Battlestate Games — the developers of Escape from Tarkov — have come under fire for attempting to claim that they simply didn’t have the development resources to allow for the addition of female playable characters. That it would take valuable efforts away from adding additional gameplay features. Oh, and also — it was against the ‘lore’ of their world.
What lore that is wasn’t elaborated on.
Although there is an interview from three years ago where one of their developers said — get ready for this — that “We came to the conclusion that women can’t handle that amount of stress, there’s only place for hardened men in this place.”
In the interests of transparency — it is worthwhile noting that at least publicly, the developer’s stance on this interview comment is that it was worthy of reprimand and education. Nonetheless, it doesn’t quite track. Developers used to pull the ‘Oh, the development resources!’ excuse quite frequently around the turn of the decade. Ubisoft once infamously pulled this line out in regard to why they wouldn’t include female assassins in Assassin’s Creed Unity’s co-op as originally planned.
The reason it became an infamous instance is the response. An ex-Ubisoft animator Jonathan Cooper provided a rather public response stating it would take, ‘A day or two’s work’ to add playable female models.
Oops. There goes that excuse then, eh?
Off the back of this — Belghast and Roger both had things to say. Belghast went into just how important representation was to him, how the lack of such can lead to a lower sense of satisfaction with a title in quite a significant fashion. Roger figured that if Battlestate Games developers couldn’t be reached on moral grounds — perhaps a financial impact might sway them.
Unfortunately I’m not sure in this case there is much of an impact on dollars forthcoming. Or at least — not much of a one they’ve already committed to. To them they’re working on a niche, hardcore experience that will only appeal to a subset of gamers. Staying true to this vision, in their mind is likely seen as a virtue. Something to be preserved at all cost — even financial (within reason and ability to continue operating).
And here I’m going to make some assumptions of my own. Those being that unfortunately — the target audience of their game isn’t going to care about this in sufficient numbers to drive home a meaningful financial impact. I don’t mean to tar everyone who plays or may be interested in playing Escape from Tarkov with the same brush, just to say that the estimated losses from this sector will be small enough that Battlestate Games are not going to be sufficiently pushed to change their underlying beliefs.
And it is those beliefs that are so problematic — the belief that women simply can’t be seen as even potentially surviving within the harsh reality of their game world. Through and through sexist and abhorrent.
For what it’s worth — despite what I said on the likelihood of a significant enough financial impact; I hope I’m wrong. I know there will be some who would’ve otherwise been interest and have now been turned off. Hell — I am one of those people. I had been waiting for a launch on a bigger digital sales platform rather buying from them direct. We can count that right out now.
All the Tarkov drama aside though? And talking to representation in gaming more generally?
I have to acknowledge that I struggle to understand at a deep, visceral, emotive level the importance of having the ability to make a video game character that is like you. Video game characters to me are a vehicle. My avatar within whatever game I’m experiencing. But it is not me. There is a disconnect. I can be equally happy playing Geralt in the Witcher as Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn or Carl Johnson in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Hell, give me too much in the way of customisation and I’m as like as not to just hit random until I find something I like.
Belghast’s personal preferences here are at a polar opposite to mine.
“There have been games that I absolutely did not play because they had shitty beard options.”Belghast (2020) — Player Representation in Game Characters (Tales of the Aggronaut)
So clearly even within the realm of straight, white, middle-aged males there is plenty of scope for difference in personal opinion. At the deep, emotive personal level I struggle to relate to it.
But when I really push myself — when I try to imagine what it might be like to go through life as a person of colour. Or gay. Or gender-queer. To be not only explicitly marginalised in a million different ways day in and day out, but implicitly too by my media of choice barely acknowledging people like me exist?
I can’t make any claim to true understanding — I can’t. I lack the life experience to do so. But I can feel it enough to make the intellectual level easy. To believe without any reservation that everyone has the right to be represented. To be validated. Hell, to simply be acknowledged.