On inclusivity

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Of the many embarrassing elements of videogames, surely none are more obvious than a more-than-occasional lack of inclusivity. From homophobes on Xbox Live to breast physics, it’s something that comes up too often for me to feel like the medium has really matured. Two tidbits over the last few days have really caught my attention on this issue.

First, Ruffian Games’ creative director Billy Thomson explained to Tracey John at 1UP that there’d be no female avatars in Crackdown 2 because of technical limitations. Thomson:

“When it came to Crackdown 2, you’ve got four players (in cooperative play), and that means every single player can be a different character and that has to be in memory all the time. We had to save memory all over the place because we’ve got so much more content in this game than we had in the first game. We don’t stream. It’d be great (to have female characters), but what we were going to lose didn’t seem like it’d be worth it. If we had more memory, it’d be okay.”

I understand that animation budgets can be stretched, and making a significantly different character model can be taxing, but it simply seems bizarre that this argument passes for acceptable. Clearly, the argument boils down to one of priorities: the inclusion of female avatars in Crackdown 2 will cost, and won’t add much to sales, says Thomson. As The Borderhouse pointed out, it would be a different story if the situation were reversed.

Secondly, BioWare’s Casey Hudson and Ray Muzyka told Tracey John (again, but this time for Kotaku) that there aren’t any homosexual relationship options in Mass Effect 2 because, at best, they didn’t see Shepard as gay. Muzyka:

Sometimes, in some of our games, we are going to have a defined character with a more defined view.

Muzyka then goes on a spiel about “continuing to enable player choice”, but I don’t buy it. The simple answer is that Shepard just isn’t that strongly defined for us to accept any developer-imposed decrees about his/her sexuality. Remember that this is a game where you choose an entire backstory for your protagonist.

The even simpler answer is that BioWare, scared by the limp sex scandal from the first Mass Effect decided to avoid further entanglements with moral crusades. Hudson:

We still view it as… if you’re picturing a PG-13 action movie. That’s how we’re trying to design it. So that’s why the love interest is relatively light.

Apparently, inclusiveness and freedom of gender roles just isn’t that PG.


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Daniel Golding

Daniel Golding is a Melbourne-based writer and PhD student, and a founding editor of RedKingsDream. You may follow Daniel on Twitter, or view his online portfolio here.

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4 comments

  1. [...] trailer all gets a bit Michael Bay-like, only good.Interesting… Assorted bits and pieces On Inclusivity, at RedKingsDream, is well worth a read.Religion in games is not so much a leap of faith, but more [...]

  2. The Bioware response is mind-bogglingly absurd. Mainly because Female Shepard is perfectly able to pursue a romantic relationship with a female-looking alien. You could argue that Asaris are not “female”, but this argument doesn’t hold water.

    I’ve said it before, but here goes: there is two way to look at the Liara/Female Shepard relationship. On the one hand, Shepard may be attracted to Liara on an aesthetic level, in which case, nothing stops her from being attracted to women in general; on the other hand, Shepard may be able to transcend aesthetics, which pretty much shows when she has sex with aliens. Both cases point in the direction of a constructivist take on gender and sexuality.

    And now, we get the “Shepard’s not gay, sorry folks!”. Gah. That sentence is wrong on so many levels. What Muzyka should have said is “When Shepard cannot initiate a romance with a team member, it just means the character in question is not interested.” Sure, it’s a cop-out, but it’s a much more coherent one.

    They’re basically admitting that lesbian relationships are perfectly acceptable in a “PG-13 action movie”, but gay ones are not. Which is the worst cliché in the book.

    Bioware is one of my favorite game studios; it’s hard to lose respect for people you look up to.

    In short: great post.

  3. [...] when we’re talking about inclusivity in games, remember that it’s not an isolated issue. It’s not “just a game”. It’s an influence on a [...]

  4. [...] guide to E3, 2010″ “When the trailer is better than the game” “On inclusivity” “What my television set can learn from videogames” “The year of thirds” [...]

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