Why Modern Video Game Armies Lack Female Troops

Illustration for article titled Why Modern Video Game Armies Lack Female Troops

Women have been serving admirably in warzones for the U.S. military for years. But they're absent from the ranks of modern video game armies. A game developer offered Kotaku a justification of why we virtually fight as men.

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The answer, offered by Gordon Van Dyke, producer of the new Electronic Arts modern warfare game Battlefield: Bad Company 2, has to do with technology. Or, more specifically, it has to do with technology needs trumping any sense of consumer demand for representation of both genders.

Programming women soldiers into a virtual war just might not be worth the costs to the game and the servers that connect the people playing it.

The topic came up on last week's Kotaku podcast, when I asked Van Dyke if there were women in Bad Company 2. I'd noticed that the games I'd played set in modern or near-future settings were almost always fought by men and men only.

"There's no girls in our game," he said around the 33-minute mark.

"It's an interesting thing, though because … It's fun that you bring that up because I can kind of give some insight into development and how games are made. When you actually put in female characters, typically you have to put in an entire new skeleton model and that entire new skeleton model adds an entire new level of animation and an entire new level of rigging. You basically double the amount of data and memory for soldiers that would need to go into your game.

"So it turns into one of those things that's like: How much will putting something like this in give us, whether the rewards of putting something like this in [are worth it]. The reward has to match what you have to give up somewhere else. Our games are pushing the edge of the system they're on at such a high degree that it becomes more of a balancing act for implementing new things — how many vehicles you can have in a game or how many buildings with destruction — because every single one of those things needs to be calculated by the server and transmitted to every single play that's playing the game. Every time you shoot a building or wall, they [need] to see it when it happens or, if you go past that, at a later date, the server needs to remember that data and then transmit it to all those players."

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It doesn't require much special programming to change a virtual soldier's skin tone. Heights and weights, though, usually stay fixed. So too, Van Dyke explained, does gender for likely the same reasons — unless gamers would want their virtual female soldiers to run and move like men.

And what of the trade-off? The ability for the walls in a virtual battlefield to break and stay broken may sound trifling to non-gamers. But within the context of games, it is a literal breakthrough. Walls have been immutable in games since the days of Pac-Man, and while games have, from time to time, allowed barriers to be broken, it's still a rare feat.

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Imagine the gameplay implications of Pac-Man being able to bash through a wall to escape Inky, Blinky or Clyde. It would certainly have had more profound impact on how Pac-Man played than adding a bow to Pac-Man's "head" and calling him "Ms. Pac-Man," right?

Video games can sometimes be accused of being behind the times in regards to social issues and minority representation. That women can't even fight in 2010 war games such as Bad Company 2 and MAG — even as real women reportedly serve admirably in the real military — would seem to be retrograde, but maybe the tech excuse is a good one.

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Do female characters need to be put in virtual combat? Or, more to the point, are they more important than crumbling walls?

PIC via Flickr

DISCUSSION

rachelfogg
Rachel Fogg

I call BS, simply because there's been games with females and males in war situations before.

No, the truth is demographic, much like some of the for reals military, the idea of women on the battlefield is risky for some men, they don't like the idea of having a woman in their squad let alone killing them.

A good number of my friends that are in the military, many female, deal with this on a daily basis...more other stuff too but that's a different issue.

The idea of a woman being killed, or maim even if she's an attacker for some men is a step too far. Yes in fighting games you fight female opponents, but in a war game/FPS there's a level of uncomfortablity that some men are simply not ready for.

Of course the flip side of this is putting women in the gaming landscape like candy, skimpy outfits, large breasts y'know....whore. But for some men, that's a safety.

Does that mean those men are pigs? Not all of them, the demographic for FPS is VERY masculine, whereas the gaming genres are slowly being blurred with recent girl gamers and whatnot. FPS remains as the last bastion of maleness.

So what to do? Do I as a female gamer start rallying war cries for equality in FPS/War type games?

I would like a female presence in more then just a sexy NPC but I also want her not to be a useless bitch, even if you just put in ONE female playable solider, make her strong, she can be sexy but make her a solider...make her fight or helpful (As not all soldiers battle.). It's small...but it's a start.

I think if developers start slowly placing female playable troopers in small bits at a time then the wary male demographic might not be so wary. But take your time on it, plan thoughtfully.

There are women who play FPS, there are female soldiers (God bless you guys out there and all the soldiers!!). Take a step, that's really all it takes sometimes.

phew...long post is long.