I want to be up front by admitting that the following piece is fueled entirely by a forgotten Coca-Cola (the glass bottle kind) I just discovered in my fridge. Joyfully, I might add. It’s extra special because I was mocked for buying two bottles at the RITE AID earlier this evening by a colleague. But now it’s the only thing keeping me going so fuck you, Julian.
It’s about 4:14am and I’ve been up for the last six hours waiting for the western release of Black Desert Online to download. I was getting a corrupted file error, which is a special kind of torture designed exclusively for PC gamers. But, as it sometimes goes with computers, a surprisingly stupid solution— that never should have worked—totally did work, and all of a sudden I am in. With the sun dreadfully approaching, I grow aware that my adventure into the vast world of Black Desert will probably have to wait; but I’ll be damned if I won’t at least create a toon before I unceremoniously pass out.
Speaking as a grown man who has created his fair share of avatars, I find that Black Desert Online has one of the best character creation systems I’ve ever seen. All of the classes look unique and warmly textured as they present themselves in slick animations before me, the almighty toon maker. I pick a Warrior because I’m afraid of change. But even before I have a chance to settle on a flowing, perfectly spikey hairdo, the fear begins to creep in. The last thing I need is a game with the depth of The Elder Scrolls Online and the graphical quality of the The Witcher III. That’s the worst possible thing that can happen to me right now. To squash this fear, I decide to make my Warrior look like Matt Damon.
Most people create their character, not necessarily in one’s own image (although I imagine some do), but rather in the image of one’s own fantasy. I have one friend, for example, who always makes attractive female characters, and another who tends to create the most hideous monstrosity allowable. The first is a pervert, the second a troll. I arrived to these conclusions using the scientific method. Being a lifetime lover of film and television, I myself tend to cast super stars in the lead roles of all my games. In Fallout 4 I roamed the deserts as a young Mel Gibson. In NBA2K I helped a scrappy young basketball player from Chicago named Kanye West rise to the occasion and become a world champion. It’s a fun challenge to see how close you can get to recreating the celebrity with the limited set of tools at your disposal.
Plus, I love this part of most games. You’re still technically in the waiting room before the doctor’s appointment, a sort of vestibule before you’re blown out the airlock into a vast expanse of seemingly infinite quests and non-player characters. Crafting. Grinding. Guilds. Seriously, I should probably not even play this game. It’s gonna ruin my life.
What was I saying? Oh yeah: Black Desert Online has an amount of customization possibilities that would tempt any mortal to burn several hours making five toons representing Bruce Willis at every stage of his career. (I’m not sure Bruce is really a swords and castles kind of guy, but wouldn’t it be cool to see John McClane in a suit of armor?) Now that I think about it, Matt Damon usually prefers Sci-fi, but fuck it, I’m going to force him to don Fantasy garb anyway. Truth be told, I’m not sure why I chose Damon to begin with. Maybe he’s been on my mind due to a recent viewing of The Martian (might have cried a little)? Or maybe it’s because one of the game’s presets already bore some resemblance to Matt and oh my god its past five in the morning and what am I even doing.
The process is always the same: no matter the game, I always end up toiling away on the space between my character’s eyes for forty-five minutes because I want him to be so intimidatingly handsome that he makes civilian NPC’s blush as he gathers fetch quests from them. But the clock is ticking and, as it does, I become ever more aware that a beautiful, undiscovered world lays just beyond the prison of my own hubris. It becomes achingly clear that the more time I spend trying to make my character perfect, the less time I spend actually playing the game. It’s ludicrous.
In a way though, this mental process is an honest representation of what it means to grow up. The intellectual effort of trying to create the most manicured version of myself really can only take me so far. At a certain point I have to come to terms with my character’s imperfections: the lips slightly fatter and more crooked than Damon’s, the weird hair cut that from one angle looks perfect but from another, utterly shitty. At this point I’m hallucinating from lack of sleep and I begin speaking to myself: “Get it together, Jake! Who cares about your looks! You should be out there slaying steel imps!” (More on these in a later article.)
And so, as I finish my character, the words of the anarchist French poet André Breton come to mind: “The eye is not open when it is limited to the passive role of a mirror.” Shitty Matt Damon is probably not the outstanding masterpiece among my digital celebrity sculptures, but he’ll certainly fight, and that armor looks like it could take a few blows. Good enough, dollar-store-cosplay Matt Damon, good enough.
Now it’s time to explore Black Desert Online. But first, like, maybe go to bed?