The ability to play as a female marine was one of the first announced features of Natural Selection 2. However, due to the costs involved with creating an entirely different character model, doing so was not within the initial budget and had to get postponed for after release where, ideally, good sales would allow for the model to see the light of day. Thankfully, sales for this marvelous game have been exceptional and Unknown Worlds has officially announced that the female marine is here and should be ready to go by late August or early September.
The developers also confirmed that the model will be available to all players immediately, a move which doesn’t at all surprise me given the frequent, free updates to the game. Additionally, it was confirmed that players who have access to the Special Edition or the Deluxe Edition armors will also be given female variants of those to use.
Notice anything in particular about the female model in the picture? She actually looks like a future soldier. Crazy, right? In a universe where bloodthirsty aliens attack with teeth, claws, talons, horns, and acid, it would look immensely out of place to go the route of many games and have the female space marine scantily clad or in any way trying to show off her body. Seducing her fellow marines or the aliens is not going to prove much use in the fight.
It’s not some secret that the gaming industry loves to put its female characters in the most impractical, sexualized, and utterly ridiculous outfits that can make even some anime fan service look modest by comparison. Unknown Worlds has been very open that with the release of the female marine they are showing their stance against this gaming trope. With the recent rise of feminism discussion in gaming, many of us have already had this issue in the limelight for some time, but how many game developers are really doing anything about it? More importantly, do they even need to be?
Unknown Worlds says yes because “game developers are responsible for the message they choose to convey to players.” Even though their announcement focused on how the female model is doing away with gaming tropes, it’s important to note that Unknown Worlds already did this with the male marine as well.
One thing that is rarely addressed is that not just females, but also males in gaming are portrayed as hyped up caricatures of the physical gender traits we associate with them. Men are often made with muscles so large that they’d make mountains blush, while a woman’s more evocative parts are proportioned in a way that would break her back into fine dust. Just as Unknown Worlds is making a point of how the female marine is appropriately proportioned in armor that is actually practical, the male marines in Natural Selection 2 aren’t bursting at the seams with muscles that could blot out the sun like you may find in something like Gears of War.
Both of these facts are worth noticing and even praising. However, it’s kind of (read as: extremely) shameful that this is even a big step in our industry – the idea that making humans actually appear human is somehow an achievement. Yet it is, and we’re here talking about it. I’m not saying these tropes are some scourge on gaming that needs to be done away with. In fact, I believe there is a place for both the male and female trope variants in gaming. I strongly believe that these things should be a stylistic choice, and that they’re totally okay being used that way. Using the Gears of War example again, think about how totally over-the-top that game world is. You have a chainsaw bayonet for crying out loud, so it makes total sense that the soldiers fighting in it are these big behemoths of men that are completely larger than life.
The problem is in the fact that this is currently considered the normal approach rather than a stylistic choice. To make the point clear, games with male or female characters that are meant to be taken seriously on an empathetic human level and actually manage to look the part are so uncommon that this article is even able to be a thing. Part of showing the world that gaming is an art form that deserves to be taken seriously is proving we understand and have control over these facets of how we portray people.
Taking a look at another industry, movies have their big, crazy summer blockbuster hits, but the industry as a whole is also taken seriously because these are not the majority of movies. Instead they are acknowledged as being deviations from the normal, thus it is accepted to have these over-the-top themes without it compromising the view of the industry as a whole.
If a character is meant to be taken seriously and empathized with, yet they are made with more muscles bulging than the human body even has or boobs that are more akin to hot air balloons that laugh in the face of gravity, all without the developers even batting an eye, you’ve got yourself a problem. However, if the characters aren’t meant to be taken seriously or you’re actually making a conscious choice that fits your game with this style, then by all means, have yourself a grand old time.
There’s room for all variations of style if we are able to embrace this more mature and true-to-life view, and I think Unknown Worlds is taking great steps for the industry as a whole by acknowledging that in their game, these gender tropes don’t fly.