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

By | May 9, 2011

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.


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