Call of Duty: No Longer Just a Man's World

It's not just dudes who play Call of Duty, and now you don't have to play as one, either.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

Call of Duty has always embodied the quintessential stereotype of video games -- seemingly aimed directly at the classic "white 20-something male" demographic -- even if that stereotype has long since been proven dead and moot. Heavily armed, high-tech soldiers from America's armed services (and those of our allies), running around racking up kill streaks and interacting with the world through the language of destruction. Toys for the boys.

But the latest entry in the series, this fall's Ghosts, makes a few changes to the Call of Duty toybox. The manly men of the series will be joined by both a non-human character -- a German Shepard named Riley, who instantly became an Internet meme at his debut during Microsoft's Xbox One announcement event -- and non-male characters. While the former plays a major role in both the campaign and multiplayer modes of the game, so far we've only seen women as an optional character skin for multiplayer.

And that's literally all women are in Ghosts: A cosmetic change. "In terms of mechanics, female characters only differ from male in that we've added some special animations," says Activision senior producer Yale Miller. "As far as hit detection and hitbox, will [women] have an advantage? I know there are guys with other games who say, 'Well I need to play as a female character because they're harder to hit,' -- and no, that won't be the case here.

All's equal in war: The female characters in Ghosts look just as poe-faced as the men.

"They can do everything we can do," he told me in an interview at Activision's Ghost multiplayer review event. "Most times better," he added, laughing.

Which is as it should be. Ghosts doesn't make any real distinctions between male and female soldiers: They share the same skills, the same physical capabilities, the same physical resilience. They're definitely not meant to be eye candy, either, as they come decked out in the same bulky BDUs as their male counterparts. I built a custom female character out of curiosity and had exactly the same experience as I did with a male avatar (I died pathetically and frequently); the only difference is that instead of controlling some beefy meathead, I was playing as a woman who looked for all the world like Corporal Ferro from Aliens. Which, let's be honest, is rad.

The prospect of handicapping female characters never came up over the course of development, Miller says. "I don't think it was ever discussed, 'Should they have specific characteristics?' We want people to be able to play as whoever they want to play as. Women are in combat. For character customization, it seems like a no-brainer to [add females]. At the end of the day, [Infinity Ward] is going to do what's best for the game -- but no, that never came up."

And, like Cpl. Ferro, I'm usually the first to die in a match.

That same egalitarian sense extends to Riley as well. While players can't control the dog directly -- "You get a killstreak and your character whistles and Riley comes in," explains Miller -- he becomes a normal element of the battlefield. And that means, somewhat surprisingly, that Riley can die. "He'll take bullets and die like anything else," Miller confirms.

Of course, Miller is speaking of the multiplayer portion of the game here; "I get more questions about 'You better not kill that damn dog!' than anything ever," is all he'll say about Riley's role in the campaign. But Riley serves as a perk, similar to drones and other supplemental combat tools, and he'll stay in play until either he dies or the player does. Sometimes beyond: "After you die, sometimes he'll be able to take out the guy who killed you," Miller adds.

"The way Riley works is if an enemy comes within range of you -- even if you don't have eyes on the enemy -- he'll start to growl. So he's kind of an early warning system. If someone fires on you and they're within a certain radius, Riley will go after him. It's much more complex than that, but that's the basic view of how his AI works."

Riley's vulnerability actually comes as something of a surprise, as video games tend to be squeamish about depicting harm to animals. Take last year's Mark of the Ninja, for example: Players really had to work to take down human opponents non-lethally, but when it came to dogs you could only stun them; the only way to kill a dog was to cause an enemy to gun it down. Being able to take down Riley directly flies very much in the face of video game trends.

Dogs look just as silly as people in mo-cap suits. But it's still more dignified than making them wear tiny tuxedos.

Miller stands by the team's decision. "There may have been conversations about [whether or not to allow Riley to be killed], but I wasn't involved in them. In the end, it's a video game.

"The truth of the matter is, there are dogs in combat, and there are dogs that get wounded, and it's a reality. So shying away from that... are we trying to make the game totally realistic? Absolutely not! But all the Riley stuff really came out of initial talks with the SEALs and actual service dog handlers and understanding what the dogs do. It made sense.

"And there's nothing more satisfying in the game when your dog gets killed and you take down the guy who did it and earn a "best friend" badge. You're like, 'That's right! That's what you get for killing my dog.'"

I wouldn't suggest that the addition of women and dogs to the Call of Duty universe represents some kind of significant sea change for the series, but it does reinforce the developers' intention to deviate from expectations with Ghosts. These new options come in addition to the campaign's story, which sees America devastated under the heel of a foreign conquerer and forced to fight back with ragtag rebel warfare -- quite the change from the series' standard fare of the U.S. as a superior military power.

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Comments 19

  • Avatar for Shadowfire #1 Shadowfire 4 years ago
    Dogs being killed in CoD games isn't really new. Though, unlike those games, this would be the first one that the player will (presumably) form a bond with.
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  • Avatar for MailboxesEtc #2 MailboxesEtc 4 years ago
    Why is this even newsworthy? A girl! Omg! Who cares. It's just a character. It will continue to be mainly the same game forever. Give some insight into the gameplay not some arbitrary new 'feature' where your character isn't a guy.
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  • Avatar for cassandrakhaw #3 cassandrakhaw 4 years ago
    @MailboxesEtc Because it's nice to be able to wear your own skin for ladies, I suppose. Like, it's weird and it's entirely possible that it's just me but I always get a jolt of delight whenever I get the option to play my own gender especially when it doesn't involve a midriff-baring vixen. To see a big-budget franchise like Call of Duty going, 'You know what? We need to make stuff available to our female demographic' is wonderful because it's inductive of so many things.

    I could go on, but I think I'm supposed to write an article base don these thoughts.. *trails off*
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  • Avatar for mikey126 #4 mikey126 4 years ago
    i don't understand the need to "connect" with video game characters...people seem to be able to enjoy books,movies and everything else without a character that reminds them of themselves...just seems like more pandering to me,as i don't see any little people,people in wheelchairs,amputees,i mean, wheres the outrage? don't these groups of people who play cod deserve to be represented? meh :)
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  • Avatar for Cba1 #5 Cba1 4 years ago

    Yeah right , every i see in terms of adverstising from CoD is targeted at the dudebr0 demographic (skip to sec 49)Edited August 2013 by Cba1
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  • Avatar for jeffk #6 jeffk 4 years ago
    @mikey126 Can I take a guess that you're a white male?
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  • Avatar for mikey126 #7 mikey126 4 years ago
    @jeffk yeah don't address the point just try attack me for not "getting it"...let me guess you're a bleeding heart liberal?
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  • Avatar for jeffk #8 jeffk 4 years ago
    @mikey126 I'l take that as a yes. I'm not attacking you—I'm just pointing out that you most likely automatically "connect" on some level with 99 percent of video game characters without even thinking about it. If practically every game you played had you controlling, say, a different Hispanic woman, you'd probably start noticing it.

    Also, tossing around meaningless phrases like "bleeding heart liberal" won't encourage anyone to take your views seriously (assuming you eventually find some serious views to voice).
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  • Avatar for mikey126 #9 mikey126 4 years ago
    @jeffk because every game has a white male protagonist right? im so sorry for forgetting that 100% true fact....and i was just generalizing you based off of a comment you made the same way you did me,learn sarcasm,its a fun time :)
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  • Avatar for presidentcamacho #10 presidentcamacho 4 years ago
    So now the hand you see holding the gun will have nail polish? Yawn.
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  • Avatar for Matt-Liparota #11 Matt-Liparota 4 years ago
    @presidentcamacho Keep being a class act. You'll go far.Edited August 2013 by Matt-Liparota
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  • Avatar for Matt-Liparota #12 Matt-Liparota 4 years ago
    @MailboxesEtc "Insight on the gameplay."

    Go play any Call of Duty from the last seven years.

    Congratulations! You've got all the insight you need on the gameplay.
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  • Avatar for jeffk #13 jeffk 4 years ago
    @mikey126 You'll go back to trolling YouTube and IGN comments after this thread dies down, right?
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  • Avatar for mikey126 #14 mikey126 4 years ago
    @jeffk i never troll good sir...merely pointing out the fact that the only reason this article and others like it are written is because the female gaming population makes enough noise to get noticed, as opposed to the countless other categories of gamers who are never represented in video games and don't make a big fuss about,movies,books etc are meant for people to enjoy the story being presented to you by the author,as i previously stated games are the only one held to this silly standard of having to relate to the protagonist :)
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  • Avatar for cassandrakhaw #15 cassandrakhaw 4 years ago
    @mikey126 I'm going to refrain from commenting on any other aspect of your argument. But, at least one of the mediums you've talked about, by and large, have a wider range of characters that people can relate to. Black people? Everywhere. Asian people? /Disabled/ people? Yes. The unloved, unwanted second son? There too. Female lesbian bad-asses? Sure. Giant insects. Keep them coming.

    Were 90% of the books in the world written for only a small demographic, I suspect there'd be indignant flailing too.
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  • Avatar for mikey126 #16 mikey126 4 years ago
    @cassandrakhaw books (or their ancient equivalents) have existed for thousands of years,movies for almost 150 games that have been modern enough to support actual characters and storylines have been around for what,20 years? so comparing the mediums in their overall variety is a bit silly...if there had NEVER been a game that featured a female character,then maybe you would have a point...but there have been several already,as well as representations of just about every group out there....the industry is run by mostly white males at the moment so of course there is bound to be a few more white male tales than other because most authors write from their own perspective...but meh :)
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  • Avatar for cassandrakhaw #17 cassandrakhaw 4 years ago
    @mikey126 You know, I actually agree with that. Video games are still very, very new (though I think the older staff members might complain about the whole 'games only started supporting actual characters and stories in the last 20 years or so' bit. XD). I'd argue that it's not just a 'few more white male tales', though. That's being a tad generous, I think.

    Having said that, I think there's a lot to do with the fact that people are feeling bolder about expressing a desire for their rights these days. And as such, I suppose it's only natural that people'd want things to happen faster as opposed to waiting for another century.

    Chalk it up to impatience, I guess? You've got a point, but I really do think, in many situations, it's a case of people having a voice and not wanting it to be silenced again.
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  • Avatar for mikey126 #18 mikey126 4 years ago
    @cassandrakhaw generous sure,but its light years ahead of where it was just last gen,so i think the industry is taking care of the problem just fine...alot more games feature create a character these days and i think that will only become more prevalent in next gen with alot more hard drive space to work with,and being able to just put yourself into a game via the new at that point you can play as whoever you'd like and this will become a non-issue :)
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