Friday, May 7, 2010

Brink: No Girls Allowed  

Games: 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.

Enter Brink.

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.

Splash Damage HQ

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

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15 comments: to “ Brink: No Girls Allowed


    That is pretty silly. If time is being put in to make a very comprehensive avatar system then I see no reason why even basic female avatars could be placed. It sounds like Brink is hoping to pride itself on the variety of customisation options it'll have so it's quite an oversight!

    Admittedly on a personal level I very rarely choose a female avatar in single player games. MMOs I stick to my gender usually but I'm not a big customisation person on the whole. I know of people who do spend a long time getting everything just right though so the option should be there if you ask me.

    Oh and this comment comes courtesy of sleep deprivation so apologises if it makes no sense!


    I'm actually disappointed in a lot developers when they choose to make games where avatar customization is endless, yet there is no female option. Every time I watch my boyfriend play a WRPG, he almost always immediately goes for a female avatar over a male.

    I agree with Jennifer, int he case of Brink it sounds the developers were looking out for their macho-pride versus who they think their target audience is. Sure, most of your target audience is male, but most males would rather be female characters if given that option. I think of all my guy friends, and when given the option to be a chick they go for it and deck her out to be as super sexy and sassy as they can make her.

    I'm not sure why developers see making female avatars as a liability or as being an extra cost. If you can make over 50 different pieces of body armor, the least you could do is give me the option to play as my gender IF I so choose. Don't make a female character DLC, make her apart of the experience from the beginning.

    I get the need to be triple-A, but there are just as many girls out there playing those triple A games, as there men out there loving the heck out of the next Harvest Moon title.

    I think this line spoke to me the most probably because it rings more true in Brink's case: "Are they somehow biased against females, or perhaps even incapable of properly rendering female 3D models?"

    I think sometimes the game industry forgets that there is now a large female demographic playing their games, and this assumption of women playing games usually extends to them often being only casual gamers. While I do feel it's gotten a bit better over the last few years, it's still somewhat disappointing to still see the low-representation of women in a lot of games. Give me a strong woman that exists or that I can craft myself and I'd be pretty happy. :)

    Sorry if this is long-winded, Brad! I could go on and on for hours on this subject matter.


    Game companies who don't think I exist as demographic (a woman who plays games?!) can suck it. I'll spend my considerable disposable income on BioWare products.


    Pretty ridiculous, if you ask me. A company that chooses to alienate a large part of its potential player base in favor of more customization for male avatars doesn't seem very intelligent to me. That's basically what they're doing, too - alienating potential customers.
    Why on earth would you want to do that? Personally I like to play both male and female avatars, but since I'm female I tend to gravitate to picking out the female avatar first. They don't need to be decked out in tons of customization options, I just like knowing that my gender is available to me. I am also friends with a transgendered person (male to female) and know that she prefers playing with female avatars, too. And then of course as you mentioned in your blog, some males just like playing female characters. I have a buddy in Australia that only makes female characters.
    So really, it's about limiting choices in favor of...whoop-dee-do...more customization. Oh great, so now a male character can choose between a studded belt and a spikey one, or something, but I can't play as a chick?



    So, Brad, did you feel alienated when you couldn't make Bayonetta a male? What about with Mirror's Edge? Or Beyond Good & Evil.

    It's one thing for games like Dragon Age to give you the male/female option since you're creating the character, but these other games, you're inhabiting a story and playing a role that is pre-determined.

    Are movie goers upset that they didn't get to see Jason Bourne as a female? Are we upset that we can't hit a button on our remote and change Buffy to a male?

    The story has a certain cast of characters in it. You play as those characters. Or don't. But this rush to be offended strikes me as rather sad.


    >Jennifer, Sam, Ann and Dana:
    Thanks so much for your comments. Very, very much appreciated.

    >Doug: I don't know how much you know about Brink -- maybe you’ve heard something I haven't -- but from all accounts, Brink is a team-based shooter that does not have a “main character” the way that games like Bayonetta, BG&E, or Mirror’s Edge do. In fact, I'm not even sure that there is a story at all.

    In all likelihood, the game will feature a series of discrete levels or campaigns, since a large focus is online multiplayer, and that kind of design is similar to the previous games Splash Damage has turned out. This time around, the developers have said that customizing characters is one of the biggest draws, and it's pretty clear from the interviews and videos that players will be able to go very in-depth when they design their avatars… black/white/asian/latino, small/medium/large build, tattoos, armor, clothing, hairstyles, skin tone/textures, on and on and on…

    In the case of a game like this where there is no central story-driven plot (at least, that I know of… please correct me if I’m wrong) it doesn't make any sense to include all of these options yet completely omit even the most basic female avatars.

    On the other hand, in the case of story-driven games where there is a script, a carefully-designed character, and emphasis on a narrative arc, I've got no issue whatsoever with not being able to choose the gender of my character. I'm totally fine with Bayonetta being a female, Marcus and Dom being males, Lara Croft being surgically-enhanced, Alan Wake being married and hetero, and so on… it's pretty clear that those games are delivering a game that does not focus on choice, and that's 100% A-OK with me. You know how much I like story in my games.

    That said, in Brink’s particular case with its style of design and emphasis on “make your own character”, I still think it's pretty disappointing and exclusionary that you can create just about any kind of male that you want, but women are off-limits.


    Great article!

    Although I understand how the non-availabilty of a female avatar might upset some, it honestly doesn't bother me.

    If my only option is to play as a male(which I normally do anyway) it's definitely not a deal maker/breaker, and never has been for me, but it's nice to see developers inlcuding playable female avatars.

    Now, if the option to be a female Grey Warden in Dragon Age hadn't been there, that would have been a completely different story because I couldn't have wooed Alistair... ;)


    I read an article about this in GameInformer fairly recently by Meagan Vanburkleo and the developers just stuck to this lame claim that it's "so much more work" to create female frames. Even Nintendo in response to why someone like Princess Peach wasn't a playable character instead of two dumpy Toads in NSMB Wii -- They said it was more work to animate her skirt and whatnot while the Toads just used Mario's frame for animation. Sad, I know!

    I understand it's more work, but I (clearly) find it easier to associate with a character when I create them myself, in my respective gender. I expect it in RPGs, but would like to see it happen more in other genres, other than those telling an obvious narrative like Alan Wake.

    Although, every single enemy in Alan Wake is a hillbilly male, and it goes to say -- there are plenty of hillbilly ladies out there representin'. It gets hella boring fighting the same shadowy hillbilly after the same shadowy hillbilly all day...


    This is sexist even if it doesn't seem like it to some.

    The argument that it is too much work or would cost more doesn't fly. Imagine saying to someone in wheelchair, "Yeah dude we blocked the door at the ramp entrance with a giant potted plant...oops too heavy to move....sorry." Imagine saying "Oh our cool dynamic lighting system in the game makes avatars with brown skin look washed-out, so it was just 'easier' to make everyone white.

    The point is you make the effort and you spend the time and you treat everyone with respect. Saying "Yeah, we wanted women avatars; but it was just cheaper and easier to leave them out." is a very bad answer. At that point your are admitting it is not about art, story or all about just being sexist, out-of-touch, lazy jerks.


    Hi Brad. An interesting read for sure, but I have to disagree. I wrote a response on my blog:


    Thanks for your response Brad. To save you having to go back to my blog, I'll post my follow-up here:

    One of my Twitter followers said something similar to your point about finding a solution. He said he thought the decision was bizarre because it could have been made early in the project.

    I think the point I’m trying to make is that it really doesn’t matter where in the development you try to implement this; some things in game development will always take a long time and/or a lot of staff. This is definitely one of them. By including a female avatar, any amount of time/budget you spend on the character modelling, clothes, animation or technology behind getting that character in-game will be effectively doubled.

    Regardless of when you discuss the idea of female avatars, there is NO solution to that problem that doesn’t significantly compromise other areas of the game, unless you have a bottomless bank account and no release date to work to.

    Limiting the character selection to one gender allows them to polish everything else to a high degree, whilst still allowing for incredibly deep customisation of your character that will satisfy (most!) customers. I for one would rather have the game limited to one gender and for the rest of the game to be polished to perfection, than have a choice of male or female and everything else not be quite so robust.

    As far as I’m concerned, they’ve done a great job balancing the scope of the project against their vision.


    Hi…..i really like your cool website! I only wish you had games to play.


    Yea can't wait for the game. It looks insane.


    What a cool game it is, besides this game, I noticed a few other games that are only made for men, it is odd but not a big deal, there are plenty of games for chicks as well.sv77


    Wow, nice post,there are many person searching about that now they will find enough resources by your post.Thank you for sharing to us.Please one more post about that..