Custom Made: A reflection on my painful desire to look good in video games

I have a crippling desire to look good in video games.

It’s an unfathomably stupid impulse, but creating the most beautiful possible avatar in any given game is a habit I regularly give in to. I am certain I am not alone in this.

To preface this piece – the two games I really threw my time into growing up were Runescape and Team Fortress 2. In Runescape, I ran deep in the house-building community. Running with the house builders meant house parties. A significant component in this was looking as fashionable as possible. I think that’s what got me so hooked.

And so when I picked up Team Fortress 2 (a game sometimes lovingly referred to as Hat Simulator 2007), it came as no surprise to find that I absolutely loved the degree of character customisation on offer. Team Fortress 2 was and remains undeniably fun, but – credit where it’s due – it was the fashion of Team Fortress 2 that allowed it to stand unrivaled for so long.

I took TF2 fashion very seriously. The feature image on this article, the one you may have clicked on to read this, is of my own Demoman outfits: my favourite character. He is adorned in the cosmetics I have handpicked for him over many years. The image itself was designed by my good friend Wolfy around four years ago.

Again, it feels completely irrational to enjoy customising my character this much in Team Fortress 2. I must have dumped over $100 into that game for the sole purpose of making the boys look good. Despite my willingness to give money to Valve in exchange for hats, I (perhaps hypocritically) do not normally endorse loot boxes.

A (possibly) unintended consequence of all those cosmetics is that customisation in TF2 is tied up in the idea of prestige. The better a player looks, the greater their expected skill level. This concept can also be observed in other games — Overwatch awards golden guns to players who rack up enough points in Competitive play.

Anyway, the point is I blame TF2 for the customisation mania that plagues me to this day.

Far Cry 4: I loved the game. Immensely fun, so much to do, intense combat. But the arms are just such a strange green colour – it’s really hard for me to get my mind off of it. No thanks. 2/10 arms.

Far Cry 5 : on the other hand, completely different story. You can customise your characters cosmetics, all the way down to the gloves. So satisfying. 9/10 arms.

Assassins Creed Origins: Bayek’s player model takes up a decent portion of the screen, and I might be in the minority here, but I wasn’t a massive fan of the shield. Doing nothing for your personal style, Bayek. 3/10. In Assassins Creed Odyssey, not having that massive lump-shield on your back is incredibly satisfying. 9/10, literal weight off my shoulders.

Years and years ago, we were graced with the controversial Assassins Creed Unity, which allowed for customisation of your assassins from hood to toe, colour and all with a variety of clothes types, tied to player buffs. Now that’s just magnificent, isn’t it. It’s a shame that it was so riddled with bugs and glitches that made the clothing ultimately not worth the hassle. 9/10.

I could go on, and not just about Ubisoft games. All clothes considered, you could say that recent game releases are starting to realise the fashion dorks in all of us – excellent.

Rockstar’s recent release Red Dead Redemption 2 has a fair amount of customisation options, from hat to toe, much like their earlier released Grand Theft Auto V, but with a greater focus on the western aesthetic, obviously. The colour, hat and coat variety in this game is fantastic. 9/10, a great improvement from the first Red Dead Redemption, which made me work for my customisation options. I’ll give it a 4.

The Fallout series is also where I’ve dumped a fair amount of time making my character look as good as possible, for better or for worse. The super successful Bethesda franchise has been a bastion of player looks customisation since Fallout 3; an array of unique clothing options, layered with armour, on top of the ability to customise the features of your player. It was always a massive attraction to me in the Fallout games to be able to customise my characters outfit – I saw it as essential to the universe; in New Vegas, I would never have had as much fun as I did if my courier wasn’t an atom-punk cowboy with four handguns and only one rifle.

Where Fallout slips out of this discussion, however, is by introducing stat buffs with customisation options, which whilst is completely welcome and beneficial to the game-play experience, there are definitely lower-level outfits that would be great to have been viable late game, across all Fallout games. That being said; a Legendary Albino Deathclaw isn’t going to stop me from wearing Road Leathers (an outfit variant) – I have a Mad Max aesthetic to commit to.

There are a lot of games that don’t even allow for minimalist customisation through outfit selection – immediately what comes to mind is the Just Cause Series, and whilst those games are absolutely fun, I would have like to have seen some player choice. No Man’s Sky recently adopted player customisation with the “NEXT” update, which was a welcome change from the almost non-existent player model. It’s much more satisfying to be able to see what my adventurer looks like.

Perhaps it’s a topic of immersion, or perhaps it’s a topic of fashion – I love looking good in Video Games, and I can’t help it. I’m not the problem here, I’m a fashion victim.

Zachariah Kelly

A Journo from Sydney who loves looking into the why's who's and what's of Video Games.