Hey, I don’t like my face. Personally I think my face has got too much meat for one skull.
When god was handing out skull-meat, there my idiot skull was, coming back around a second time with a thick pair of glasses and a fake moustache, sitting on another skull’s shoulders, wearing a long trenchcoat and demanding seconds. Bad face, mine. But I’m hardly alone, anybody who says they like their own face is almost certainly lying. If you don’t think even George Clooney stands in front of his bathroom mirror every night with half a thumb buried inside one of his handsome nostrils, openly weeping and cursing genetics for giving him what he believes are slightly too-big nostrils, then you’re not thinking hard enough.
Hooray then for videogames with customisable main characters, those games that allow us to live vicariously as an idealised and entirely virtual representation of our totes uggers selves. RPGs offer this feature all the time. Skyrim and Mass Effect and Dragon Age all allow you to carefully construct a character that not only looks a bit like you, but also totters off to do things you could never do in real life, like fight dragons and have sex with giant space bees. You can tweak your forehead slant, adjust the bulbousness of your features, regulate the scope of your jut, micro-manage any rampant jowelosity, make it resemble you as best you can so that the inevitable bee sex feels as authentic as possible.
Except the characters we create in games never look quite like us, do they? It’s you if you had porcelain skin, it’s you if you lost four stone, it’s you if you hadn’t cancelled your LA Fitness membership, it’s you if you had the trendy hair you almost tried once but were afraid to in case your friends laughed at you, it’s you if you had an entirely different set of bones. Look at somebody’s avatar in The Sims and you’ll see straight into the saddest part of their soul, you’ll see the adonic version of themselves that they wish to be. Customisable characters are aspirational, and a little depressing.
Who do you think you are?
So when playing Grand Theft Auto Online, I was concerned that all of my friends aspire to have some sort of wasting disease. Every character in Grand Theft Auto Online looks like a jaundiced condom filled with spanners. Each and every player is wraith-like in their appearance. Poisoned, tissue-paper thin skin stretches over cheekbones you could hang your coat on. A pair of pitiful and sickly eyes represent the only humanising feature on a sad plague-mannequin. They are truly abominations, one and all.
This is mostly because Grand Theft Auto Online doesn’t allow you to fine tune any of your character’s facial features, forcing most players to take what they can get. Instead of tweaking noses you simply choose your parents, before choosing your parents’ parents, before the character creation tool proudly whips off an imaginary sheet to reveal the harrowing, nightmarish mess it’s generated for you. Repeatedly pressing the randomise button is like watching a shapeshifting alien dying and reverting backwards through all of its previous forms, all the way back through shapeshifting school, where it only got a C in humans and had to take extra lessons over the summer.
Maybe Rockstar is casting some comment on the booze and drug-fuelled cult of Hollywood stardom and how that conflicts with our desperate obsession with self-image. Or maybe they just don’t have a good grasp of what a human being looks like. Either way, after hours of trial and error I’ve managed to generate a Grand Theft Auto Online character I’m actually happy with. And now everybody knows that I secretly aspire to look like the corpse of Bradley Cooper.