So, a while ago I blogged about Crackdown 2 and how players don't have the ability to have a female avatar. In today's scene, the developers' claims of technical limitations preventing them from including a non-male choice didn't ring true with me, and I was quite disappointed to hear that no efforts were being made to include female models. Still, even though the line about tech limits was their story and they were sticking to it, after getting hit by some of the feedback, they hinted that female characters might be available as DLC later on down the road.
Since most games that feature player customization give people the basic choice between male/female characters as a matter of course, I figured that Crackdown's mono-gendered approach was going to be the oddball exception; a one-off thing, or a blip on the radar that would quickly fade away. Unbelievably, that's not so.
A team-based shooter developed by Splash Damage and published by Bethesda, it was recently revealed that Brink has no options for female avatars despite one of its main features being incredibly deep avatar customization. Everything from race to body type to clothing, from the videos I've seen and the interviews I've read, it seems as though there are an absurd number of options for players… except being a female.
Interestingly, Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgewood has given speeches where he's publicly stated that one of the most important things is to be "AAA" in whatever you do. That's certainly a philosophy I can get behind, although I must admit that I'm having a little bit of trouble reconciling the concept that female characters aren't a part of AAA-level presentation.
So what's behind all this? Did Splash Damage think that no female players were going to be interested in their game, so why bother including them? Was it unthinkable to the devs that male players might want to choose a female avatar? Are they somehow biased against females, or perhaps even incapable of properly rendering female 3D models?
Doing a quick search of the Splash Damage message boards, a few of the threads feature "official" responses which basically state that the developers (allegedly) had a choice between having in-depth customization options for male characters, or having less options for both male and female. In the circumstance described, female avatars got the ax.
Now I can certainly understand the realities of operating under a budget and the drive to turn out the best product possible, but I have to admit that there's something very disturbing to me about having a choice between fifty different pieces of upper torso clothing or including an entire gender, and then deciding to go with the clothing. What does such a decision say about the attitude of Brink's developers, and the studio itself? What message will be taken away by female players who check out the game only to discover that they haven't been given any representation? Not including female avatar options might have seemed like nothing more than a practical choice to Splash Damage, but taking a look at the bigger societal picture and the changing face of today's gaming constituency, it's pretty clear to me that more that should've been taken into account.
Inclusion and respect, or outfits and haircuts? I'll take the former, thanks.