Catherine Cai got to grips with Call of Duty: Ghosts' multiplayer last night, including the infamous new female soldiers, and asked senior producer Yale Miller what took Infinity Ward so bloody long.
I got a hands-on demo with the Call of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer and interviewed an Activision representative last night. Yes, pretty explosions showed off the game's dynamic lighting and new game modes were discussed in vague, "we're clearly milking this for hype" fashion, but I'm not going to write about any of that. Quite frankly, the rest of the internet has me covered on that front.
As a lapsed and rather disinterested CoD player, I'm less keen on the new gameplay modes Infinity Ward unveiled and much more intrigued by what is regarded by most CoD fans as a superficial addition to the series: women soldiers.
No, I'm not decrying Infinity Ward and Activision's attempt at being more inclusive in any way. I'm all about the increasing prevalence of women characters in games. Really, my only thought when I saw a female soldier at the end of the multiplayer reveal trailer was: "What bloody took so long?"
Call of Duty's been around for a long while, and for that entire time, a majority of its audience has comprised of 18-35 white heterosexual males. Naturally, Activision's always catered to this market. As a war shooter, Call of Duty contains generally the things that one would expect of the genre—guns, violence, blood—essentially a lot of the stuff traditionally thought to appeal to those of the masculine persuasion.
Since women were left out of the equation, Activision saw no need to include a female avatar, because, of course, the 18-35 white males playing would only identify with male soldiers. In recent years, CoD fans have been clamoring for female soldiers to be added to the franchise. They were, for one reason or another, ignored, and, on the gender equality front, CoD fell behind Halo and even the testosterone-laden Gears of War series.
I sat down with Activision senior producer Yale Miller and asked him why, after all these years, Activision had finally decided to add women soldiers.
"Well I think it all started with the character customization stuff and it made sense, right?"
For those unfamiliar, Miller is referring to the beefed up character customization options in Ghosts. Previously, players could only customize the load outs of their characters. To make their characters unique and special snowflakes for Ghosts, Infinity Ward decided to open up the option for players to change the way their characters look.
"There are female soldiers in combat," said Miller. "Why shouldn't there be? It's one of those - and I know it's a story beat for this, but it's like, it just makes sense. That's the way it is. There are women in combat, so it's kind of a no-brainer. Why shouldn't they be? We get asked that question by girl gamers all the time, like, 'When are you going to put a female character in?' There should be."
Actually, there are currently no female US soldiers in combat roles as we would see in Call of Duty's multiplayer. Though American women have been allowed to serve in the military since the 1940s, women have pretty much been shepherded out of direct combat roles. Only recently has the US government finally lifted the 1994 ban on women in direct combat roles, with female soldiers expected to begin serving in 2016. "Realism" can't be used to explain why women are present now; and therefore, it's a bit silly to suggest it could be used to explain their absence either. So: why didn't Activision bother throwing in a female character model or two in past Call of Duty games?
I tried to make myself a little clearer. "Why did it take this long?" I asked him. Miller's response was on par with the one that Ghosts executive producer Mark Rubin gave Kotaku: "I think the character customization added that," Miller explained. "There's so much work.
"Character customization is not as easy as, 'Oh, we just did character customization.' There's a ton of engine and backend work to be done. If you think about it, you have the same texture in the game over and over again, if you had that and the game was all these walls made of the same texture. You only need that texture once, right? But when you've got all these different textures, all these different models, it's a whole lot of back end work that's needed to be done."
Essentially, Infinity Ward and Activision have tried to explain away the fact that female characters haven't existed in the Call of Duty games due to technical limitations. But really, the unsaid statement there is rather clear: adding a female character is a lot of work, and we didn't think it was worth our time until gamers were knocking down our doors to make it happen. I'd rather that Infinity Ward and Activision been straight with their audience about the reason why it took so long to add women into its multiplayer rather than trying to make themselves look blameless by offloading the issue on a technical problem.
Own up to your shortcomings, Infinity Ward, Activision. While bringing women to the multiplayer is something of a step forward for the series, I won't be applauding. Let's all think about this for a minute: should we really be celebrating the fact that women were added into the game after dogs?