Face, meet palm. On last week’s Kotaku podcast, Gordon Van Dyke, producer of recently-released Battlefield: Bad Company 2, attempted to explain why there aren’t any women in his game, but the reason isn’t anything female gamers haven’t heard before:
“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].
In short, technological limitations meant adding female characters would have cut into the engine’s ability to handle other things, such as the destructible environment, and the developers decided that destructible environments add more to the game than female characters would.
The story is rather ironic because BC2 was developed by DICE, the same studio behind Mirror’s Edge, whose producer described ME’s protagonist, Faith, as a deliberate attempt to improve the representation of women in games.
Van Dyke’s reasoning came across as a bad excuse to me, as well as others. GamingAngels.com’s Trina said, “I don’t buy Gordon Van Dyke’s reasoning since Halo & other titles have done it.” Plenty of shooters have female playable characters as well as female enemies, such as Mass Effect 1 & 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Left 4 Dead 1 & 2. Border House contributor Jadelyn said that “those excuses are just a way of saying women weren’t *important* enough for them to devote resources to.” Many of the problems of not having the technology or resources for female characters can be solved by planning for them in the first place, instead of considering them an extra feature that would be nice to implement but inevitably gets cut. KC quipped, “But we can’t afford teh wimminz! And those boob physics are just so hard to program!” Indeed, female characters aren’t that different from male ones, especially if they are in armor or uniforms.
But when it comes down to it, as a critic, I don’t really care whether there aren’t any female characters because the developer ran out of time or money, or there are technical limitations, or if they forgot, or if they are raging misogynists*. The result is the same: the developer has created a universe without women in it, and I’m going to criticize that.
What also bothers me is the framing of the article, which posits innovation and inclusion as mutually exclusive, that focusing on representing women in games is not as important as, if not a barrier to, innovative gameplay. For example:
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?
Wow, way to completely undercut the achievements of a feminist icon! But seriously, it’s entirely possible to innovate without doing it at the expense of women. In addition, that sentence also implies that innovation is always more important than being inclusive to women. More important to men, perhaps. But men aren’t the only gamers, and they’re not the only gamers that matter, either. At this point in the gaming world, inclusion is still a deeply important issue for many female gamers since, for the most part, we aren’t included. The idea that interesting gameplay is worth getting rid of female characters is a privileged perspective, one that doesn’t completely understand what it is like to participate in a culture that routinely excludes you, or how important and meaningful those few female characters that do exist are.
The post ends with:
Do female characters need to be put in virtual combat? Or, more to the point, are they more important than crumbling walls?
Women: less important than walls. Ouch. Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!
* I care as a consumer what the reason is, because obviously I wouldn’t buy any games from raging misogynists, but when criticizing a game, the reason doesn’t matter.