Crytek's Warface is the company's first dip into the world of free-to-play gaming. The military shooter depicts a near-future conflict, but the character models don't skew too far from the realistic military gear featured in upcoming games like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4. Well, unless you decide that you want your avatar to be a woman. If that's the case, you have to be willing to allow a bit of artistic license.
They were very comfortable with the fact we have these very realistic-looking men but they wanted the women to be not what we would think of as realistic at all
Warface launched first in China and Russia, so those communities have had time to provide feedback on the addition of female skins. Their first results don't stray too far from the gaming norm: cleavage-showing v-neck shirts, boob windows, and bare midriffs. In an interview with Wired UK, Warface executive producer Josh Howard admits that it could've been much worse.
"The female skins [are] a good example of how we see how culturally the different regions approach the same game in different ways," Howard said. "The skins we're showing right now are the skins that basically came out of our Russian region. They're not what our players at first requested in the Russian region. They tended to be considerably more extreme that what we ended up shipping with."
Those "extreme" requests included unrealistic physical proportions, more revealing clothing, and even high heels in combat. Howard said Crytek didn't go all the way with fan requests because Warface "has an authenticity to it that makes sense for us," but the company did want to listen to its fanbase.
"They were very comfortable with the fact we have these very realistic-looking men but they wanted the women to be not what we would think of as realistic at all," he explained. "Up to and including running round in high heels which is just silly, right?"
"We leaned a little Russian in these characters but we're doing another set of characters for our Chinese market, for example, and those are leaning in a different direction," he added. "It's interesting to see they are also somewhat unrealistic as compared to the males but differently than the Russians. [...] You look at the Chinese models and they're also disproportionate but in a way that's more... Chinese? I don't even know what language to use for that but they're different."
"You get these little differences you have to adjust for. The idea we were going to come up with one set of female skins across the world was clearly blown out of the water as we started to talk to more of our players and partners from different regions."
We're just getting to the point where modern first-person shooters are regularly adding the option for women as player characters. That's a good thing, but the problem is that's affected by how we handle women characters in games period. 'Woman' generally equals revealing skin and unrealistic body types in some fashion, even if it makes absolutely no sense for the setting. Which is ultimately boring. Yeah, not morally wrong, just very boring.
Call of Duty - which just added women to its online multiplayer with this year's Ghosts - stands out for the fact that clothing options for men and women are exactly the same, but for most games across the entire industry, that's not the case. When there's parity in clothing items between genders, as it is with Final Fantasy XIV most of the time, I actually find that rather refreshing. I didn't like my FFXIV gladiator's subligar, but I acknowledge that it's rather close to what female avatars work with in most MMOs. Or there's the other free-to-play 'War', Warframe, which has models for women that tend to mirror the ones for men.
I'm just tired and bored of that status quo. There's no outrage, no surprise in me anymore. "Of course your women characters look like that," I remark quietly to myself in certain demos. At this point, making few changes between the genders - which you would think is the easy way out - is different. I tire of certain prevailing ideas. The idea that women in games have a default state, and that default state is 'more skin than men' is frankly exasperating. The idea that it's so odd for women in combat to look like this:
The idea that these themes are so entrenched in popular culture that we should all just throw our hands in the air and give up. The idea that anyone asking, 'hey, maybe less of that, please' is trying to censor artists. So many ideas making me so tired.
Developers, you have the entirety of human history and imagination to pull ideas from. You don't have to do elves and orcs, faceless corporations, gritty bald marines, and boob windows until the end of time. You can do that stuff, but play around a bit. Switch it up. Trust me, it'll be a good thing.