'Rust' PC Survival Game Introduces Female Avatars & Their Reasons Are Pretty Great
One of the many things people point to in order to demonstrate sexism in the world of gaming is the fact that most playable game characters are male — but that is slowly beginning to change. Recently, the multiplayer survival game Rust began making some characters women, with players' genders assigned at random and without player input. Predictably, a lot of players aren't happy about it, but the developers are sticking by the decision — and, in fact, are making a terrific point with the whole thing.
Rust is a hugely popular indie game in which players are tasked with surviving in the wilderness, starting out with almost nothing. When it first launched in 2013, all players were white and male and looked more or less the same, but since then, the game has diversified player avatars in a variety of ways. First they decided to randomize players' race and facial features; then they also randomized penis size. And now, Rust has also introduced more than one gender into the mix as well.
As with the other updates, avatars' genders are selected at random, not chosen by players, which means that for a lot of players, their avatar just switched genders. For some, this came as quite a shock; indeed, many players seem upset about having to play as a woman. Some have even said that they'll stop playing the game in protest, which seems pretty extreme — after all, isn't half the point of video games to get out of your normal life and pretend to be someone else for a change? Plus, women have been stuck playing as male characters on games without customizable avatars for years now on most games, Rust included.
Indeed, the game developers are standing by their decision to randomize gender, though they knew it would be unpopular. They explain in a post:
We understand this is a sore subject for a lot of people. We understand that you may now be a gender that you don’t identify with in real-life. We understand this causes you distress and makes you not want to play the game anymore. Technically nothing has changed, since half the population was already living with those feelings. The only difference is that whether you feel like this is now decided by your SteamID instead of your real life gender.
Which really only seems fair. It's also probably a smart move for game makers if they're looking to expand their audience. After all, a mountain of evidence has shown that women and girls make up a huge percentage of gamers — in fact, up to 52 percent of the people playing video games are women. So having only male avatars is not the best way to send the message that this is the sort of game women would enjoy. Basically, in addition to being fair, it's also a sound business decision.
Playing as a character whose gender or racial identity is different from your own every now and then is not a bad thing. Having to do it all the time sucks, especially if its the exact same racial and gender identity every single time. But doing so every now and then is not going to hurt you. It might even be good for you — after all, imagining life as another, very different person is sort of how empathy happens.
The real question here though is just how realistic the new female avatars are. Since Rust is a survival game, will the players have to figure out how to deal with periods? Guess we'll have to wait and find out.