Dark Souls 2 is out. I got it launch day, played it for a long time. I don't want to talk about its quality now. I'd like to talk about something more interesting, to me. The approach the game takes to character creation fascinated me. Games have attempted to seamlessly work this flow and tension breaking element smoothly into gameplay, and have all exceeded somewhat equally. The interesting thing about Dark Souls 2, to me, is in how it frames this creation. Rather than saying "Enter your name," the game asks you to "Try to remember your name:".
For those of you unaware, characters in the Dark Souls games are afflicted by a curse which prevents them from truly dying, but leads to a slow descent into insanity in a process called hollowing. "Who wants to live forever" indeed.
At the beginning of Dark Souls 2, you play a short stint before character creation as a hooded figure who is at the edge of going hollow. In short order you are allowed to choose your character, but when you're done the game asks "Is this your true self?" This is the question that really gets me to stop, because it's a much more complicated question than it seems.
Within the context of the game, perhaps this is your true self, implying your hooded, shambling hollowed avatar was simply a representation of what your character could think and feel about themselves. Perhaps this is not your true self at all, but a self you construct upon reaching Drangleic, and the hollowed you has simply gone so far as to no longer know. But here's the really interesting part: This isn't YOUR true self. This is an avatar you are going to play as for the remainder of the game. You are sitting at home, with your own life, your own thoughts, conceits, worries, problems, and plans. I am sure that this was not the devs' intention; choosing "no" lets you edit your character further. But I'm not really here for their intentions, but what the finished product contains, and how it affects me, the player.
Another, somewhat similar reading: This is not what you look like, not representative of your physical or mental prowess, or a being with your moral code. But it IS a representation of yourself. It is, if you wish it to be, who you see your true self as. Games are often lauded and despise as self-insert fantasies, but fantasies tell us who we are. They tell us what we want, and gives us the tools to see ourselves overcoming and continuing past the challenges that are sometimes too great to exist. This character is not necessarily your true self, but maybe it can help you understand who you want your true self to be.
That idea, to me, is very powerful, and one of the things which has really made me consider and understand all of the choices I make in any game I play. No matter what choices you make, your actions serve as a reflection of your self, of who you are, and who you wish you could be. When you kill an NPC, was it because you're trying to acquire their items, and didn't want to wade through the hassle of a quest line? Do you obsessively pick up every item as a reflex, or does something in your head secretly hope for something you've never seen before?
Think as you play. Don't feel you need to judge yourself, or that there is some "correct" way to play that exists out there somewhere. What I'm asking, what I'm hoping, is that you are aware. That when you make a choice, you are present, that you examine your actions within a game and understand the person those actions reflect. And ask: "Is this your true self?"