The Sims 4: My Nemesis – Character Creation

The Sims 4 character creation is something I’ve been butting heads with the last few days and I wanted to talk about why. The topic of body dysmorphia comes up – I don’t think it’s trigger warningy but then I’m not at risk so I figured I’d flag it up just in case.

One of my current gaming projects is building a Sims 4 house for Alice and I to live in and see whether a) both of us survive and b) because when a friend moves to Scotland you will obviously never see them again so you have to build a computer game house so you can still hang out.

While doing so I’ve had to deal with my old nemesis: character creation. I am terrible at character creation except…

I made Alice in 20 minutes flat. It would have been 10 but we then had a long argument about jackets and vests.

“That is really good. How can you do me but not yourself?” asked Alice.

The sentiment was echoed almost exactly by another mutual friend as part of a separate conversation:

“That’s great! How come you can do other people but not yourself?”

They were both referring to the multi-hour FIASCO that had been yesterday afternoon’s character creation disaster where I tried to do the Pip character, Everything went wrong and I seemed to forget how faces and arms and butts work. The forehead was a source of great strife, the chin became an obsession and the butt oscillated between “reasonable quantities of junk in the trunk” and “could put a lunar module in orbit around that thing”.

At first I thought it was about the difference between drawing a character and creating one. I can draw in real life to a decent standard because it’s about seeing how a line works and then copying it. When it comes to character creation it’s all buttons and sliders. You don’t get to just draw how an eye looks, you pick the nearest approximation and then fuss at the different sliders until it’s right and often options interfere with one another. You might need to fix an eyelid by playing about with the bottom lash line. It can be utterly counter-intuitive.

But if that was the case I’d be rubbish at EVERYONE, not just me.

I think that it’s something a bit more depressing and mundane. It’s a body dysmorphia thing.

I don’t want to go into huge personal detail but parts of depression and anxiety can incorporate body issues. I used to be (and at times still am) bad at assessing what I actually look like. This isn’t unique or even rare, but it’s not really something that gets talked about openly so it had never occurred to me that it might affect character creation until I was asked outright how I could be so bad at making an avatar of myself and fine with creating one for a friend.

My only answer to the question my friends posed earlier is “It’s because I know what other people look like but I genuinely don’t know how I look. I don’t see how all the bits go together because I’ve obsessed over particular features, isolating them from the rest, blowing them up in my mind so it’s hard to make all the pieces fit together in The Sims.”

I thought I remembered some related studies from psychology so I looked it up. This is from Advances in Psychology Research which was published in 2001 – it’s a section about body image and young adults. I’ve taken out the study references to make it easier to read but you can find them here.

Concern about and dissatisfaction with body size and shape has increased in both sexes since the 1960s. Gender differences have been observed in all studies of young adults. Women tended to overestimate their body size and specific body parts, particularly thighs, abdomen and hips, whereas men tended to perceive themselves as being underweight. Men wanted to be bigger, taller and more muscular.

[…]

The study by Thompson and Thompson demonstrated that seemingly normal adults with no history of eating disorders tended to overestimate their body size and it also found that females were more likely than males to do so. The researchers obtained significant positive correlations between self-esteem scores and inaccurate perception of males’ waist measurements and significant negative correlations between self-esteem and inaccurate perception of females’ thigh measurements.

And so it continues. The points I’d like to flag up here are:

a) that it seems that even apparently healthy people end up making these erroneous assessments so it’s no wonder character creation might be a pain in the arse when you’re making a version of yourself.

b) if you have problems with self-esteem you might also find it hard to accurately perceive aspects of your body which would, in turn, I think make it harder to create an accurate character in a game.

As a sidenote, if you’re interested in ideas of idealisation when it comes to game avatars, I also found this about the psychology of video game avatars and a Second Life study which had participants create a “self” avatar and then one with no restrictions. When there was a big difference between the person’s actual and ideal body mass (as measured by the Figure Rating Scale) there tended to be a big difference between the virtual masses of the two avatars. When the actual and ideal body masses were closer it correlated with smaller differences in the virtual masses.

And now that the disaster of character creation has been dealt with I can discover what life is like LITERALLY living next door to Alice.

48 Comments

  1. lupinewolf says:

    And this is why I always bug my wife to spend an hour making my face on every new game with this feature

    • LexW1 says:

      Hah! My wife always makes me do her when we get a new game with facegen!

      I’m pretty good at doing myself in games with enough sliders, but she did an even better me in Sims 3 a while back. I’m also lucky enough to not have any kind of negative body dsymorphia, so always make a slightly better me, which is fun.

      • Marblecake says:

        Am I the only one enjoying these posts like a 13-year old?

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          johannsebastianbach says:

          I’m especially fond of the sliders part …
          We’re terrible, you know that, right?

          • Lanessar says:

            I’m not entirely sure if Lex didn’t set it up for it, but I had myself a giggle.

            WTB wife who will do me in Sims.

  2. Jediben says:

    Saints Row 4 and its ‘package’ adjustment is the only setting that ever made me feel truly represented in a gaming avatar.

    • Jediben says:

      Coz I’m a massive bellend, rite!

      • Klydefrog says:

        This is good because your username looks a bit like jebend to me.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      I always really liked that I could make my character a massive, burly, hefty, beefy, bearded bloke, then make him sashay about in high heels and a thong making thrusting motions at unsuspecting passers-by.

      I’m not sure I like what that implies about me.

      • Geewhizbatman says:

        It means no doubt the spirit of Max would be very, very proud.

        Also a little gassy.

  3. Lakshmi says:

    I’ve never made myself in any Sims game because I always get bored too quickly and find ways to torture them. My friends, however…

  4. Barberetti says:

    Some of it maybe that the picture of you that you have in your mind is actually a mirror image instead.

    When I want a version of me in a game, say like Fallout 3, I just take front and side shots of my face with my webcam, then view those on my laptop while I’m in the character creation screen in the game. I find that helps quite a bit.

    What would help even more is if there were a pause button, so you could work on the facial details without the characters head bobbing all over the place at the same time. Age of Conan is the worst offender for this. Imagine trying to get the face right while the character is fucking headbanging like they’re at an AC/DC concert, and you’ll get the idea.

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    phuzz says:

    I pretty much never try and make myself as a character in game, but then I don’t tend to look at mirrors either.
    It’s not that I dislike my face, but I can’t change it so I’m not really interested in it. I tend to judge my body on how well the bits work mechanically, rather than their appearance. So as I get older, I get more annoyed at parts not working as well as they used to.

    • TeeJay says:

      Same for me

    • TomA says:

      I don’t usually put my likeness into games but I wore a suit specifically for my football manager profile picture.

  6. son_of_montfort says:

    An interesting article, thanks Philippa! This, and the article by Katherine Cross, Into the Black Closet have gotten me thinking about how we identify with the characters we play (it would be interesting to see Katherine’s take on character creation in the Sims 4 as well). I am teaching a class on historical myths and heroes and I have been thinking about how we latch on to certain heroes and why. This becomes even more complex when we try to play “ourselves” in a game (or who we wish we were). Oddly, I am good at making my own likeness in a game.

    Thought provoking stuff!

  7. Kaeoschassis says:

    Yeah, the missus has had pretty awful image and identity problems for as long as I’ve known her, and on the very rare occasions she’s tried to make ‘herself’ in vidyagames it’s never gone well. She’s fantastic at making avatars of other people, though. It’s something that’s really odd – and not a lot of fun – to watch, when you’re someone who doesn’t have that kind of trouble with their self-image. Although I tend to think the larger problem is less “people don’t know how they look” and more “people believe how they look, or how they THINK they look, is not okay”.

    I find character creators are much more fun when I’m creating someone from scratch, anyway. I can spend hours on it, and it’s as much about discovering what the process and the end result will look like, as it is about getting it ‘right’. Great fun.

    Just, for the love of dogs, don’t ask me to come up with a NAME.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      And as an aside, (we really do miss you, edit button) do you have the same kind of difficulties trying to draw a likeness of yourself, Pip? The article never really cleared that one up.

  8. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    I have the same problems with my body image, and this couples with some pretty heavy duty anxiety. My partner regularly tells me I is well fit (much like yourself Pip), but I have never seen it in myself, and really struggle with things like character creations. I usually end up making something up out of sheer frustration.

  9. JamesTheNumberless says:

    I’d like to speak for the people who are terrible at making just about anything in character designers. If I decide to make them pretty, I end up with something that looks nice in the designer but becomes a monster when it starts to speak or move in-game.

    For a while I tried making myself, but that’s not a role I generally enjoy playing :)

    So I gave up and these days I’m perfectly content just choosing a default, making it bald, giving it the darkest available skin colour, and the brightest possible eye colour.

    Nothing like me, but It’s become my default avatar and looks distinctive in comparison with other characters in most games. It’s pretty hard to screw up.

    What annoys me is when designers decide to make skin tone/hair type/eye colour/facial features/etc into mutually exclusive options as though the world is only populated by stereotypes. I can’t decide whether these people either need to get out more, or if it’s best not to let them out at all.

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    gritz says:

    If you want to take your mind off of complex ideas about body-image fretting in Sims 4, you should just watch this episode of Monster Factory:

    link to youtu.be

  11. Universal Quitter says:

    Body dysmorphia is not something I thought I’d actually be able to relate to, but here we are, just the same.

    I’ve always hated making an avatar of myself in games, which has been the biggest reason I, whenever possible, usually go with “oh, just make a damn girl character with weird hair, and get to the freaking game.”

  12. Sin Vega says:

    I once got my face scarily accurate in the Sims 2. To this day I’m certain I could never recreate it, let alone adding body stuff to the mix (Sims 2 had everyone in the same body, with a tiny paunch if you never did anything). Since then I’ve basically never bothered, even in the Sims I end up creating new people instead, partly because I fear it might take over my life again.

  13. Jackablade says:

    I’d wonder whether a big part of the issue is simply because you know you know the arc of every compound curve of your face so any discrepancies stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. You get stuck in that artistic perfectionism black hole and get nowhere. Even though you’ve probably spent many hours hanging out with Alice, I’d reckon you’ll never be quite as acquainted with how all of her bits fit together so putting together pretty good approximation of what your friend looks like feels good enough.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Was about to post something similar: all character creators are more or less cartoony. I think we’re more willing to paint others in these broad strokes, but when it come to ourselves it’s the little details and nuances that seem important, and character creators don’t support these.

  14. Megadeth dude says:

    This is bullshit. I’m going to be bashed down immediately for using rough language, but this anxiousness and frustration about (replicating) your own image, while looking worthy of compassion just hides an unhealthy obsession with yourself and your image. I know I myself am fat and not at all handsome, but I never obsess about it and find it quite surprising that you’re trying to replicate your own selves in games rather than have fun creating a completely new persona. Thus, I find all this whining about your complaints/confessions in this article despicable actually, and can’t find any compassion for them.

    • TomA says:

      Yeah maybe you don’t but not everyone feels the same way that you do, if you don’t want to create your own likeness in a game that’s entirely your prerogative but to assume that everyone who does so is self obsessed is out of order. I can think of much more ‘despicable’ things than this article which I took not to be whiny but an interesting opinion and light hearted, but there you go.

      • Megadeth dude says:

        I’m not talking in absolutes, rarely I do too. But it is striking to meet the compulsion or obsession to do so. I’m not trying to offend, just to strike a balance against the editor’s point of view, which definitely doesn’t sound healthy.

        • Innocent Dave says:

          I thought it was an extremely healthy and measured take on a particularly insidious problem that affects a lot of people.

          Sadly, very few people get rid of their problems by simply deciding not to have them – the rest of us are stuck looking for the root causes and trying to address them. Talking publicly about this stuff is a great way to help all of us do that, and should be praised – definitely not shut down with an aggressive “get over yourself” response.

        • Sarfrin says:

          When you use words like whiny and despicable you’re either trying to offend or utterly clueless about human interaction. Although the former implies the latter, I suppose.

    • Guzzleguts says:

      It’s not your language. It’s the fact that your post shows you interpreted the article in the worst possible way, then decided to tell us how awesomely not-vain you are instead of contributing to the discussion. Your finishing flourish was to let us know that you are a relatively compassionless person.

      I’m sure you’re lovely when you’re not on the internet though.

      • Megadeth dude says:

        I am contributing, by reminding you that if you have this obsession then your head is in too deep. As harsh as it might seem to you, I am more interested in seeing my fellow men mentally healthy rather than to cater to everyone’s egos.

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          Harlander says:

          I hope you’re not a mental health professional in real life, because your bedside manner is terrible.

          • Megadeth dude says:

            I’m just a person who has gone through similar difficulties, but by dwelling less on my ego, not more.

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            The upsetting thing here is that you think you found the magic solution. You think that by just ‘giving no fucks’ in the loudest, angriest and least pleasant way possible, suddenly you’re a model of emotional well-being, and therefore qualified to diagnose the well-being of others based on a short web article about their experiences with a character creation tool in a videogame. You’re neither of those things.

          • Sin Vega says:

            “I’m so amazing! My way is the right way and everyone should be like me, or I have no compassion for them because that means they’re egotistical, unlike I, who as we have established, am the best.”

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      Grizzly says:

      I’m glad you do not suffer from anxiety, depression or body dismorphia issues. I’m sorry that you can not feel compassion for those who do.

      Neither of those things is an excuse to rag on somebody who uses their own experiences to explore problems they themselves and other people are suffering from. It takes quite a bit of courage to show one’s weak points, this is not an invitation to shame people into covering them up again.

      • Megadeth dude says:

        Thank you (I actually did for the better part of my life). I am lacking in compassion in this instance due to what I perceive this to be the wrong course of action for handling it.

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          Grizzly says:

          And, as the rest of the commenters have tried to relay to you, you’ve picked the worst course of action for handling your perceptions.

        • Philippa Warr says:

          I’m creating a house to see if it would make an entertaining diary for work. I picked people the RPS audience vaguely knows and thought it could be funny. One character was far harder to create than the other so I was interested in why that might have been and honest about the reasoning in case it was of interest or of use to others. It wasn’t to you and that’s fine. Please don’t ascribe motives to my actions that aren’t there.

          • Megadeth dude says:

            So even less of a reason to write this “article” then ;)

  15. Guzzleguts says:

    While I don’t usually make myself, it is interesting how avatars relate to how we perceive people. Sometimes a caricature feels more like the person than a cold portrait, but as avatar creators advance into realism I think we’ll be less inclined to make bolder strokes. I always got my best results on the old Wii.

    In my brief encounter with second life I made a giant Frankenstein’s monster type character, which was received really badly by other players. Maybe they thought I was trolling, but I thought it was interesting that supposed freedom of expression was replaced by an unspoken pressure to create some sort of elfin fop.

  16. celticdr says:

    An excellent article Pip!

    I have had similar experiences with creating mirror self character in games but I’m pretty sure it’s not body dysmorphia related, in my case I think the analogy that fits for me is “can’t see the forest for the trees”… it’s an interesting subject though, self-image and the Psychology behind it… I would like to see more articles like this.

    • celticdr says:

      Oh yeah and a Sims 4 diary of the entire RPS team would be freaking awesome!

  17. WaitWhatHow says:

    Great article! I’ve always struggled making myself in games. I used mirrors, pics, and memory, and every time I get really frustrated and upset that I delete it and start from square one. In fact, I usually just make a female character. Well, not A female, but a character that persists across more than a decade of games and is fleshed out personality wise.

  18. amqpz says:

    I don’t know if this is relevant to your avatar creation difficulties, but a study published in 2012 found that people (regardless of gender) tend to view women as a collection of body parts rather than as a unified whole. If you’re interested in reading more, MedicalXpress has a great write-up. It can be found at:

    <a href="link to medicalxpress.com; title="link to medicalxpress.com;

  19. bill says:

    i dont think i have any particular issues with body image, but im often surprised when i see myself in photos and i dont look like i think i look.

    i think its because mirrors give us a weird viewpoint on ourselves. (i heard some people prefer to take photos of themselves when trying on clothes because they think mirrors are misleading)

    For me, its similar to the way my voice sounds totally different to how I think it sounds when I hear a recording.