You bitches are expensive! (Or, Brink has a lady problem)

By | May 9, 2011


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A still from the trailer for Brink, in which a gaggle of military-dressed gentlemen stand looking at up someone speaking off-screen. All these dudes look alike.

Three cheers for diversity!

So! Brink is a shooty video game coming out tomorrow. I only know this because my husband is quite excited about it, and obviously my vagina acts as a barrier to my enjoying shooty video games.

At least, that’s what a surprising number of big-name video game developers seem to think. It’s true that I’m not real into shooty games, partly because the twitchyness makes me REALLY ANXIOUS, and partly because they make me motion sick, especially if I’m running down lots of narrow hallways. This is not a vaginal function, however. I am inclined to blame the obscene number of hours I spent playing Doom and, later, Quake back in high school. I suspect between those two games I used up all my allotted first-person-shooter points for the rest of my lifetime.

Or it could be that most first-person shooters are so obsessively hypermasculinized that all I can do is throw my hands up in disgust. It’s not even the hypermasculinity itself that bugs me, so much as it is the fact that there is no other option. In most shooty-type games you go in and play as a big lumbering meathead of a dude, or you don’t play at all. I choose the latter. There’s lots of other games for me to play, so I’m not really complaining about missing out on this one (terribly monotonous) genre.

However, a conversation has recently popped up on my radar about the lack of female characters in Brink. That itself is unsurprising; folks are always asking for ladyfied options, and developers are always saying “no,” and “because we said so.” But this example has created a perfect storm of idiocy around women’s representation in games that I just couldn’t leave unanswered.

First, there’s a bunch of reasons* why lots of shooty games don’t have lady characters. This smart post on the subject over on Critical Hit lists some of them:

For example, it would seem out of place to include female soldiers in a game that takes place during a period in history where women weren’t allowed to serve. But these games are generally outnumbered by shooters that take place in modern times, or some alternate/future world (like Brink).

[...]

Also, if a developer is on an extremely tight deadline, it can make sense to include only one gender, since creating playable models for both genders requires additional time and work (though you’ll never see a developer choose to nix the males in their shooter). [...] However, Brink developer Splash Damage didn’t have the time crunch issue. In fact, they were so ahead of schedule, they and Bethesda decided to release it a week early.

Why, then? Luckily, someone over on Splash Damage’s forums saw fit to post a poll that inquired, “Would you like female characters?” This led to a conversation in which some of the game’s developers weighed in with their reasons. The original explanation comes from one of Brink’s artists, who says:

I’d love to see female characters in Brink too – I think we all would! In fact, we did explore female characters in our early concept art.

However, given the realities of development, we had a choice between having a wide range of options for male characters, or a much more limited set of clothing options that allow for both genders.

We figured it would be the best use of our time to have a big set of quality customisation options for males instead of less and lower quality for females and males.

Hmm. The post at Critical Hit calls this reasoning “silly”, especially in light of Splash Damage’s recent trumpeting that there are enough subtle character variations to create over nine thousand one quadrillion—ONE. QUADRILLION.—unique characters in Brink. Every last one of them coded male. I find this especially preposterous given that all of the characters I’ve seen for this game look awfully similar (see the image above), but then all you dudes look alike to me.

The answer here seems to be that Splash Damage chose to dispense with lady models so the boys could have LOTS and LOTS more dresses for their dolls, and if the girls want to play, they just have to be happy being a boy. I sort of wonder at the research they’ve done demonstrating that what dudes want is gratuitously extensive options to customize their characters’ clothing. Is this something people have been crying out for, at the expense of gender options?

I think all this goes a little beyond “silly,” speaking only for myself. But hey, why stop there? There’s lots of rage fuel to be had. Says another dev:

Also, you’d practically double up on animation (women move noticeably differently to men) doubling up on the production of animations, and the memory footprint for that.

There’s a lot of things you don’t consider at first.

Wow, yeah man. Ladies is hard. You have to make their tits levitate when they jump, and that totally devours resources. You have to put makeup on them, and we’re really not sure how you do that. And vaginas, which some but not all ladies possess? Memory-eating BLACK HOLES of HORROR. There’s a lot of things you don’t consider at first!

I don’t know if there’s some legitimate reason why a developer couldn’t just make lady soliders move like the dude soldiers do. I have a hard time imagining any outrage over that, save the inevitable handful of idiots who complain that their female character’s butch movements make her really difficult to jerk off to. But seriously? Ladies don’t have to be graceful and shit. I don’t think identifying as a woman makes you fire a weapon in an appreciably different way in real life.

One deep-thinking poster believes that the poll question itself is flawed, and should be appropriately framed to inquire, “Would you rather have female models instead of extra maps?” Because duh, everyone would rather have extra maps! The dev response to that?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.The people responsible for levels and gameplay are not the people responsible for the character customization assets. Not having female characters doesn’t get us extra time for other things. If only!

If only.  If only Splash Damage had put even the tiniest effort into formulating some reasons that didn’t sound totally dismissive, patronizing, and plain old sexist. I don’t want to just pick on Splash Damage, as they are but one cog in the grinding machine of video game culture and development, where gender is a strange and hoary mystery. This is an industry-wide problem. But the fact remains that their public, official answer is: we didn’t feel like it, and we don’t really care. Simply put, gender options are not a priority for this company, and that is a shame.

I get that there are certain logistical and technical difficulties to providing gender options, but I also don’t care. It’s tough to sympathize when a developer’s disinterest is so clear. Gender options shouldn’t be a special selling point, nor should it be assumed that because a lack of non-male options won’t hurt the bottom line, it’s not a concern. It’s not a question of making the game more “realistic” either, in terms of animation or dialogue, because what the fuck is realistic about a world inhabited exclusively by men? Is there any other form of media, aside maybe from mixed martial arts, where such a suggestion wouldn’t defy belief? We believe in all-male worlds in video games because that’s all we’re used to seeing. There should be multiple gender options because doing so more accurately represents the actual players, and not doing so reinforces the incorrect thinking that women don’t play video games, specifically that women don’t play first person shooters, or the women that play them don’t count. They do. They’re just invisible.

*Please note I am not saying they are GOOD reasons, just… reasons.


63 Comments

Shinobi on May 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm.

I have been on a FPS kick lately, and would totally want to buy this game if i could play a woman. I’m pretty sick of playing a dude in Call of Duty. (However, Call of Duty never tries to sell me on customizing my character, so, I’m LESS offended that they make me play a dude all the time.)

Oh well I will just save my money for L.A. Noire.

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polianarchy on May 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm.

You’d think they’d WANT to double their consumer base!

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Tiferet on May 9, 2011 at 4:20 pm.

… (what)

The only reason I can think of why they would need to limit character genders in order to have a full range of clothing options (what) is that they’re terrified people will cross-dress their characters.

Because otherwise they could just have a full range of characters and clothes and let you put any clothes you wanted on any character you wanted.

I guess they feel they can’t have any lady characters running around with their bosoms and legs covered. Or any male characters running around in crop tops, miniskirts and booty shorts.

Let the eyerolling commence.

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Paula on May 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm.

This is so awesome, I just love your writing! From now on my vagina shall always be referred to as a “memory-eating BLACK HOLE of HORROR,” even when I am speaking to my gynecologist.

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outrageandsprinkles on May 9, 2011 at 6:43 pm.

Hopefully ESPECIALLY when you are speaking to your gynecologist.

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crookedfinger on May 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm.

You know, I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re totally right. Chicks obviously can’t fire guns, right? There are no women in the military, right?

I don’t play first-person shooters, since they also make me kinda motion sick. The only video games I’ve played in a while are World of Warcraft (where you can be a woman…but only a certain type of woman) and The Sims (where you can be a woman and you can even be fat — only one sort of fat, but still!).

You’d think these people would be interested in maximizing their fan base… money’s why they make these games, right?

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firefey on May 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm.

ok, i heart the sims because i can be fat, blue, muscular (and bisexual) and none of that changes as my fitness levels go up. i just get more fit. and the learning time isn’t longer for fat characters than thin characters. yeay for sims love!

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Lesley on May 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm.

I don’t know a lot about video games or the correct terminology, but I believe my boyfriend is currently playing a first-person shooter where he is a female-identified character. I think it’s Portal 2? Maybe that’s not a first-person shooter (since you just shoot portals instead of…bullets), but I thought that was cool. Err…maybe it’s not even first-person, rendering this entire comment moot?

So…umm…yeah, Portal 2!

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Lani on May 9, 2011 at 9:12 pm.

Yes! I was just scrolling down to comment on Portal and Portal 2. Portal is a first-person shooter style game, except that you shoot portals instead of bullets, and you use your portal gun to solve puzzles and get through obstacles instead of pumping zombies full of lead. Or whatever. Anyway, in Portal and Portal 2, you play as Chell, who is indeed a lady. Oh, and your enemy is GLaDOS, a sentient computer, who is also female (and incredibly snarky). In the first Portal game, there are no shown men or male characters at all. In the second there are two, but one is a spherical robot and the other is a voice-recording.

Despite the lack of dudes in the original Portal, it was a smash hit, and one of the most critically acclaimed games of the last few years. Portal 2 just came out at the end of April and has been one of the most anticipated titles this year–also a smash hit.

Gosh, you’d almost think that players like to play as men OR women, as long as the game is good! MIND = BLOWN.

The company that produces the Portal games is Valve, by the way. I like them. :)

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Lesley on May 10, 2011 at 9:09 am.

Gosh, you’d almost think that players like to play as men OR women, as long as the game is good! MIND = BLOWN.

Pretty much. I just said the same thing in a different thread. The secret seems to be that developers should just MAKE REALLY EXCELLENT GAMES.

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firefey on May 10, 2011 at 4:00 pm.

one of the things i liked about portal is that you actually don’t see your character unless you look at yourself through a portal (which, whoa the dizzy making) so it’s really easy to just imagine yourself as the person doing all this stuff. trying to remember but i don’t even think you see the hands holding the portal gun so you can be any color too. also, the one glimps i got of Chell, she seemed latina to me. did anyone else get a latina vibe off her?

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Christine on May 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm.

Hey, hey! Between my husband and his friends I have reached my mixed martial arts saturation point and no longer really care; BUT do make a point of watching the female matches when they air on TV. Females! even in MMA. I particularly like Cyborg, especially before they tried to femme her up; because I liked that she wasn’t trying to be pretty (like some of the other fighters) and could kick 12 different kinds of ass. I do not appreciate that the powers that be sexualize fighting between two women in order to appease to their largely male, cis, hetero audience, I suppose? In any case, as someone who enjoyed martial arts as a young girl, I’d like to see women have some opportunities in mixed martial arts beyond the whole, let’s get some hotties in a ring to duke it out.

But yeah, only in certain video games are there no females at all to be found.

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Lesley on May 9, 2011 at 5:31 pm.

I had NO IDEA there were women in MMA! I want to see this really badly now!

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Christine on May 10, 2011 at 9:22 am.

Ta da!
More fun than watching the men

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Lesley on May 10, 2011 at 9:52 am.

!!!!!!!!!!! I AM SPEECHLESS. How did I not know this existed?

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firefey on May 10, 2011 at 4:01 pm.

umm… because culturally women’s sports are devalued? just my thought. (must make snark or i will cry)

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margitte on May 9, 2011 at 5:13 pm.

you’d think with nearly unlimited customization they’d have at least made more than one type of nose…

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Shieldmaiden1196 on May 9, 2011 at 5:18 pm.

“Not having female characters doesn’t get us extra time for other things.”

No, that only works for these guys IRL.

*snort*

Seriously.

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Veronica on May 9, 2011 at 5:18 pm.

I love this! The world of video games is one I don’t often venture into, and yet you managed to make this interesting and relevant to me. Kudos and thanks!

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Mo on May 9, 2011 at 5:55 pm.

It really does depend on the company and whether they really care about their customers or not. I prefer RPGs to FPS. I’ve loved Bioware all the way from Baldur’s Gate through Dragon Age 1 & 2, and you can play as either gender of any of the races in those games. So if they want to complain that it’s too hard to make a t-shirt and cargo pants for a female, apparently they aren’t capable of making complicated plate mail or splintmail armor for women either. Fable 2 and 3 also lets you play as either gender, and 9/10 of the clothes are completely interchangeable (except for the masquerade ball dress, but it is vaguely Renaissance-y). In fact, you get an achievement in Fable 3 for wearing the other gender’s outfit.

So when companies complain that they can’t make female characters wear modern clothing and fire modern weapons, I point to complicated armor and melee combat in the games that prove yes, you can. They just don’t want to and don’t care.

Which is why even if I liked FPS, they wouldn’t get my money.

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Renatus on May 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm.

I don’t know if there’s some legitimate reason why a developer couldn’t just make lady soliders move like the dude soldiers do.

I really, seriously doubt it. My favorite game is The Sims 2 — total virtual dollhouse, here — and male and female sims move, for the most part, exactly the same. There are two, maybe three walk animations for specific actions that have gender variations, but that’s it — and the shared animations don’t look odd in the least.

I suspect your quip about levitating tits is actually pretty close to the truth, and that Splash Damage is talking through their collective hat. >:/

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skello on May 10, 2011 at 7:48 am.

Mass Effect 2 also reused the male animation set for the female protagonist. Granted, there were a few instances where this was quite obvious (clipping issues, etc.), for the most part it fit reasonably well. And hey, being able to play a female character with masculine movement than not have the option at all.

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Lesley on May 10, 2011 at 8:54 am.

I LOVED that they did this. I think it fit perfectly, but then I like my fem!Shepard a little butch.

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Twistie on May 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm.

What Renatus said.

And you know what else? The base game (of Sims 2) had mere dozens of clothing options… but each expansion pack and stuff pack added options, and fans have created legions of new clothes, furniture, decorative items, walls, floors, plants, etc. to customize the visuals – not to mention hacks to expand game play options. I’ve even seen ones that allow for transgender as well as cross-dressing characters.

Yes, as a matter of fact I do like to have a couple transvestites in my game, thank you very much.

I think most players would be satisfied with a mere billion or two options for each gender in a basic FPS. I know I would.

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JupiterPluvius on May 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm.

It’s a conveniently self-fulfilling prophecy: you create a game experience that excludes women, then when people call you on your bullshit, you say ‘BUT LOOK WOMEN DON’T EVEN PLAY OUR GAME.’

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Anna on May 9, 2011 at 9:14 pm.

Great post! this is definitely an issue close to my heart.

Man, the “We don’t have enough memory for ladies” thing is such bullshit. Mostly because they refuse to acknowledge that a woman doesn’t have to have huge ultra-jiggly boobs to be in a video game. I remember there was a game called up on this pretty recently, and their reaciton was “Well, we COULD have female soldiers. *OR* we could have textualised exploding brick walls. Our choice was obvious.”

I’ve been leaning more and mroe away from games that refuse to have female characters, or just be outright misogynistic. I used to be able to play games and try and ignore it. Not anymore. Bite me, Dead or Alive.

Something up the thread mentioned Portal 2, where the only playable character is a woman. The villian is also given a female voice. It si a pretty excellent game.

Portal is made by Valve, who are generally pretty good with not being misogynistic douchebags. They also produce Left 4 Dead, which has *shock horror* female main characters! Who are AVERAGE LOOKING. They are cute in their own way, but are not the super-sterotypical ultra hot babes token-women you often get in games. They are also just as strong and capable as the men, and are treated as equals in the game. It is pretty awesome, and it’s a shame it’s so rare.

I would also like to second the Bioware love! In the first Dragon Age, when selecting your gender, it mentions “Men and women are considered equals in Thedas. Your gender will have no effect on your capabilities in the game.”

Oh man, I should stop here. Otherwise I am going to get on a big thing about sexual and gender equality in games.

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Awlbiste on May 9, 2011 at 9:35 pm.

Bioware has done well in this department. You can play a female in Knights of the Old Republic (I and II), Mass Effect (just 2, I think), and Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II.

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Roo on May 10, 2011 at 4:10 am.

You can play as a female in Mass Effect 1, and you can romance the ‘non-gendered but considered female’ asari Liara. In Mass Effect 2 you can pursue your female human assistant. Good stuff :D

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Lesley on May 10, 2011 at 9:07 am.

I love the Portals. And it provides a great example, that having exclusively female characters is not going to make your game fail to sell many copies. If it’s a good game, people will buy and play it.

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Margaret on May 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm.

I used to play a lot of FPS’s, too, but I have been leaning away from them also partially because the experiences make me feel alienated. The valve games and bioware games are good examples (sidebar, you can play a woman in both Mass Effect 1 and 2. And she can be a lesbian if you want.) Left 4 Dead (while excellent) does suffer from the smurfette trope, but the woman are competent, witty and play the same as the three male playable characters. Unfortunately, many video games are still ridiculously backward in the way female characters are represented. Giant, jiggling boobies and revealing costumes abound (take a look at the new Mortal Kombat – one of the lady fighters literally spins around her staff like a stripper when she wins) and strong female characters as the protaganist of a narrative are still nearly unheard of – I’m talking about games who have a specific, identifiable characters as a lead and not a proxy of the player. I’ve head some bad things about Duke Nukem Forever, you should read about a recent press event they had: http://www.feministfatale.com/2011/02/rants-of-a-gamer-girl-welcome-to-titty-city/. I work in the video games industry, too, and game developers and publishers alike seem determined to perpetuate (and pander to) the increasingly untrue belief that the “core” gamer is an 18-25 white male who only wants hypersexualized, scantily clad women and hypermasculine, hetero men in their games.

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goingloopy on May 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm.

I think World of Warcraft also says that on the character creation screen, about women being equal. WoW does have limited options for female body types, but it also has limited options for male body types. And a skirt (or robe, or kilt) is a skirt, no matter what gender wears it. And at least men can have pink hair (trolls and gnomes can, anyway). And you can cross-dress…the holidays all have some sort of special outfits, and you have the choice between dresses and suits. Granted, the game atmosphere is sort of … testosteroney. (That sounds like a brand of dog treats.) However, I think that has more to do with the player base than the developers.

I don’t like FPS games, either. I am riding on the motion sick train. But I do believe that for all who enjoy FPS, the option of gender should be there. So should dressing your character in whatever you want. ARE YOU LISTENING, ROCK BAND? I WANT A DUDE IN A TUTU.

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P G on May 10, 2011 at 6:09 am.

I could be totally wrong since I’ve been MMO free for almost three years, but I vaguely remember that items would appear differently on male and female characters. As in, there’d be less of it on the chicks. Maybe they fixed this, I dunno. It pissed me off way back when, but I’m fully aware that it got me free stuff too. And that was problematic, but I figured it kind of made up for the sexual harassment.

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Natalie L. on May 10, 2011 at 10:12 am.

I haven’t played WoW in a while, either, but when I quit, there were definitely some armor sets–especially for plate-wearers–that were very different for male & female avatars. Cloth-wearers usually looked the same (i.e., robes), but there were a lot of female blood elf paladins running around in plate with exposed midriffs.

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Lesley on May 10, 2011 at 9:05 am.

I’m going to second your tutu request here. Wholeheartedly.

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firefey on May 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm.

Dugeons and Dragons Online is actually WAY awesome on the customization front. Weight and skintone are all highly customized. Also, the new Eve Online chargen is RAD!!!!! Scars, age effect (you can be wrinkled and old), and the ability to enlarge each body part individually or overall means you can have a pear shaped character if you want one. As CCP move towards the abilit to get out of your ship and walk around the diversity this allows should be very cool to see. also… CCP is rumored (no official word but all signs point) to be creating a White Wold/VtM/Mage/Wherewolf MMO. i am so there.

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Greg on May 9, 2011 at 9:58 pm.

An all-male world sounds a lot like going to prison. I’ve always preferred to play the FPS characters who, while masculine in form, could ostensibly be butch fighters in gas masks (think spetznaz in Call of Duty), or harkening waaaaay back to Shamus in Metroid.

What’s your take on playing highly stereotyped female characters like Chun Li in those Mortal Combat style games? While she’s my favorite character, I always felt a little odd “controlling her every move.”

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Ashbet on May 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm.

Greg — funny you say that (about fighters who appear to be masculine, but could be a butch woman in a mask) about Samus — she really IS a woman!!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samus_Aran

:D

(And, yeah — seriously, “more costumes or more gender options”? And they went with “more costumes” because GIRLS ARE HARD??!? GAH!)

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Lesley on May 10, 2011 at 9:05 am.

I was hugely fond of the Soul Calibur series of fighting games, but I pretty much never played the female characters because I actually identified with them less than the male ones. Also some of them made the most irritating squeaky noises. I think a lot of the time, at least historically, the heavily-stereotyped female characters were intentionally made for dudes to play, and not to make a game more woman-friendly. Unfortunately not many dudes have the same level of “hey this is a little weird” consciousness as you!

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Bellsonhertoes on May 9, 2011 at 11:10 pm.

There seems to be a trend with people nowadays crying about how their online dollies and dresses for said dollies don’t match expectations.

I don’t play video games (ESPECIALLY FPSes) to identify my real gender online; I do it for the experience, and to play through a little story of someone else’s little experience, that’s the beauty of it–something not about me in a not about reality crazy/insane/unrealistic environment. I’m not saying they should cross all boundaries and commit social and cultural seppuku because it’s a video game, but honestly– the norm for FPSes, and most multiplayer games in general that aren’t militaristic (which is unsurprisingly “hypermasculinized” in real life), is to have gender options. Unreal Tournament, Tribes, PSO, Monster Hunter, WoW (heck, almost EVERY MMO out there!), I won’t write an exhaustive list, mainly because it’s more about the focus on what basis do I like this product in it’s more media-centric and specific features and merits– the art direction, the sound design, and the ever-golden, unbreakable, undeniably-necessary venus of willendorf sitting atop the branching flow chart of reasons to buy/like a video game: it’s gameplay.

I’m not saying it’s right. It’s so far from right, it’s nearly laughable, considering how dismissive they can act when a definitive answer doesn’t arise (well, not in the open and without sounding entirely, incompetently sexist at least). It’s certainly no better than the typical hyperfeminized women you see in video games just as often– it makes my head spin when I see designs where the male is more character than gender and the female is more boobs than design; it goes against everything “character” “design” stands for. So, at least for me, I’m definitely not in support of whatever lame-ass or half-assed actual reason Splash-Damage has for the lack of accurate representation. But I play Mirror’s Edge and Portal 2 in the same manner that I play Bulletstorm or TF2– as a human, as an equal being on the playing field, as a part of everyone else’s experience just as much as they’re a part of mine. And that’s all the affirmation I need from those who are joined in this experience– just another person, existing, and having fun, and if feels fantastic.

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JupiterPluvius on May 10, 2011 at 7:36 am.

There seems to be a trend with people nowadays crying about how their online dollies and dresses for said dollies don’t match expectations.

And Brink seems to be all over catering to that for male gamers, and fuck-you to female gamers. So you seem to be making a point opposite to that to which you’re arguing.

Yeah, infinitely customizable avatars aren’t always the best use of design resources. But “you can be a quadrillion kinds of shooter in all different snazzy outfits, but only one gender” is ridiculous.

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Lesley on May 10, 2011 at 8:58 am.

I actually agree with you—I don’t mean to suggest that everyone should feel like they MUST choose a character that looks like them. I just think it should be an OPTION, even if it’s not the most popular one.

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byrneout on May 10, 2011 at 2:27 am.

Have to say, my sympathy is with the developers on this one. The fact that all those dudes do look the same to you is just proof of the developers’ point: Once you make your base model, you can offer many, many, many slight variations without much additional cost [in art, in memory, in programming time]. Same deal with the clothes. They’ll all look kind of similar, as in the picture you post above, but you can legitimately trumpet the quadrillion or so combinations available as a feature.

Further, the trend in top-tier FPS games seems to be in creating the most realistic animation possible. That means motion capture. Mo-cap joints make a point of hiring stunt people to use as the basis for their animation because they want that stuff to look 100% real. If everyone in the game is a variation on tough buff dude, you need to hire one guy. Start adding different physical types, you’re multiplying your talent costs, your programming costs, your art costs… everything.

And don’t get me wrong here: I’m a fat, female stunt performer. No one wants more diversity in video games more than me, because it increases my chances of getting work! But I absolutely understand where they’re coming from concerning what it does to their bottom line.

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Lesley on May 10, 2011 at 8:57 am.

This is a really interesting bit of info! Thanks for sharing it. Also, it is unspeakably awesome that you are a fat female stunt performer.

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TeleriB on May 10, 2011 at 8:00 am.

As far as animating male and female rigs go… I know some folks were so put out by Marian Hawke’s head-tossing, hip-swaying run and one-hip out standing pose in Dragon Age 2 that there’s a mod to replace the female animations with the male ones (and visa versa, if the Garrett Hawke of your dreams sashays). I haven’t tried it personally yet, but it’s got plenty of glowing reviews, and only one (that I saw) complaining that it gave fem!Hawke a “gorilla run.”

Does make me wonder if there’s a walking/running gait that, while perhaps not physiologically perfect, looks okay on both rigs.

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June on May 10, 2011 at 9:01 am.

I’m a female working in the game industry, so I thought I’d share some of my input on the matter…

There is a significant amount of work involved in adding playable female characters to a game. Back in the Baldur’s Gate days all you had to do was add a few new graphics here and change a pronoun there, and you were done. For a modern FPS it is MUCH more involved.

In addition to all the art assets required (new body, multiple new hairs, complete remodel of all clothing items to fit the female form, etc), new animations have to be made. A game like The Sims can get away with using the same animation for male and female characters, but modern FPS games are expected to have smooth, natural looking animations. Frequently an entirely new “skeleton” (the structure within a character model used to give it animations) has to be made for female characters, because their proportions don’t match the male counterpoint. Then new animations have to be made or mocapped for the female version of the character.

If the game is voiced you will also have to record an entirely separate set of VO for the female character, which is very expensive. In a BioWare game people are playing for the story and character, so BioWare is willing to spend the money to pay for two versions of the VO. In most FPS this isn’t the case. Depending on how involved of a story the game has, it will also require two versions of the writing to allow for differences in gender. Again, with BioWare this is what sells their games, so they are willing to spend the time and money writing separate storylines, love interests, etc.

In addition to the cost of creating all of these assets for female characters, you will have to put extra time and money into Quality Assurance to test everything. The total cost of adding female playable characters into a game is definitely not negligible, for a modern AAA title it requires a tremendous increase in the time and money spent on the game.

All of that said, I DON’T think that it’s excusable that the industry in many cases puts female players on the chopping block. I think it’s a contributing factor in why more women don’t play hardcore games. I personally am of the belief that artists (including game designers) have a duty to represent minorities as fairly as possible, and I’ve always argued that we need to put more people of color, women, and queer characters in games, even if our audience is mostly straight white males. This is a VERY unpopular view in the industry though and I’ve been either shouted down or politely told to STFU more than once :P FPS gamers by and large are not huge into social justice…

I’d like to point you to one man that has become a personal hero of mine for being outspoken about treating minorities fairly in games. David Gaider, the lead writer for BioWare’s Dragon Age games, has continuously impressed me with his willingness to engage gamers on the topic of social justice in games. Take a look at this article, and if you have the time, the forum post it links to: http://www.destructoid.com/bioware-writer-defends-romance-options-in-dragon-age-ii-197187.phtml
A BioWare fan went on their forums and accused BioWare of ignoring the needs of their primary audience, straight male gamers, by spending too much time on homosexual romances. David Gaider then eloquently told him to STFU, because all members of their audience, regardless of gender, race, orientation, etc, are equally valuable :D

This is not the only instance in which he has stood up for minority rights on the forums, he has also shut down fans for using misogynist or homophobic language on the forums. I swear every time he uses the word “privilege” in a post (usually referring to straight, white, male privilege) I get chills ;)

So, the tl;dr…
Adding playable female characters to a game is really hard, expensive, and time consuming.
We should still do it anyway.
David Gaider is awesome.

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Lesley on May 10, 2011 at 9:23 am.

YES! I followed the DA2 romance drama as it unfolded, and I agree, we need more David Gaiders. He seems to have a truly fierce commitment to representing a diversity of individuals, and I likewise was blown away by his willingness to cite privilege to a bunch of dudes who would inevitably respond really, really badly to it.

Thanks so much for this comment. My husband is a games journalist, and disagrees with me passionately on this, as he argues that expecting developers to go out of their way to make male-dominated “core games” more woman-friendly is actually asking a lot. And that may be true! But I still think it has to be a damn priority.

This is why I really loved the infamous Black Ops commercial, because it shattered the assumption that everyone playing military FPS games is some basement-dwelling white dude. It actually made me want to play Black Ops! And I am super critical of military FPS conventions, so that was a truly magical feat.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with said commercial, I’m embedding it below:

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Irfon-Kim Ahmad on May 10, 2011 at 9:55 am.

First, I’d never seen that Black Ops commercial before, and it’s completely fantastic, so thank you for embedding it!

This sounds like exactly the sort of thing that’s ripe for making a point with dollars and cents. I think that there are a certain number of developers that we can expect to get on board with diversity because it’s the right thing to do, certainly. But there will always be developers who will point at the bottom line and say, “Our core audience doesn’t care, it’s a huge cost center and it doesn’t make us any money.” I think that there’s one really effective way to counter that: Make it about money.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work so well for all the players who are upset but don’t play the games in question. But there will certainly be lots of people who do. I have all the trailers for Brink on my PS3 and was considering buying it when I was finished my other games. I recently hit that point and am up for buying a new game. I’m more than happy to go over to their site and send them an e-mail saying, “I’m a consumer who was interested in your product. Diversity, including gender diversity, is important to me. It’s a crowded marketplace and I have a lot of options to choose from. Because of your choice to not include female characters in your game, I will not be buying your product. I think some of the other things you’re doing with the product line seem cool, and if this shortcoming is rectified in your next title, I’d be happy to put it on my purchasing list.” I will probably do so right now. If everybody who cares about this stuff did this, then developers would start to see that it’s worth investing in on a strictly bottom-line basis, whether they personally think it matters or not.

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Irfon-Kim Ahmad on May 10, 2011 at 10:14 am.

Okay, so their e-mail address for this sort of thing is “press@splashdamage.com”. This is what I sent them, in case anybody wants to either crib my letter or correct / update it:

Hi,

I’m a PS3 owner and gamer, and I’ve had all the developer diaries and trailers for Brink saved on my hard disk for some time. I’ve shown these to friends and have been generally excited for the product. I also recently cleared out my backlog of games and, especially with the lengthy Playstation Network outage recently, AAA disc-based games are very much on the radar for me. As such, the release of Brink is nearly ideally timed.

However, I also care about diversity in games, in terms of both race and gender. I care about it both because it’s the right thing to do and because it makes the games better. Games with a rich and diverse cast of characters feel deeper, more immersive and more believable, and allow people playing those games a greater range of expression. Subtle nuances between similar characters don’t create as much world texture as allowing people to play as whoever they want, be it men, women, young, old, black, white, asian, hispanic, whoever they want to be within the plausibility of the game setup. But, bringing it full circle, it’s also the right thing to do. When everybody can see themselves represented in their media, it helps them feel more like a part of the society, a part of the community, and when everbody can see people different from themselves represented in their media, it helps them accept everybody into that community. With team-based games like Brink, feeling part of that community and accepting others into that community is a huge element of what will or won’t make the game gel for the players.

I realize that adding female characters to Brink would have added a significant cost to the game. I realize that it’s not as simple as slapping a few additional drawings together and you’re done. That’s why I’m letting you know that it’s an important and worthwhile investment. It won’t just make you better people, but it will make your game better, and it will help you build an exceedingly loyal customer base.

There are a lot of game choices on the market today, even for AAA games off-season. Portal 2 came out recently and I haven’t bought it yet. I haven’t picked up Dragon Age 2. I have options.

I care about diversity in gaming, both because it’s right and because it makes games better. I was looking forward to Brink. Because of your decision to not include female characters in the final product, I will not be buying your game.

I still think that Brink had some fantastic ideas, and if you choose to address this shortcoming in future titles in the series, I greatly look forward to playing them.

Sincerely,

- Irfon-Kim Ahmad

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Natalie L. on May 10, 2011 at 10:16 am.

Borderlands is an FPS that allows you the option of playing as a female character–you get a choice of four characters (IIRC) and they all have a different special ability, but as far as I can tell, the game doesn’t treat you any differently if you’re playing as the female character versus one of the male ones.

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JonelB on May 15, 2011 at 2:08 am.

Nope–it doesn’t. I played all the way through with Lilith(the female character, able to turn invisible and do fun stuff like acid melee attacks with the right class mods), I played with a friend who was the Sniper/Bloodwing Class(Mordecai), I also played on solo as Roland–none of the players treated me any different, I wasn’t referenced as a woman, and although there were womany shrieks of rage and pain when shot, that was honestly the only difference–beyond the basic class perks(her ‘perk’ weapon was Sub-Machine Guns-I would get one with a scope and go crraaazzzy). Which each individual has–Brick has Rocket Launchers, Mordecai has Snipers, and Roland has Machine Guns. Although if you wanted, you could honestly play any weapon you like–the more you use it, the more you build up your perks with a certain one. I just liked SMG’s because I am impatient and they work well both close up and far away. I also saw plenty of dudes playing as Lilith because the phase ability was handy for escapes.
But no, I didn’t notice any animation treat me any different or any general difference in the game, really.

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June on May 10, 2011 at 3:20 pm.

I hadn’t seen the Black Ops video, but that is awesome!

Borderlands has four characters representing different classes, one of which is female. She’s fine but I’m annoyed by them going with the standard magic class = exotic female model. That said, Borderlands is a good case where there was no increased cost to having a female character. There is almost no VO other than a few grunts here and there, and each character has only one look and one outfit, so they can make four completely separate character models with their own animations. The same is true of Left for Dead, because the characters are not customizable they are able to make four completely separate body types and outfits, so the cost of having one or two of them be female is exactly the same. It’s different when the player characters are customizable so you have to have dozens of different outfits, facial features, hair styles, etc fit them. For reference, here are the Borderlands playable characters: http://www.scroobyonline.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/borderlands-characters.jpg

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Barbara on May 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm.

Have they ever actually seen lady soldiers move in their gear? The only difference between men and women all geared up (as the characters in the picture are) is that women tend to be slighter than men. There is no flipping way to move gracefully in armor folks!

And if boys need more clothing options for their characters why the hell doesn’t Hasbro come out with little outfit packs for GI Joe like they do for Barbie Dolls?

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June on May 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm.

@Barbara

In their defense, that is what the fans (even the females) have asked for. Female Shepard’s animations from Mass Effect are not very feminine, and lots of female gamers complained about this. I think it may be part of the reason they overdid it so much with female Hawke for Dragon Age 2.

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Sereena on May 10, 2011 at 7:09 pm.

See, this is the reason why I hate, hate, hate FPS! I’m always a fan of RPGs and the majority of them allow you to play as a female character, which is awesome. But the females depicted in video games, particularly the ones aimed at males like this one in the article you’re talking about, usually portray women as skanky sluts anyway, That’s again why I prefer RPGs, cause you’re usually depicted as a warrior or rogue, its not based on slut appeal (although my last game, Dragon Age Origins, was amazing, cause my character could shag a guy, a girl and have a threesome, plus I could visit the brothel and have whatever I fancied!!). So I recommend RPGs if you want a more balanced depiction of women, I hate guns or anything to do with them anyway, so that’s probably another reason why I’m not into these “testosterone” games. But whatever takes your fancy!

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Irfon-Kim Ahmad on May 11, 2011 at 10:04 am.

Since I reposted my letter to Splash Damage here, I thought I should share their reply, which was actually quite reasonable:

Hi Irfon-Kim,

I’m Paul Wedgwood, CEO of Splash Damage and the Director of BRINK. You’re right. Diversity definitely makes for a better game. In BRINK we tried to achieve this with racial diversity, and I think we largely succeeded, but failed to get female representation in to the game.

There are no good excuses for this. Of course it was ultimately down to some technical constraints, but it is a question we’ve faced from every journalist that we’ve talked to since the game was announced a couple of years ago. Certainly its our intention that all future games from Splash Damage properly represent gender diversity, not just race.

I’d like to thank you for taking the time to email us with you thoughts. I really do appreciate it.

Paul Wedgwood
CEO and Game Director
Splash Damage Ltd
http://www.splashdamage.com

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Lesley on May 11, 2011 at 11:01 am.

Thanks for posting this. That’s a MUCH better response than “We decided it was more important to have more clothes for the dudes than to have ladies!”

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Deviija on May 11, 2011 at 7:29 pm.

Thank you for posting their e-mail reply, it was nice to read that CEO Paul agrees that ‘there is no excuse for this.’ There isn’t. There are explanations (and I’m not saying they are good ones either), sure, but no excuses. And he appears to recognize how important having gender diversity is and is vowing to have future SD games feature said diversity (along with racial diversity). That’s good.

It is enough that I will look at their next game release, instead of writing them off altogether. That said, it doesn’t change anything as it stands now. The game is still what it is and is shipped as it is. It is a game I will not purchase.

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Christina on May 12, 2011 at 8:20 am.

For the commenter that said Chell had a Latina vibe there’s a good reason for that. Valve hired Alesia Glidewell from a local modeling agency and based Chell on her likeness. Just visite her website and take a look.

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Gregory on May 15, 2011 at 5:08 pm.

I play a game and enjoy the story or whatever makes it good, but I never ever mind if I am male or female. I played trought Pokemon with the female charakter and Mirrors Edge is one of my all time favourite games, althought they “forced” me to play a woman.

What is so wrong about playing a man? Is a male charakter a reason not to play a game, or wouldn´t it be considered sexist if somone said “I dont play that game because I have to play a woman”?

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Lesley on May 16, 2011 at 8:40 pm.

It’s not so much that playing a male character is BAD, per se, as male characters are typically the default, with a very few rare (and awesome!) exceptions such as those you mention above. What I and other game-playing folks are asking is that the options be more balanced, is all. It’d be nice to have the choice, especially in a game that prides itself on customization.

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Mdot on May 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm.

I had to share this post on my tumblr, I’m so happy you wrote about this because I was not pleased with Splash Damage and their “lets make the guys happy” move, I was so excited for Brink when it was first announced, then the big females aren’t being included announcement came along and was like “uhm…what….I thought this game was big on customization, WTF!”, and my desire for the game dropped. Way to cut out a whole demographic of gamers SD! *thumbs up!*. Thanks for writing this AND for sending your thoughts to Splash Damage as well about this. You rock my socks!

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Nym on June 4, 2011 at 11:44 am.

Hullo! I’ve been spending a Saturday reading your blog, and I think it’s fantastic! Very articulate and thought-provoking. I don’t think I could add anything without repeating your post or to the comments in response, but I just wanted to point out that there are ladies with penises and men with vaginas (ae?), which the post seems to ignore. Not that I think you would! You seem very committed to social justice. But just pointing it out :D
All the best,
Nym

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Susan on June 21, 2011 at 5:44 pm.

A bit late to the party, but… Halo: Reach is FPS with a female option. No real difference, except that the figure is a bit trimmer.

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