“Actually, it's about sexism in games development.”
January 18, 2020 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Escape from Tarkov creator gives terrible excuse for not including playable female characters [The Verge] “We’re in a brand-new decade, but that hasn’t stopped some video game developers from falling back on inexcusable explanations for why you can’t play as female characters in certain games. This time, it’s courtesy of Escape from Tarkov creator Battlestate Games, which offered two convenient excuses for why — despite the requests of many players — it will not let you play as a female character in its ultra-realistic military survival sim.” [Warning, some talk about suicide]

“Excuse number one is that, as the Russian-based developer explained on Twitter, playable female characters can’t be included “because of game lore.” It’s not exactly clear what that means, but Battlestate seems to be suggesting that its game, which is set in a fictional region of Russia and features an armed conflict between fictional private military companies, doesn’t have a narrative that supports female combatants. That’s despite the insurmountable narrative evidence of female characters who are present in pretty much every piece of post-apocalyptic fiction ever made — because, you know, women exist — and in basically every other military survival sim and battle royale shooter on the market. Excuse number two is a bit more forthright: “there will be no playable female characters because of... the huge amount of work needed with animations, gear fitting etc.” ”

• We Keep Having The Same Video Game Arguments And It's Driving Me Bonkers [Kotaku]
“On its face, this conversation isn’t even about whether women should be represented. That’s a no-brainer. The answer is yes. But instead of tackling the question of whether games should be diverse and acting accordingly, people keep finding ways to reframe it as a question of whether they can be, minimizing their own culpability. And so gaming culture circles the drain and repeats the same discussions over and over. We have a discussion about inclusion, one way or another. We achieve some level of “awareness,” or something. But then the discussion repeats. There will always be another Tarkov, another Battlefield V, another Radical Heights. There will always be a new excuse: costs, lore, “accuracy.” The inclusion of female soldiers in Battlefield V led historical purists to lose their minds at the idea that a woman could do more in the middle of a war than faint from a sudden onset of “the vapors.” It got so bad that the game’s subreddit had to ban discussion on the topic of “historical accuracy.” [...] Yet still we often see developers design for certain defaults. Tarkov is a punishing military shooter. Men are obviously the default, right? If playable women are added now, pockets of the internet would be aghast that Battlestate Games pandered to social justice warriors and women who don’t even play Tarkov. Except we do play games like Tarkov and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Insurgency. Some of us are even pretty good at it. One way or another, there will always be the eternal question: Women, can they do things? What things can they do? As long as we keep allowing people to pretend it hasn’t been answered, they’ll keep treating it like an unsolvable problem.”
• Escape From Tarkov is a hit, despite the developer repeatedly shooting itself in the foot [Polygon]
“All of this interest in Escape From Tarkov has brought renewed attention to the erratic behavior of the employees at Battlestate Games. Over the years it’s run the gamut from casual sexism to abuse of U.S. law. In 2018, Battlestate made headlines for willfully abusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in order to punish a YouTuber critical of its game. “We know what this instrument is designed for,” a representative for Battlestate told Polygon at the time, referring to the DMCA claim system that YouTube offers for copyright holders to pull down content for legal review. “We had to use this tool in order to stop the wave of misinformation. [...] We don’t want to scare off anybody, it was applied to only this person and only in this case.” But after a month of investigation, Polygon discovered that Battlestate had repeatedly used the DMCA system against other YouTubers. Two more content creators came forward to show that dozens of strikes had been filed against them illegally, impacting their income and their livelihoods. Neither Battlestate nor its associated company, AbsoluteSoft, responded to Polygon’s additional requests for comment. Then, on Dec. 30, just as the Twitch Drops promotion was in full swing, a Battlestate team member pointed a real gun to his head during a livestream on Twitch and pulled the trigger, feigning a suicide attempt. The stunt got the company’s channel banned. Polygon has reached out to Twitch to see when, or even if, it will be reinstated.”
posted by Fizz (49 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
“because of game lore.”
But...you create the lore.

(ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻
posted by Fizz at 11:15 AM on January 18 [44 favorites]


I gotta be honest, this is not surprising given what I've seen so far of the Tarkov community. It's ... maybe slightly less horrifically misogynistic than the Mordhau community, but only barely.

This feels like a developer who knows their (shitty) audience, and I've been pretty turned off trying the game as a result.
posted by tocts at 11:24 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]


Oh, none of this is surprising with regards to sexism in the game development community. But it's worth noting and recognizing. I like to think people pay attention to this stuff and can then vote with their dollars so as to not support shitty people.

But you're right, they're probably just leaning into their shitty base because they know this is the type of gamer-bro that likes their game anyways, so it's another way to gatekeep and exclude a more diverse gaming community.
posted by Fizz at 11:30 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Saw tocts comment about the Mordhau community, wondered to myself, is it that bad? One click later......Jesus wept.
posted by triage_lazarus at 12:18 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


its game, which is set in a fictional region of Russia and features an armed conflict between fictional private military companies, doesn’t have a narrative that supports female combatants.

Indeed, there is very little to suggest that Russian women have ever had any proficiency with military firearms.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 12:32 PM on January 18 [51 favorites]


One of the reasons I want to go back in time, invest wisely and have krajillions of dollars, and start a game studio is to make a military shooter, let's say a WW2 one for now, with two modes.

There's fun mode. In fun mode, you move like an olympic sprinter like you usually do in shooters, can take multiple bullet hits, otherwise perform implausibly well. You can be any race or sex you want and will be given an unrealistically large array of clothing options. If you want, you can play as a character with paralysis who gets around in a motorized chair that's also a mini-tank with prototype gauss cannons. You can leap from shit tarzan-style and get double xp for shooting people while you're swinging, but only if you press x to activate the tarzan yodel. Your murder-hobo leaps from one fun vignette to the next. At the end, you personally disembowel Hitler.

And there's realistic mode. You are set to an able-bodied white man, because realism! Also because realism, you're a clerk. So the game starts with you getting off a boat onto a temporary pier a couple of weeks after d-day, and then you walk 8 miles to get to where you're going. At 50th percentile normal human walking pace. During this time, there's some small but nonzero chance that you'll be hit by something. When you get where you're going, you'll do boring and ideally depressing clerk shit for real hours and hours. Like you have to read after-action and write condolence telegrams for 12 hours. When you're done, you have to spend an hour digging a hole (press x to dig press y to throw dirt press x to dig press y to throw repeat) and, at some point, stand your watch, which will be basically you staring at a realistically black screen for two hours or whatever. Next day you do boring clerk shit again, but there's some chance that a bomb or shell will drop on you. Every few days or a week or whatever, you spend half a day packing up the clerk stuff and then have to walk all day, during which you might be hit by a sniper. Anytime you're hit by something, the game decides whether you were just killed outright or wounded. If you're wounded, you have to go to the hospital and you can't do anything but sit there for, say, 100 real-world hours, and the game won't let you load another character during this time. If you aren't good enough at clerking you get put on report and have to peel potatoes too, and if you keep fucking up at clerking you get sent to the stockade where your game consists of staring at a wall. The point is that it will realistically be Desert Bus interspersed with moments of significant risk of virtual death. If you randomly manage to survive to VE Day, you just hear about it, and then you keep doing more boring clerk shit until you're demobbed a few months later. Then you unlock being a truck mechanic or being a cook.

The best part is that dumbass dudebros will be competing over who can be the most hardcore about it.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:48 PM on January 18 [86 favorites]


From a verge comment: I agree its immersion breaking to have females in games like this. Its just simply not something i’ve ever seen in 1000s of hours of watching movies and war films so it look/sounds kinda weird, like if Scooby Doo skins were allowed.

Fun mode will license all of the Scooby Doo characters including the dog as playable characters. Shaggy gets drug-powered biotics.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:21 PM on January 18 [12 favorites]


Yikes. Yeah, no thanks I'll give this one a miss. Literally thousands of games I could be playing (way too many of which I already own) that don't have seriously problematic developers. Still, thanks as always for the informative post Fizz.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 1:44 PM on January 18


you're a clerk. So the game starts with you getting off a boat[...]

This isn’t a bad game premise; exploring monotonous activities through games is not unheard-of and there’s a market for it. Many of them explore political/economic/social issues.
posted by michaelh at 1:46 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


Was the excuse “because we’re sexist assholes?” That would be terrible.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:54 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I've discovered that there seems to be a direct relation between games that I enjoy and games that let me play as a female character.

(This is probably less to do with gender and more with how much control the game gives me over the narrative, but it makes for a really handy rule of thumb.)
posted by suetanvil at 3:07 PM on January 18


I would be slightly conflicted about not including a female playable character in a strictly historic game based on a conflict in which there were no female soldiers. (Although, when you look at the historical record, you find that at least some women managed to fight in almost every war).

But, when you invite an entirely fictional world and an entirely fictional scenario and declare that the lore dictates that there certainly can't be any women involved... Well, at that point you'd better be making something with a dramatic sociogendered point (like a Handmaid's Tale FPS) if you want me to think it's not just run-of-the-mill shitty sexism.
posted by 256 at 3:08 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


This is just the dudebro equivalent of putting a nO GiRlz aLLOwEd sign on their shitty little treehouse, isn't it
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 3:17 PM on January 18 [11 favorites]




I would be slightly conflicted about not including a female playable character in a strictly historic game based on a conflict in which there were no female soldiers.

You don't need to be even a little bit conflicted about it. A female soldier in a time when that was forbidden is waaaaaay less ahistorical than a soldier who can instantly heal by eating first-aid kits.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:13 PM on January 18 [66 favorites]


you're a clerk. So the game starts with you getting off a boat

If you start as a female character, you work in an RAF bunker as a plotter, doing the historically accurate work of pushing tokens around on a map with a pool cue. QWOP controls.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:18 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]


I've watched a lot of Tarkov getting played. It's funny because 89% of the time other players/NPCs are just dark blobs on the screen, generally covered head to toe with bulky gear, usually with a face mask on as well. It's first person only, AFAIK, so you're not seeing your own gender, either. You just hear your heavy breathing and grunts.

They only have one body type too. I mean in PUBG you could play "perfect average cis man" or "perfect average cis woman" but that's it. So the next step should be a more full character generator.

Since it's Tarkov, and fuck you, your appearance should be random, and get rerolled each time you die.
posted by fleacircus at 4:39 PM on January 18


"oh noes i sees a girl in my video game"

What the fuck is wrong with people? How are so many dudes just so goddamn stupid and awful?
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:43 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


From a verge comment: I agree its immersion breaking to have females in games like this. Its just simply not something i’ve ever seen in 1000s of hours of watching movies and war films so it look/sounds kinda weird,

Man, fuck that Verge commenter. "It's not realistic[ly an example of misogynist media]"
posted by Dysk at 4:49 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


And there's realistic mode. You are set to an able-bodied white man, because realism!

The surprising thing is that I'd bet you'd have a following. People play the Campaign for North Africa1 after all.

[1] a table top wargame simulation of the WWII campaign for North Africa. It is suggested to have 10 players (five for each side) and a quick game takes 1,500 hours.
posted by Mitheral at 5:05 PM on January 18


> But...you create the lore.

Ah yes, the Nuremberg Defense of Gaming strikes again.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 5:11 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


To be clear, I don't mean that I would be conflicted about including a female playable character. I obviously wouldn't. I mean I would be conflicted about judging the developers for not including one.
posted by 256 at 5:16 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I bet the real reason is they just don't want to pay for developing another player model, but their latent sexism surfaces in trying to make up an excuse after the fact.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 5:31 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


work needed with animations

This one always makes me boggle. Do they think female soldiers sashay?
posted by zompist at 5:52 PM on January 18 [14 favorites]


To be clear, I don't mean that I would be conflicted about including a female playable character. I obviously wouldn't. I mean I would be conflicted about judging the developers for not including one.

That was my understanding too; I was just urging you towards being judgey.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:56 PM on January 18 [12 favorites]


I have no interest in playing this game, and haven't even heard of it since reading this here. But I agree with I-Write-Essays in that it's likely is just cheaper to have no women characters. The sexism is there too, but the driving force is likely time/money. There's a reason why so many characters you see in games look alike, even with male/female or even male/female/cat-person/lizard-persons you find in some games, and that's because it's cheaper and easier to just have everything fit one standard body model.

Some game I read about recently was modded to remove clothing (eye-roll, but bear with me) from characters and underneath was a non-detailed sorta-male-resembling body. The female clothing, armor, etc was simply changed to make it look like breasts and wider hips were underneath to represent females, but the body model under every character was the same.

Adding female-resembling shapes to the pool of gear and outfits costs money. Plus, if there's player dialog lines recorded, they have to hire a second actor.

I enjoy playing video games, but many video games and most game development companies suck in general.
posted by SoberHighland at 6:21 PM on January 18


But it's worth noting and recognizing.

100%, and I apologize if it sounded like I thought it wasn't. It is totally worth calling out, I just get frustrated at how stupidly often this happens, complete with the same bad arguments.

The lore bit in particular is such a stupid and insulting response. The makeup of a fictional world is up to the creators, and if they wanted there to be people other than straight white dudes in it they could do it. The idea that because you lampshade an issue of diversity in the background material that it makes it OK is so dumb as to be unbelievable as an honest argument.
posted by tocts at 7:40 PM on January 18


you're a clerk. So the game starts with you getting off a boat[...]

And this was essentially my father's WW2 experience, from Egypt, across North Africa, up Italy to Trieste - he was shot at a few times .... but he had an essential military skill not available to the vast majority of the men at the time - he could type (he was a linotype operator) - which made him invaluable in the HQ company ... so yes completely realistic
posted by mbo at 7:40 PM on January 18 [9 favorites]


Stan Lee once remarked that Spider-Man should never be anything but a straight white man. These hard and fast rules applied sternly to a fantastically fictionalized universe are nonsense. The integrity of storytelling did not collapse when Miles Morales put on the mask.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:55 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]


Obligatory Cracked article. Check out #1.
posted by Melismata at 8:07 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


> Do they think female soldiers sashay?

obligatory link for how game designers think women move
posted by idiopath at 8:40 PM on January 18 [16 favorites]


These games should have a "realism" dial. If the authors erroneously believe that their restrictions on the types of characters represented are some kind of element of authenticity, then you can even make some sort of "100% real" the default.

So at 100% you'd play a cis white male who cannot magically heal from gunshot wounds, cannot run indefinitely without tiring, and can only carry a limited amount of ammunition. This "100% realistic" character would take damage from gangrene and sepsis as well as at the moment of being struck by a weapon, and would probably spend most of the story in an infirmary, if he's lucky.

Then people could dial back the "realism" to something that represents them and is actually enjoyable to play.

Of course the representation-avoidance is never actually about realism, but these muppets are always trying to have it both ways, aren't they?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 9:30 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Just a heads-up that using "females" rather than "women" is going to read pretty fucking badly to a lot of women.
posted by Dysk at 1:08 AM on January 19 [15 favorites]


Speaking of "but the lore" I actually wished Blizzard had taken the "hardcore lore" route by locking playable races by the gender of the owner of the credit card you used to register with the game. It would be the ultimate troll. So within the Night Elves.... only females can be Sentinels - warriors, hunters and rogues, while males can only be druids. Basically, if you're a guy, you're relegated to the healer role, supporting the girls who are holding the front line and doing damage.

Of course that would never work out, but it's hilarious to think about anyway.
posted by xdvesper at 2:24 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Reminder that in the 21st century, some productions have finally figured out that there's actually no reason women's armor needs to look different from men's armor: Phasma; Brienne

No one who has breasts wants them to be accentuated and defined in battle. That's not a thing.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:59 AM on January 19 [14 favorites]


The sexism is there too, but the driving force is likely time/money.
This is literally the definition of sexism. Deciding that representing women is optional and not budgeting for it over some other thing you budgeted for is sexism. You don't make that trade-off without deciding that women are optional and less valuable.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:08 AM on January 19 [26 favorites]


But I agree with I-Write-Essays in that it's likely is just cheaper to have no women characters. The sexism is there too, but the driving force is likely time/money.

They still have background animations, and voice overs, and music, all of which take time and cost money. And even if the money reason were the driving force (it's not, it's the excuse that everyone will accept, or enough people will), surely they could just do the less expensive thing and only have women as characters. Just one body shape! Nice and cheap!
posted by jeather at 7:01 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


ch1x0r: Deciding that representing women is optional and not budgeting for it over some other thing you budgeted for is sexism. You don't make that trade-off without deciding that women are optional and less valuable.

The male-as-default, women-are-optional sort of sexism is an industry-wide problem, yes, but it is so ingrained in the business of making videogames that if you're starting your own studio (pro tip: please don't do this, at least not with your own money!) and want to do things right (or at least in a very much less shitty way), you are going to have to come up with a lot of new ideas about how video games are produced to begin with.

This is not to say that it couldn't be done, but the problem is finding someone to take on the risk of doing it (i.e. money). Thanks, capitalism!

And yes, I too know a 5-person bootstrap outfit working on a 2d pixel art platformer that doesn't have these production issues, but that's not what we're talking about here now is it.
posted by Soi-hah at 7:55 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Fortunately the creators of Tarkov told us why they didn't include female playable characters, and it wasn't money.
Women can't handle the stress of war.
Please stop defending this shit as anything other than sexist. It's sexist. I don't even give a crap about this game but it isn't about the hard challenge of budgets and deadlines and excusing it as such is excusing pretty open sexism.
posted by ch1x0r at 9:42 AM on January 19 [15 favorites]


These hard and fast rules applied sternly to a fantastically fictionalized universe are nonsense.

Reactionary nerds give themselves away quicker than most because they always have an easier time imagining space aliens and intelligent armor and mutant cyborg tyrants than they do anyone other than themselves being heroic. It has to be a white dude because reasons, always. I love The Witcher 3, but it's pretty embarrassing that it contains more basilisks than people of color. Just, like, imagine a little harder, guys. It's pretty obvious what's happening when they holler about history at only these select times.

If anyone from a game studio hurting for an open world wargame pitch is reading though, I would like to play a big budget stealth strategy game about the Night Witches please. I want to sneak / scout, survive, and hide / maintain my planes by day, and set fascists on fire by night. Maybe tie upgades / progression to a system that's about maneuvering as a woman in the Soviet wartime bureaucracy? Memail me, we'll work it out.
posted by EatTheWeak at 9:51 AM on January 19 [13 favorites]


Yeah, let's be clear, the idea that it's a budgetary constraint falls apart when you try to think of any games that chose to have only women and not men for "budget reasons". The answer: functionally zero*.

This is sexism. At best, it's the sort of unconsidered sexism of assuming white dudes are the default. At worst, it's completely thought out and articulated sexism from people saying they're leaving women out because women are weak / women can't be heroes / women would be "unrealistic" / etc.

(* with enough digging maybe you'd find 1, but if so it'll be about a 99.99%/0.01% split)
posted by tocts at 10:13 AM on January 19 [8 favorites]


> excusing it as such is excusing pretty open sexism.

Please don't misunderstand, it's not an excuse. What I'm accusing them of is being so out of touch as to think that open sexism would constitute an excuse for unthinking callousness.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 10:16 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


If anyone from a game studio hurting for an open world wargame pitch is reading though, I would like to play a big budget stealth strategy game about the Night Witches please. I want to sneak / scout, survive, and hide / maintain my planes by day, and set fascists on fire by night. Maybe tie upgades / progression to a system that's about maneuvering as a woman in the Soviet wartime bureaucracy? Memail me, we'll work it out.

oo oo oo! There's a great tabletop roleplaying game about the Night Witches!
posted by hydropsyche at 8:56 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Since it's Tarkov, and fuck you, your appearance should be random, and get rerolled each time you die.

Rust actually did something like this: your in-game gender was randomly and permanently assigned to you based on your Steam player ID.

This was after a previous release that permanently assigned to each player a random penis size. What does that affect in Rust? Pretty much nothing. (It's not literally nothing; apparently it changes the size of the censorship block they put around your junk, which I find HILARIOUS.)
posted by chrominance at 9:35 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


> This one always makes me boggle. Do they think female soldiers sashay?
OK, in addition to a Night Witches game, I'd likely play the hell out of RuPaul's Call of Duty: Modern Drag Warfare. Just think of the power ups! Bonus points if the game includes an in-game dialogue/chat ability to throw shade instead of the usual homophobic/racist/sexist insults that most gamer bros spout at everyone else.
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 9:37 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I will begin to consider the validity of "women in combat games is not realistic" when a given game eliminates fast-effect health packs for minor injuries and the game takes weeks or months of player time for your character to recover from major injuries.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:52 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


There's a great tabletop roleplaying game about the Night Witches!

Seconding the recommendation. It's emotionally gruelling but deeply rewarding.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:21 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


As long as we’re plugging table top military RPGs, check out The Watch, about a fantasy land menaced by the Shadow, where women and non-binary people need to step up to defend themselves as the men succumb. It’s a grueling story of what you are willing to lose to protect what you love.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:27 PM on January 20


This one always makes me boggle. Do they think female soldiers sashay?

I do not intend to defend this developer's excuses at all, but I have some experience with adding women as playable characters to what was initially a men-only franchise, and in traditional game animation systems (which I'm assuming Tarkov uses) it actually does require a new set of animations because a different body shape, even between humans, requires a new animation rig (essentially a skeleton that defines where joints are and how long limbs are, etc).

It is possible to use the same rig for both male and female characters, but if it's a differently sized or shaped body you will notice strange offset things like hands not placed in the correct positions on weapons, parts of their body clipping into itself, etc. Twice the animations also takes up about twice the memory. Same is true for materials, models, voice sound effects, etc.

I'm not an animator myself, but I did design and scripting work on a multiplayer map which had a sort of Running Man gameshow theme and included an announcer who would comment on the actions the players did. Some of the lines said things like "He's gonna feel that in the morning!", so I simply had to write two versions of some lines of dialog, include a system to determine the gender of the player character in question and use the correct pronoun to describe them. It did require more work, but not nearly twice as much, and we felt it was worth it.

What they seem to be saying, and then trying to justify with "lore" or whatever, is that they didn't make a plan to include women and don't feel it is worth the effort to do so now (i.e. it will not bring in enough new players to justify the time/ expense).

In short, it does indeed take work to add additional character types, especially if they have differently-shaped bodies. The fact that women are considered "additional", however, is still rooted in sexism.
posted by subocoyne at 1:17 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


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