The Zen of Video Games – Self-Insertion (As Dirty As It Sounds)


One of the greatest strengths of video games as a medium is fortunately one that books and movies haven’t mastered, and probably never will – the sense that you, the viewer, the reader, the player, have a real impact on the story. You’re the hero, or at least, controlling the hero. Without your input, the hero would fail, the world would be doomed, the princess would be imprisoned for the rest of her life.

And yet, video games still have a very real hurdle to clear to master this strength. While first-person games are getting more and more graphically realistic, increasing immersion more and more by the year, there’s one thing games could use to increase the immersion substantially: self-insertion.

Imagine playing a first-person adventure game. You’re wandering around an abandoned mansion, and you spot a dirty mirror. You walk over, pull out a cloth, and wipe the mirror down….and you see your own face staring back at you.

Some games at least allow you to attempt this, with character creation tools that allow you to tweak every facet of your character’s facial structure, but only the most skilled are going to be able to create passing dopplegangers of themselves.

I, myself, have attempted this with several games, most notably WWE Smackdown VS. Raw 2006, where I made characters based on my friends, so we could watch our characters beat each other up as some sort of incredibly entertaining sadistic fantasy. I was more successful with some than others, but in the end, even the best model I made is pretty much a caricature of the actual person he was based on. Even in the games where I tried to create a character based on myself, the end result is a character who has a vague resemblance to me at best.

While LAN gaming with several friends recently, when we played Left 4 Dead 2, I jokingly suggested that WE should be the survivors. I realized shortly after that I could probably do it for real – I have the ability to record voice work – yes, the survivors have a LOT of lines, but it would be doable. But I quickly realized I’d be completely out of luck when it came to making character models – the game has no character creation system, so I’d have to do ACTUAL 3D modeling and texturing, which I know absolutely nothing about.

But today I came across a program, FaceGen, that will generate a 3D model of one’s head using one or more pictures. It appears simple enough to use, and now my brain is on fire. I can hardly think of anything else. I want my friends and I to be in that game, I think it’ll make the action more intense, the fear more genuine, and the desire to protect the other survivors stronger than ever.

I showed this model of my head to my friends and family, and they were all creeped out. Mission accomplished.

And then I thought, why do I want this so much? Why on earth is this so important to me? I have so many other things in my life going on right now that mean a lot to me, why am I so incredibly focused on this?

The first, and entirely bullshit answer, is that it would be a singular experience I haven’t had yet, and new experiences in gaming are pretty much what I’m all about. I call it a bullshit answer because even though it’s true, I know it’s not the real reason I want this.

No, the honest truth is that I’m desperate for the chance to have an impact on the world around me. I don’t feel like I have much of one in reality. I can’t solve my own problems, and I’m not much help to my friends. I have an internet video series few people watch, and a blog/article series even fewer people read. I have no wife, no children, not even a girlfriend. I’m not exerting much influence on this life, on my world.

In video games, this is about as untrue as you can get. Everything I do matters. I matter. I have enormous influence on the world. Of course, in games, the player is generally PLACED in a position where they have power or influence. I have no such luck in real life. I can give Rochelle a first-aid kit when she’s wounded. I cannot give a good friend, father, and husband a job when he’s unemployed.

Do not confuse this with helplessness – I know I’m not helpless. I’ve been making a dramatic impact on myself as of late, and I expect that trend to continue. And I know my friends and family are grateful for my existence, and I for theirs. I just wish I could do more for them sometimes.

If I put them into a video game, I can save their lives, I can make them rich, I can team up with them to take down the greatest threat mankind has ever faced, and I’d never stop smiling. Obviously, it wouldn’t be real, it’s all just enhanced wish fulfillment, but damn it, I want to be a hero for them. For you. For anyone.

Possibly for a small fee.

In the real world, all I can do is keep trying. Maybe I can make more money, or get a job that would give me power or influence. Then I can help my friends have the lives I feel they deserve.

Who knows? Maybe even writing these articles could lead me to such an opportunity. I can always dream.