Steam survival hit Rust is adding women characters, and you won’t get to choose whether you’re a guy or a gal. Some players love the idea. Others, not so much.
(Warning: some of the media in this post is NSFW.)
Rust’s character creation isn’t like other games. You don’t play as a pre-made character, but you don’t get to choose your physical characteristics either. Instead, the game randomizes your appearance (including skin color, facial features, limb length, and, er, penis size, if you’re male-bodied) and permanently ties the outcome to your Steam ID. Angelically lithe or mighty, mighty meatball person, it’s you—forever, no matter what server you play on.
The feature’s been slowly improving over time, beginning with a primordial soup of same-dudeliness and slowly adding the aforementioned variations. The lack of an option to choose physical sex characteristics has caught some players off guard, as exemplified by a host of reactions:
Some even consider it a deal-breaker despite the fact that they were a-okay with randomized skin tone, height, penis size, and whatnot.
Granted, before now women players had zero chance of ending up as a character who matched their own physical characteristics. Truth is, there never was a choice. The lack of choice just favored dudes, as far as appearances went.
And then, of course, there are the numerous players who want Rust’s lady character to be more attractive, which is, well, revealing, if not exactly unexpected given Rust’s primarily male audience.
While Rust lead Garry Newman acknowledges that there’s been some outrage, he thinks people are beginning to embrace the lack of complete control. His philosophy—real life doesn’t let you pick everything from nose width to toenail clipping density, so should every game?—has started to catch on.
“I wasn’t expecting so much of a backlash,” Newman admitted to me. “We have got a few emails. Angry emails, confused emails, pleading emails. But the majority of people do seem to get it. I think at this point most people see the merit in doing things differently instead of doing what is normally done.”
Newman added that he wasn’t expecting so much of a reaction to appearance randomization in general. He told me that he’s seen players line up to compare penis sizes. He’s also seen plenty of videos like this one (NSFW):
There’s also been in-game racism, something Newman and co have decided to confront head-on rather than disallow. As he told me previously: “Seeing this kind of thing play out made us realize that these aren’t just ‘real life’ issues that we need to block. They’re issues that we need to invite into the game to let people explore.” There is room to learn and grow, after all. It’s not a stretch to imagine that this will happen when some people step into the shoes (or, er, total lack of clothing) of women characters, too.
As for the anger, Newman thinks it doesn’t always necessarily come from fear of difference—of being a woman or someone of a different skin color or something. While that can certainly motivate some people to recoil in revulsion from Rust’s boundless sunny vistas and dong forests, Newman believes expectations also play a role:
“It’s not so much [about] being ‘them,’” he said. “It’s that a choice exists, but they don’t get to choose it. By presenting a choice and choosing for them we’re saying to them ‘you’re a black guy’ and they’re saying back ‘no I’m not’ and we’re saying ‘look at your hands’ and they’re saying ‘fuck you, I don’t want to be black’ and we’re saying ‘DEAL WITH IT.’”
But that’s the whole point, says Newman. He wants players to have to deal with the ramifications of who they are. Some of that, as it depressingly does in the real world, may come from their appearance, the physical characteristics they have no control over. Newman, however, also hopes it will come from their actions.
“We wanted to lock people to an identity so they could be possibly recognized for their misdeeds, just from their avatar,” he explained. “The idea being that eventually we’d take away player names, and emergent stuff could happen like mistaking someone for a friend, impersonations, etc.”
Ambitious stuff, and Newman admits that character models still need some work on the art side of things—”less weird, more unique,” as he put it—before that kind of pie-in-the-sky approach is viable.
For now, though, people will squabble and gnash their teeth, and some may even quit playing. Ultimately, though, things will shake out, and Rust will likely be an even more interesting game for it. Unlike in some other games where, as Newman puts it, it feels there are boundless customization options because “the publisher had a list of features that needs to be on the side of the box,” Rust has found purpose in limitation. The development team isn’t backing down from that.
“I’m happy with the choices we made,” Newman said. “After making games for over 10 years, one thing I’ve realized is that if someone isn’t angry at you, you’re doing it wrong. The more one group of people hate what you’re doing, the more another group of people will love it. Being beige doesn’t get you anywhere.”
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