Women Soldiers Added to Call of Duty – But What Took So Long?
Amanda Duncil | On 21, Aug 2013
In it’s 10th installment of the Call of Duty, video game developer Infinity Ward is finally introducing female characters to the franchise in Call of Duty: Ghosts. Whether you’re shrugging the news off as a minor aesthetic addition, or praising it as the latest stepping stone for female representation in video games, there’s one question that’s on many people’s mind: What the hell took so long?
CoD: Ghosts executive producer Mark Rubin explained the decision to Kotaku, saying:
“Our fan base is huge. We cover such a dramatic range of people who play our game that we wanted to be as inclusive as we possibly could with character customization. And that’s where the idea came from. Why wouldn’t we have a female [option] then?”
Why, indeed. For years, fans of the series have been demanding female inclusion in the multiplayer. Unfortunately, their voices went unheard — or more likely, ignored — and the CoD series has trailed behind their competition in this regard. Both Halo and Gears of War added the option long ago, along with varying degrees of character customization, though it should also be noted that the Battlefield franchise is an exception; female inclusion in the series was recently rumored and subsequently debunked when the game’s creative director explained their choice to leave out women by glossing over the issue.
Almost every game with multiplayer — and many without — have some sort of customization options available, whether it’s simple stock character bodies with color reskinning, or an intricate set of sliders that gives you control of minute options right down to the character’s bone structure and feature placement. Even games without in-depth character customizations often allow you to choose between a few basic characters, often with at least one female option. With this standard in mind, requesting females added as playable characters isn’t asking for much. Except, apparently, it is.
Rubin explains that the addition took such a long time because the game’s engine, the base mechanics that make up the entire framework of the game, simply couldn’t handle loading a multiplayer map populated with characters with specific, unique appearances, including gender distinction. This excludes the single-player campaign, of which there is an unsurprising shortage of women involved as well. In the main campaign, there are two playable female characters, Tanya who appears in Call of Duty: Finest Hour, and Chloe who is in Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Additionally, there are three other playable females in zombie mode.
“When we got a chance to re-tool the engine completely, that gave us the opportunity to make the change that we could have character customization,” he said. “That then gave us the opportunity to do female characters.”
This franchise has churned out more games and spin-offs, including those of the handheld variation, than its competition. It includes a total of about 18 games across several different platforms. By explaining that, of course, it takes a heap of work to add in the sort of content that allows your character to have gender distinction, Infinity Ward scapegoats technical problems in lieu of being lazy and dishing out another $60 blockbuster. Despite Rubin’s vehement positive attitude toward female inclusion in the games, even saying “it’s a no-brainer” that women be represented on the battlefield, the subtext reads: It wasn’t worth the effort to include women until now.
In a 2008 survey of 150 best-selling games on previous generation consoles, female characters made up a mere 15% of all characters tallied, despite women accounting for roughly 38% of gamers. This number did not include first-person shooters or games where characters are not human.
In the world of first-person shooters, your avatar is but a blip of your personality with a name hovering above your head. For the few minutes you’re alive and fighting, your appearance is often inconsequential except to differentiate you from the teeming masses aiming to annihilate you. And yet our culture is such that we enjoy the ability to set ourselves apart and sometimes represent ourselves in our hobbies. It’s easy, then, for the industry standard target audience (white, male) to take advantage of the presence of virtual representation while women and minorities are often left wanting. It’s comforting notion when the gender option is available, and more than a little despairing when intentionally overlooked.