The Importance of Selfies, in Video Games and the Real World

In GTA Online, I’m part of a hardcore crew that’s flush with money, the rarest cars, and most powerful guns. They’re professionals, expert tacticians, and criminals of the highest calibre, but the thing I covet from my colleagues the most is their selfie game.

Many more games are incorporating photo modes or allowing characters to take selfies where it makes sense. A lot of people say they hate it, and most claim they don’t even take pictures of themselves in real life, or they take the pictures and don’t do anything with them. Someone’s taking video game selfies though, because these features keep getting integrated into the adventures. That’s fine. They’re useful and have become part of the journey for some, even teaching a few of us elements of photography. And, as with photos in real life, they create unique memories while serving the purpose of saying ‘I exist’ and ‘I played this’.

Personally, I’m not a fan of selfies or pictures of myself, even when taken in virtual worlds. There are a few pictures of me as a kid with a big smile, but they were all taken before I realised I was different. Thankfully, most of those burned in a fire. I don’t consider myself ugly – though I’m not winning any modelling contracts, and a girl did laugh at the colour of my hair when I asked her out once – but my unwillingness to appear in photos ties back to my albinism, a genetic irritation that causes several problems.

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I’ve dealt with looking different my entire life. I recall a 6th grade class photo where my eyes came out red when no one else’s had, and two of the class bullies almost convinced me it was a sign of demonic possession, to the extent that I went home and checked with my mother. More recently, my wife and friends wanted a picture with stupid, sexy Karl Urban at Dragon*Con and we were called back to do a re-take because my eyes looked wrong. I can’t help that they move around a lot and like to squint because camera flashes also hurt my light-sensitive eyes.

My common excuse for not having people take photos with me is that I don’t want to break any cameras, or I come up as a messy white splotch, as well as a slew of other jokes I have lined up as distractions to get out of it. In all honesty, though, I just don’t want to look at myself.

My GTA Online character

My albinism, like many others that have it, curses me with extremely poor vision. When behind the camera, I often miss things that sneak into the background, take blurry pictures, or don’t notice a good shot until it’s too late. The condition is bad enough that it has cost me work or caused issues with employers because I couldn’t deliver good pictures/screenshots for articles.

Even in video games, I wasn’t a fan of taking selfies unless there was an express necessity behind it. I’d never take a video game selfie just for the fun of it. I felt no need to make a memory in Hitman, even if Agent 47 was wearing a stupid costume, and the boys of Final Fantasy XV irritated me with their college road trip approach to the adventure, even if I enjoyed playing the game.

To make matters worse, I had friends who enjoyed recreating me in wrestling games like SmackDown vs. Raw or those that required the player to create their own character. A buddy of mine recreated my look to a T in Saint’s Row 3, but there was no albino skin tone. The closest thing was this marble hue that made me look like a bigger freak against the crew’s dark purple colours. I showed it off once, with a desire to give the creator some respect for how they’d skilfully recreated me, but the comments about it made me feel worse. The more realistic game worlds and characters are, the smaller the gap between real-life photos and in-game photos becomes, but it just makes me realise how out-of-place I look in both; a stupid feeling I have never been able to shake.

Me in Saint’s Row 3

Things have changed a bit over time. Some friends demanded we preserve memories together. Being a writer sometimes requires an author photo (even after I sent them one of Luigi to see if they’d take that). And then, a lady entered my life and I fell in love with an immigrant. The U.S. government has a few strict rules about this and wanted proof of our relationship. I didn’t want to do it, but love makes a man do stupid things when overseas dating is too expensive – like post pictures of himself on social media. It was a long process, and there never seemed to be enough evidence for those overseeing our case, but I suddenly understood the benefit of posing for group photos and posting snapshots of our lives. I wasn’t happy about the means, but the end result was worth all of it.

Part of our submission included evidence of us playing games together, and thankfully, she’s better at taking pictures in games than I am. My position on being in photos has changed a little, as I now see something worth remembering other than the Mega Man X boss order and obscure Mortal Kombat lore pieces. I want to create snapshots with her; memories we share that I can look back on rather than relying on my failing memory. Whether it’s in the real world, visiting some famous landmark, or when I get her to resub to World of Warcraft, storming Karazhan with me for fun, I’ve found a new reason to care about holding onto these visual relics of our history, even if I am in them.

My wife has been inspiring me to do more, to trust in my creative eye, even if I can’t count on the real ones. It was all her and Marvel’s Spider-Man. When the game launched in 2018, I didn’t give much thought to its selfie mode until I had beaten the game and was swinging around to wrap-up side bits and unlock costumes. I’m a huge fan of the Marvel character and was excited for the wealth of unlockable outfits. How could anyone not rock my personal favourite, the Scarlet Spider suit? I wanted to represent it, even though it was a character, not me. I wanted to believe I could capture something in those threads with the right ‘click’ that no one else could. I’m not sure if that ever happened, but I’d captured a couple of selfies I was proud of, even making one of them my phone background.

Spider-Man’s Scarlet Spider Suit (image: reddit)

I now have a small urge to be a part of what’s going on. I take a few more screenshots to show off my rides in GTA with my personalised crackhead character, capture a few natural landscapes in Horizon Zero Dawn with or without Aloy, and take something for the scrapbook in the Uncharted series. Some people take a lot of in-game selfies for role play purposes – and a few are way more into their avatars than they should be, like some Fallout 4 players I’ve met – but I understand them more now. Most stories I like to tell involve someone else. I’d never take out the photo album and show a picture of just me and talk about it, but now I can see the benefit in discussing my characters, how I barely survived a situation, and why the image captures the moment perfectly.

Not long ago, my wife and I were staying at a friend’s house, hanging out on the couch and watching 90s music videos. I was under the influence with my head in my wife’s lap, just enjoying the moment. She propped me up and reached around to my phone, bringing it up and taking a selfie of us. It’d be a good picture if I wasn’t in it. When I sobered up the next day I saw it in my phone and my thumb instinctively went to delete the photo, but I paused. Maybe I won’t delete the next one. I still hate anyone taking a picture of me, and my wife has let me escape them for the time being, now that the government has been satisfied. In the meantime, I’ll take my baby steps in the virtual world.