Initially I thought about accompanying this piece with some track representing a dark, alternate version of a protagonist somewhere. But that isn’t really the point of Shauna’s article. Instead it represents a kind of soul-searching journey. That conjures up memories of Earthbound in our mind, and we feel this track fits the piece appropriately.
We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.
Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers! The final “Love Letter to Yourself” piece, delayed because your humble blog-runner had the flu, has arrived! This week’s piece is by the talented HideNGoShauna, a long-time collab contributor! She delivers another creative and personal take on the prompt, and we’ve been excited to release this one into the wild for a long time.
Take it away Shauna!
As any seasoned gamer has surely learned, video games are much more than the sum of their various beep-bop-boop parts; the worlds and characters games introduce us to and immerse us in have real world impacts on us. I don’t mean this in the tired and falsely-implied causation video games cause violence— no, on the contrary, video games don’t cause us to react in any particular manner, but they may bring out something that is already inside of us and allow it to flourish and grow.
The fantastic realms and inspiring characters in our favorite games can change our lives for the better. This may sound like a very bold assertion, especially to people outside of the gamerverse, but it’s true!
The focus of this collaboration is specifically on the characters that define us – the ones that have had truly transformative impact on our lives as players and as people. I reflected a long-ish while, my mind swirling with so many excellent possibilities: the Links and Yunas, Soras and Sonics, Laras and Kongs, NiGHTS and Pocket Monsters that have influenced me.
Eventually though, I realized that the characters that really impacted me the most were the ones that I built as an avatar or alternate persona for my real self in various role-playing games. Have you heard of the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy? The stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, are impactful on our psyche and can determine our self-concepts and the decisions we make. Upon reflection, I discovered that even the fictional narratives that I’ve taken up in an alternate form of self in video games has contributed to my personal narratives in positive ways.
And so, the concept for my contribution to this project became clear: while no one particular character has defined my relationship with video games or shaped me the most, I have definitely experienced the power of playing as different imaginings of myself in games like Animal Crossing, FFXIV, The Sims, Skyrim, and many more. I call the amalgamation of these avatars Alternate Shauna.
Customizing My Self
There are different types of RPGs, ranging from those where you play as preset characters to those where you can create your own. While I have many fond memories of playing RPGs like Betrayal at Krondor and Kingdom Hearts, for this article I will be sticking to series that allowed me a fuller range of customization- you know the type: where you spend 2 hours before you even start the adventure tailoring your eye colour, muscle density, cheekbone angle, and everything in between. While occasionally I would give these characters fanciful names, most of the time I would stick with my own name, Shauna. Similarly, although I often played around with a few fun physical flourishes (blue hair, face tattoos) I usually made these characters a visual reflection of myself in most aspects, spending huge amounts of time adjusting the sliders to find the nose most like my nose, the lips like my lips.
In this way, before I’ve even started the adventure that awaits, I’ve started to internalize this potential Alternate Shauna as a positive representation of myself in some way. Such a character is already showing promise as a role-model for me, because generally speaking even the beginning seed of a new character decked out in novice plainclothes shows promise and is a worthy avatar, ranging from cute to badass! It’s sort of like the empowering feeling of donning cosplay, but the cool character is me.
The first way that I considered Alternate Shauna to have a positive impact on my self-concept was through the games that have allowed me to become a sort of hero.
When I feel powerless and weak, I can think of these characters, these versions of me, and aspire to be strong like they are.
Of course I know that I am experiencing a fictional narrative when I play these games, but to see an avatar of myself saving villages, defeating evils, and rescuing people from danger time and time again, compounded with every new RPG game I pick up- I figure there must be a powerful message of strength and capability building up inside me!
While epic adventures inspire me to be as great as I can be, there’s certainly power in more ordinary sorts of stories, too. Simulation games like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and The Sims can remind me that the more mundane aspects of life don’t need to be dull. These sorts of games usually involve building a positive and self-sustaining life starting from next to nothing, and the earnestness and eagerness of my avatars in these sorts of games often gives me energy.
My avatars in these sim games can approach things differently than I would, perhaps with a refreshingly positive or can-do attitude, causing me to reflect on my own choices or the ways that I present myself to the world. Again, it may sound overly grand or contrived for me to say a video game can influence me in this way, but I’m thinking more of the collective impact of many games, and many avatars over time.
Some of the most memorable and impactful moments in gaming for me have been those where I interact with friends, whether we’re in the same room together or communicating from afar.
I know that real and true relationships can be strengthened, and even born, through video games- I’ve seen it in my own life and that of my friends. Some people seem to view video games as something that takes place only in an abstract fantasy world, offering nothing of tangible value and no real connection beyond having a bit of fun. To this I say POPPYCOCK, KAREN!
The best example I can share from my own life is this: my husband and I used to play a lot of FFXIV online with our friend Natasha. In-game we met a Swede named Per-Ola and played with him all the time, forming a guild with him and doing tons of dungeon runs, maps, events, and so-on.
The four of us became closer as friends over several years of playing together. Natasha and Per-Ola became more than friends, and what started as an MMORPG friendship blossomed into a long-distance relationship. He came to Canada to visit her, she went to Sweden to visit him, and after a while he moved to Canada and they got married!
And then, of course, their characters got married in-game!
Followed by myself and my husband!
Natasha would never had met this man from Sweden were it not for this MMORPG- this game altered the course of her life forever, and ours too: we count Per-Ola amongst our closest friends, and still play games with both him and Natasha, also travelling to British Columbia to visit them in person when we can.
Gaming is just one part of my multifaceted life, but like anything that I devote a part of myself to, it has some true influence on me. The characters I embody in games can impact how I see myself, how I approach things, and how I communicate with others. In this way, Alternate Shauna, in all of her forms, has helped to shape and define who I am today, and will surely continue to do so for as long as I play games (aka. Forever and eternity).
See our Adventure Map!