Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Gender Locked Avatars Leading to 'Rust' Backlash

Rust, a Steam game where the only rule is to survive in the wilderness, is getting a lot of flack for a recent update: users can no longer choose their gender when they start the game. The salty-ness of the forums and Reddit threads are showing how much people are disliking the change, and claiming that Rust is going to end at the height of its popularity.

The game, created by Facepunch Studios, was initially released in December of 2013 for early access and has been a work in progress since. Most reviews for the title are positive. The open world feel where you have to utilize your environment to make tools, create shelter, hunt - it's a digital version of the Hunger Games. You play online with others, and you better make friends fast before you are their next target. And you start out stark naked with all your bits hanging out. That seems to be the first thing people notice about the game.

This change to the game is meant to be an eye-opening moment for a lot of people. The developer wanted to throw people into the wilderness on an equal playing field, just like we do in life. We don't have the luxury of choosing our gender, skin tone, facial, and body features when we are brought into this world. It's not like we pop out of our mother's wombs and get to go through a character selection screen. And the game wants to replicate that. Your character's gender and pre-rendered looks are solely based on the digits of your Steam ID. Men are now playing female avatars, and vice-versa. And you can't change it. At all. You are stuck with that avatar's gender through life, death, and life again.

From the developer's patch notes: "We understand this is a sore subject for a lot of people. We understand that you may now be a gender that you don’t identify with in real-life. We understand this causes you distress and makes you not want to play the game anymore. Technically nothing has changed, since half the population was already living with those feelings. The only difference is that whether you feel like this is now decided by your SteamID instead of your real life gender."

So. Damn. True.

And it's going to introduce a whole new perspective of game play that others may not have been aware of. How do you play as a female avatar in this world? A male Reddit user commented about the change to a female avatar saying "the only thing bothering me is all the creepy rape comments I get."

That's the type of sh*t I deal with when I play online.

My feminist self is smirking. Now you all get to see and experience the crap that female gamers get to deal with on a daily basis. Maybe that will allow you to understand how horrible it all is, the verbal threats of violence and how that affects us mentally as well as physically, and start changing behaviors.

And then I see the forum threads and get depressed again.

This is one hell of a social experiment that I hope Facepunch Studios does not back down from. I want this to play out. Maybe it'll change a few minds in seeing how race and gender are heavily scrutinized, not only in gaming but in the real world as well. Maybe it'll cause a few people to realize that their verbal abuse and actions in game towards female and non-white avatars is wrong and change their habits. Maybe it'll allow gamers and developers to finally have a sane, open dialogue about the hypocrisy of the "straight white male" avatar being the lead in games.

Or maybe Rust will die out due to a drop in players.

I am going to watch this game with rapt interest.

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