Is the Gaming World Ready for Women in Combat?

It's currently very slim pickings when it comes to playable female characters in popular military video games, even though there are more female gamers playing them than ever before. Now that women will be fighting on the IRL front lines, will virtual female soldiers make history, too? Some gamers believe so.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the developers working on these shooters incorporated it as a story point in their games," game designer and "Sex in Video Games" author Brenda Romero told the AP. "It could make for an amazing narrative: 'It's her first role in combat and she's determined to make a difference!' Who wouldn't want to pursue something like that and have a bad-(expletive) female soldier in a game?"

(Alternate suggestion: "It's not actually her first role in combat, just the first time she's getting the recognition that she deserves.")

Others said implementing female characters in intricate multiplayer military shooters could be difficult and expensive and also unfair.

"It makes a game more complicated because there are differences between men and women in battlefield situations," said Sande Chen, a game writer and author of "Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform." "Women walk differently and their frames are usually smaller and more difficult to hit. Usually, game developers don't want to give too much advantage to one character choice over another character choice. It would be interesting, but it might need to be more cosmetic in a shooter."

Speaking of aesthetics: The more pessimistic among us may be wondering what, exactly, these new female soldiers will be wearing. Camo tube tops?

"The only way I could see this becoming controversial is if [future female characters are] over sexualized," said Romero. "I would hope that she's treated realistically, especially in how she's visualized. I think a female character in a combat role should have the physique of an Olympian - not a Playboy centerfold - and for the love of God, she better not be wearing a camouflage thong on the battlefield."

The Guardian recently ran a fascinating piece on the straight male gaze in video games:

In film, the theory of the male gaze nicely covers the propensity for cinematography to assume, almost unconsciously, a straight male viewer. Some games and game marketing materials embrace this approach wholeheartedly, not just in cinematics but in playable game elements too.

This is bigger than just gaze: this is a straight male hand at the controller, in front of the screen. This is dialogue options for romance with female characters that assume you, the player, are both sexually attracted to women and happy to see sexualised content in game. It's Ivy. It's Catwoman. It's every female zombie in Dead Rising wearing a bikini. It's even Samus from Metroid taking off her armour, relying for her shock value on the assumption that the person watching is male. It's the overwhelming majority of silent Everyman protagonists being male, not because they need to be male but because that's the default. And it's the assumption that the man in question is straight, cis, white.

In games the problem is more pronounced than in cinema, because of the nature of player interaction. Watching something isn't the same as playing something; players psychologically identify with their avatars, their characters, often very closely. Experiencing your character doing something you wouldn't choose them to do can be profoundly jarring and disconcerting, something that Bioshock used to great effect. As a storytelling technique it's a very powerful tool, but it's also easy to accidentally break immersion (and really annoy a player) by forcing them into paths they wouldn't want to take - as LA Noire proves.

With that in mind, it'll be particularly interesting to see how game designers implement the military's new ruling.

[AP]

Related: Why Modern Video Game Armies Lack Female Troops [Kotaku]

Image via Zipper Interactive/Sony Computer Entertainment America.