to both male and female.

Welcome to the front page.

Interesting read. Saints Row the Third is the first time I've made a concerted effort to base a character on my fiancé. It's cool that when I made a face with weird sunken cheeks and a mouth that looked like it belonged to Old Lady Grantham I could modify it. Unfortunately most games don't allow modifying, so one is stuck with whatever monstrous mistakes made after not checking that one angle that it turns out the game designers really love.

This article really hit home, as coaxing my husband into gaming is more difficult than running a triathlon in a sac with both hands tied behind your back. And yet he'll play hours of Civ 4 with the difficulty cranked up to Deity.
Great piece, and welcome to the front page!!

Man, this article really hit home. I also have an "interesting" history with my wife and gaming. My wife and I are in very a similar situation where our interests never really cross paths. But character creation, an intricate part of gaming, might be another way to create a small and fragile connection between our worlds. I like this and I think it has potential.

In my current situation, gaming is restricted to only several times a week. This is the time when she usually comes to me and wants to talk business. My saving grace has been my ability to talk to her and play at the same time. Although, sometimes I have to tell her to pause in order for me to ingest some information.

Thanks to youse all for the welcoming words, you've been grouse!

LarryC, thanks for the usage heads-up.

LarryC wrote:

"Half-Filipina" sounds awkward. "Filipino" is the accepted gender-neutral term, used universally by Filipinos from the islands to refer to themselves whatever dangly bits they have. "Filipina" is generally reserved for those occasions where it's important to emphasize the gender as well, which it wasn't in this usage.

We had Felix ask his wife what she prefers.

I really enjoyed this article / story. My wife has no interest in games, except for You Don't Know Jack! and Song Pop. But, like you I also model some of my Avatars after her (not Jen, my wife!).

Great stuff! Thanks for writing for us!

Jake

wordsmythe wrote:
LarryC wrote:

"Half-Filipina" sounds awkward. "Filipino" is the accepted gender-neutral term, used universally by Filipinos from the islands to refer to themselves whatever dangly bits they have. "Filipina" is generally reserved for those occasions where it's important to emphasize the gender as well, which it wasn't in this usage.

We had Felix ask his wife what she prefers.

I had a feeling that this was the case. Hence "Filipinos from the islands." We don't see Filipino-Americans as really being the same. The way they speak and think is more like you than like us.

I always want to do this, but alas: it's impossible.

Why? Both my wife and I are are on the 'large' end of the spectrum. Even when slimmed down to our fittest, we're both tall, wide-shouldered endomorphs.

Few if any games allow big male avatars (unless they are 'big' in the sense of 'Hulk'). Basically no games allow big female avatars. Big chest is mandatory, but you can never get the shoulders or hips anywhere near the right size.

I'm also part of a one-TV household, so I can really relate to the tube-time balancing act. But while I have had a (very) little bit of success trying to get my girlfriend (fiance, actually, but I can't stand the word "fiance", and neither can she, hence we've taken to referring to each other as "f-word"...but I digress) into gaming, the avatar thing had never occurred to me. It's a diabolical strategy. Kudos, sir, kudos.

Maybe I should re-start my game of Dragon's Dogma and set it up so F-Word is the main character, and then I could create a clone of myself as the main pawn, and draw her into playing it under the guise of her being able to boss me around digitally, heh!

Although, I suppose it might creep people out in public when I start automatcially answering every question she asks me with, "Yes, Arisen."

LarryC wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
LarryC wrote:

"Half-Filipina" sounds awkward. "Filipino" is the accepted gender-neutral term, used universally by Filipinos from the islands to refer to themselves whatever dangly bits they have. "Filipina" is generally reserved for those occasions where it's important to emphasize the gender as well, which it wasn't in this usage.

We had Felix ask his wife what she prefers.

I had a feeling that this was the case. Hence "Filipinos from the islands." We don't see Filipino-Americans as really being the same. The way they speak and think is more like you than like us.

Filipino-Australian, I believe.

LarryC wrote:

Our native languages typically do not distinguish between male and female roles. "Asawa" refers to both husband and wife. "Anak" is both son and daughter. "Kapatid" is both brother and sister. They do not have gendered forms. Even our pronoun "siya," is not gendered. "Ama" referring to father and "Ina" to mother is one of the few instances of gendered naming.

What about Kuya/Ate, Tito/Tita, Lolo/Lola? I hear those with more frequency than any other way of referring to a person. My mother-in-law still mixes up "he"/"she" often, but then she has no problem knowing when to use, for instance, Lolo/Lola.

Speaking of gendered nouns:

kcander wrote:

my girlfriend (fiance, actually, but I can't stand the word "fiance", and neither can she

That's because you're the fiancé; she's the fiancée.

That's because you're the fiancé; she's the fiancée.

Sorry, no f-words allowed, no matter how many Es or accents you put on the end.

This is an interesting peek into how the other half lives.

When my wife (then my freshly-minted girlfriend) moved in with me, we both had a TV. Since then, we've always kept a secondary TV in the living room. A/V splitters have meant that not only did the Rock Band drummer have his own monitor when that was in vogue, but that we've never had to have those negotiations over who gets to use the TV.

And since Netflix integration has become de rigeur over all the consoles, our two console (Wii/360) household has made out entertainment options extremely flexible.

Gravey:

Those are derivative of the Ama/Ina dichotomy, which I mentioned above. My understanding of it is that it has to do with differing roles in household and family management. There are roles reserved for men and for women. By and large, "siya" and gender-neutral terms for referring to people dominate conversation.

For instance, a lawyer is "mananangol" regardless of gender. A "mananangal" is a mythical monster with no relation to the profession.

LarryC wrote:

Gravey:

Those are derivative of the Ama/Ina dichotomy, which I mentioned above. My understanding of it is that it has to do with differing roles in household and family management. There are roles reserved for men and for women. By and large, "siya" and gender-neutral terms for referring to people dominate conversation.

Thanks for the explanation. I don't understand Tagalog, so I can only pick out what I recognize (mostly swears, from my wife, directed at me).

LarryC wrote:

For instance, a lawyer is "mananangol" regardless of gender. A "mananangal" is a mythical monster with no relation to the profession.

Heh.

Loved this article. I came for the Mass Effect character creator pic and I stayed for the miniature controllable versions of Jen who say what you want them to say.

Congrats and welcome to the front page! Also, excellent title!

I made a character of my wife on GW2. I think she enjoyed it. She even helped me pick out elements of the character. She is of a vicious personality, born of wealth, and worships Balthazar. She even smiled on the bit about making her a ranger, since she likes to control everyone she will have pets in the game. Now the tough part is sharing the gold from my lvl 80 character with her character.

I spent waaaay to long long making my boy shep look just like me. My wife refused to watch it as it was 'freaking her out' too much.

Good times, good times.

(welcome to the front page too!)

Felix, congrats on being chosen! I recently created a GW character who was the spitting image of my wife when she was in her teens. It creeped her out a bit.

Just curious, do any of the Civ leaders look remotely like her? I'm asking because I always joke that Boudicca looks a lot like mine.