There's been another video- game bomb dropped in the gender-equality wars, because it looks like women will be ready to report for duty on one of the biggest franchises coming to next-gen consoles. Call of Duty: Ghosts, that is.
The upcoming title for both the current gen and Xbox One and PlayStation 4 has been getting previewed a lot lately, but according to Kotaku's Stephen Totilo, a multiplayer promotional video released this week features something entirely new: a female multiplayer character.
That would be a first for Activision's biggest franchise, which enjoys immense online multiplayer popularity but never has featured a playable female character before. Considering how long the series has run, it's amazing that developer Infinity Ward just now thinks it's time to try this, as much as they're touting it.
"Our fan base is huge," executive producer Mark Rubin told Kotaku. "We cover such a dramatic range of people who play our game that we wanted to be as inclusive as we possibly could with character customization. And that's where the idea came from. Why wouldn't we have a female (option) then?"
Don't go thinking this is a coup for women's rights, however; Totilo wrote that the change is more about technological capabilities than trying to strike a blow for equal rights. Rubin said the option to model a female multiplayer character, long available on titles like Halo and Gears of War, came down to what the software could do.
"A lot of it was the engine. Our previous engine would not handle that. The way memory worked in the previous engine, it never would have been able to do that," Rubin said. "When we got a chance to re-tool the engine completely, that gave us the opportunity to make the change that we could have character customization. That then gave us the opportunity to do female characters."
The only other time a female has been playable was during the campaign in 2004's Call of Duty: Finest Hour — a partial stage as a Russian sniper named Tanya Pavelovna. Despite the modeling features shown for multiplayer, Ghosts may or may not have a playable female character in its campaign.
Multiplayer addicts have had an affinity for female characters for years. What few games that offered it wrote in features that made women smaller and faster, giving them an advantage in multiplayer, most notably in Metal Gear Online. That was considered unfair by those who favored testosterone, even factoring in that female characters are usually made weaker, as well. It won't be an issue with Ghosts, Rubin said.
"Even on the female characters, we can't make them smaller," Rubin told Kotaku. "They have to have gear on them that makes them the same size as male players. We need to be fair. It has to be fair from a game-play standpoint. They might look differently, but they'll fill the same area so that your hit-boxes aren't out of whack."
Of course, this may lead to an inevitable backlash, considering the nature of the game in question. Setting aside for the moment that it appears the character model previewed apparently applies at least some makeup, the Call of Duty franchise is graphically violent, and its online community is full of players whose attitudes can skew toward juvenile on the best day. Goodness only knows what disgusting shenanigans will be wrought upon female characters by an audience that popularized tea-bagging dead avatars.
But despite whatever debates that may ensue after the fact, the truth remains that Infinity Ward and Activision are addressing the desires of its audience, at least some of whom are actually female. Even though women have been largely excluded from direct combat roles in the U.S. armed forces, a cultural shift that accepts females in battle is literally at play here.
It's also more than can be said for DICE's upcoming Battlefield 4, which has opted not to allow female characters in the upcoming release, in either multiplayer or campaign mode.
"This time around, everything from direction to actors, to how we built the engine to deliver the human experience and connection to these digital actors, we've also chosen to go for one main character that you play, and with that, that is not a woman, as you might have noticed," creative director Lars Gustavsson told VideoGamer.com in March. "The geopolitics is more of a backdrop to what happens, it's more (about) you and your group, and we chose to pick a man for it. It seemed to suit the story.
"Trust me, there are a million things I would like to do, it's just that you can't pick them all."
But you'd think you could pick at least two.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinion at firstname.lastname@example.org.