Over the past couple of years, one of the most heated issues in the gaming community has been female protagonists in video games and, more specifically, why there are so few of them relative to the number of male protagonists. While RPGs like Mass Effect and Skyrim offer an option to play as either a male or a female character, in games with a fixed protagonist the writers usually default to a male character.
The issue of playable female characters is a little more complicated when it comes to modern military shooters like the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, which are tied to a certain level of realism (okay, quite loosely tied). Though a number of countries – including Canada, France, Israel and Sweden – already allow female soldiers in front-line infantry roles, the ban on women in combat was only lifted in the US earlier this year, and in the UK armed forces women are still prohibited from front-line combat. This means that the decision of whether or not to include female soldiers in Call of Duty or Battlefield would inevitably mean engaging, however reluctantly, in a much wider debate.
Nonetheless, Battlefield‘s executive producer Patrick Bach recently told OXM that DICE has already begun talking about the possibility of introducing female soldiers to the Battlefield multiplayer experience. Much like the real-life question of whether or not to allow female soldiers to enter the front lines of combat, Bach said that adding women to the Battlefield franchise would apparently be a big step – both financially and artistically:
“We don’t know when we can do that. We have been talking about it quite a lot. We’ve been looking at how much it’s worth, compared to how much we’d have to sacrifice.”
“It’s quite complicated, It’s not just [creating] the actual character models, it’s all the voice-over work. We have hundreds of thousands of lines that would need to be duplicated, because even now we’re cheating quite a lot – we have random male voices, and then you have to multiply that by two. If we do it, we’ll do it right, not just to tick a box or something.”
DICE’s discussions about adding female characters into Battlefield have almost certainly been spurred on by the announcement that Call of Duty: Ghosts, the direct competitor to Battlefield 4, will include the option of playing as a female soldier in multiplayer. Infinity Ward had already made movements towards including more integral female characters in previous Call of Duty games; for example, in the singleplayer campaign of Call of Duty: Black Ops II it’s possible to play as hacker Chloe “Karma” Lynch for a brief stretch of one of the Strike Force missions, and the game also features a female President of the United States.
Call of Duty: Ghosts does have one advantage over Battlefield 4 in this regard, since it’s set in the future and is therefore a vision of what the armed forces might be like in another decade or so, as opposed to a depiction of what they’re like now. Infinity Ward overcame one of the chief concerns of adding female soldiers into a multiplayer setting by making the hitbox sizes for soldiers of both gender the same, so players can’t just pick a female avatar for the sake of making themselves a smaller target. As an FPS fan who’s used to just accepting male avatars for lack of any other option, being allowed to pick my own gender in multiplayer definitely makes Call of Duty: Ghosts look a lot more interesting.
The sentiment behind Bach’s caution is understandable, though it’s pretty bizarre for him to describe adding in more character options as a “sacrifice” instead of as an extra expense that may or may not pay off. It’s also worth noting that most of his answer consisted of coming up with reasons why DICE would have difficulty adding female soldiers into the games, and that he gave very little indication that it’s something the studio is keen to explore, so don’t be surprised if Battlefield remains a boys’ club for the time being.
Tell us in the comments if you’d like the option to play as a female soldier in future Battlefield games, and how DICE could go about “doing it right.”
Battlefield 4 releases October 29, 2013 for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360; November 12th for the PS4; and on November 19th for the Xbox One.