When the long-awaited multiplayer-only game Star Wars Battlefront was released yesterday, it brought even more advances in gender and racial diversity to the multi-billion-dollar first-person-shooter industry.
Indie game developer Brianna Wu summed up these advances nicely when she tweeted out pics of the various female character options available in the game with the comment “I am giving a feminism GOLD STAR to @new_battlefront for letting me play as any gender, race or age I wish.”
The variety of characters you can unlock by race and gender is excellent–and unusual–but what I personally find even more groundbreaking is that the designers actually let Princess Leia age. When I count up all the previous games of any kind that have included aged versions of previous characters, then filter that by female characters, I get…zero. At least, none that I can think of (feel free to tweet us a correction if you can think of any!). Given our culture’s obsession with youth, older female (and to a lesser degree, male) characters are rarely seen, let alone playable.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, which was released earlier this month, also offers several female characters of different races among the specialists you can choose from in multiplayer, including Battery, a tank; Seraph, a pistol expert; and Outrider, a futuristic bow-and-arrow hunter.
You can also choose to play as a man or a woman in the Black Ops 3 campaign–another first for the uber-popular franchise–but the script is clearly written for a man, as you’re referred to as male at least a few times. Also, oddly, you can’t change your skin color from the default white.
Options are improving for your Regular Jane armor, too. Redditor amb3rly11 posted this comparison pic on the excellent /r/GirlGamer subreddit showing the differences between the default male and female armor in Star Wars Battlefront:
A video by Xbox gamer Duracelle shows off the subtle differences between the games’s male and female body types, which primarily consists of a higher waist and slightly wider hips for women, and higher shoulders for men.
This makes it clear the Star Wars developers actually created male and female models, instead of just cloning the male character and calling it female.
Finally, Destiny–the sci-fi FPS released last year that continues to be insanely popular–improved their already-diverse character customization options with their The Taken King expansion in September, as we noted in a previous article.
All of which makes 2015 a turning point in the inclusion and portrayal of women in first-person shooters, which have long been considered the ultimate bastion of male gamers despite a healthy percentage of FPS players being women. A few years/releases ago, virtually none of the major FPS franchises let you play as a woman, or a person of color.
There are obviously still changes and improvements that need to be made to better include women and people of color–especially in campaigns–but it feels like this was a watershed year in the evolution of diversity in first-person shooters, and with no sacrifice to gameplay. Although change will probably still continue to happen in small increments–and fits and starts–it’s hard to imagine these franchises going backwards and including fewer diversity options in future releases. Which is good news for all of us.
Now I’m off to unlock Seraph in Black Ops 3.