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.