Why Modern Video Game Armies Lack Female Troops

Women have been serving admirably in combat in the US military for about a decade. But they're absent from the ranks of modern video game armies. A game developer offered Kotaku a justification of why we virtually fight as men.

The answer, offered by Gordon Van Dyke, producer of the new Electronic Arts modern warfare game Battlefield: Bad Company 2, has to do with technology. Or, more specifically, it has to do with technology needs trumping any sense of consumer demand for representation of both genders.

Programming women soldiers into a virtual war just might not be worth the costs to the game and the servers that connect the people playing it.

The topic came up last week when I asked Van Dyke if there were women in Bad Company 2. I'd noticed that the games I'd played set in modern or near-future settings were almost always fought by men and men only. "There's no girls in our game," he said.

"It's an interesting thing, though because … It's fun that you bring that up because I can kind of give some insight into development and how games are made. When you actually put in female characters, typically you have to put in an entire new skeleton model and that entire new skeleton model adds an entire new level of animation and an entire new level of rigging. You basically double the amount of data and memory for soldiers that would need to go into your game.

"So it turns into one of those things that's like: How much will putting something like this in give us, whether the rewards of putting something like this in [are worth it] . The reward has to match what you have to give up somewhere else. Our games are pushing the edge of the system they're on at such a high degree that it becomes more of a balancing act for implementing new things - how many vehicles you can have in a game or how many buildings with destruction - because every single one of those things needs to be calculated by the server and transmitted to every single play that's playing the game. Every time you shoot a building or wall, they [need]to see it when it happens or, if you go past that, at a later date, the server needs to remember that data and then transmit it to all those players."

It doesn't require much special programming to change a virtual soldier's skin tone. Heights and weights, though, usually stay fixed. So too, Van Dyke explained, does gender for likely the same reasons - unless gamers would want their virtual female soldiers to run and move like men.

And what of the trade-off? The ability for the walls in a virtual battlefield to break and stay broken may sound trifling to non-gamers. But within the context of games, it is a literal breakthrough. Walls have been immutable in games since the days of Pac-Man, and while games have, from time to time, allowed barriers to be broken, it's still a rare feat.

Imagine the gameplay implications of Pac-Man being able to bash through a wall to escape Inky, Blinky or Clyde. It would certainly have had more profound impact on how Pac-Man played than adding a bow to Pac-Man's "head" and calling him "Ms. Pac-Man", right?

Video games can sometimes be accused of being behind the times in regards to social issues and minority representation. That women can't even fight in 2010 war games such as Bad Company 2 and MAG - even as real women reportedly serve admirably in the real military - would seem to be retrograde, but maybe the tech excuse is a good one.

Do female characters need to be put in virtual combat? Or, more to the point, are they more important than crumbling walls?

PIC via Flickr


    i think so, it is important. pretty soon we will also have to have gays in call of duty :D that would be great imo. IF games do this heaps it could maybe force some tolerance too just as a bonus.

      What makes you think that there aren't already gays in Call of Duty? I don't think they touched on sexuality at all, so essentially Captain Price could be totally gay, and who knows maybe Soap has his namesake from his antics in the showers.

    They should make a game with purely female soldiers. Just to freshen up the fps genre a bit.

    Dear author, Thank you for answering the question no one asked.

      A) thats really rude dude if it wasnt relevant to you why read it

      B) I always see a couple of stray threads about the latest game bitching its so sexist because theres no females in there kicking but

    Personally I don't think it's important, in the short-term. The majority of players in combat games are male, and the amount of effort required to create female characters is quite immense.

    I think that it is much more important over the long term as demographics shift, development practices improve and technology advances. In order to create a truly immersive environment, where applicable, both genders really need to be represented. In games with a greater focus on combat, multi-player or otherwise, female players will seek characters that more accurately represent them in the game. It's important for the medium to address these needs, but right now it's not entirely feasible or necessary.

    female fps players are a niche market, i dont think the costs of development outway the need.

    I don’t think so, his response sounds like the usual PR garbage he was told to say. I think the real reason is that gamers don’t want that amount of realism in the game because it’s off putting. Sure it’s all well and good when we are killing nameless faceless guys on the battlefield but throw women into the mix and you have passed a few moral lines.

      Have you actually worked on a game or 3D model and seen how much it takes to rig a character and animate it properly?

      He is right it would double the workload to build another female skeleton, rig it, skin it, map it and animate it. Its not a simple task to perfect.

      I don't deny that this is the single reason why there are no women in games, but its a very valid and solid point.

        Now, to be fair, you have to rig every character model in the game seperately anyway (unless they have very minor bits added on, ie some clips or canteen on the belt). Van Dyke's statement that it 'double the amount of data and memory' per character is bogus. However, you would have to redo all the animations for the female soldiers (due to their different skeleton). As most humanoids in games these days share animations, this would be a non-trivial amount of extra work, but Van Dyke is exaggerating here as well.

    "Women have been serving admirably in combat in the US military for about a decade."

    A complete misnomer. Women are NOT allowed to serve in front line combat roles (infantry, special forces etc) in many militaries, including the US and Australian armed forces. The vast majority of military games feature these exact front line combat roles, hence, no women.

    Many games do feature women in roles such as logistics and support (eg the voice over the radio), which is perfectly accurate. But you will not find women doing the grunt work that most FPSs revolve around.

    Do women serve as front line combattants?

    I know they serve in support and logistics roles but aside from Israel and a few other countries I've not seen it.

    In bad company, the intel support is female.
    In Halo the pilot is female.

    I think it is representative of their actual roles.

    Oh please Kotuku, This argument is moot. Factually there are no girls in front lines and there are several reasons (one major element being the girl time of the month thing). A discussion on the topic I listened to on 6.12 ABC Brisbane had a former officer mention many women have had to be air lifted out of military situations because of yeast infections and the like (which admittedly isn’t highly dignified hence not discussed often) but it is true. Should game makers include that as well or do we stick to the current system of development and pick and choose content based on entertainment value and not wholly and solely on partial or complete truths?

    ''unless gamers would want their virtual female soldiers to run and move like men''

    that is a really stupid thing to say.

    all these games are set in military lala land anyway. kinda like a mathew reilly book.
    there is no reason why we can't have female character models other than the majority of players don't really desire them.

    i remember ghost recon had some cool female characters back in the day. i think there was one called susan grey and she had a silenced mp5. i remember her kicking many russian arses during her service.

      I agree. Given that many FPS's are set in fictional universes that require x amount of models and skeletal animations for y amount of aliens/monsters/russians/etc.., I don't believe Van Dykes answer as the whole truth.



    I don't really see why women should be given front line positions in video game when they do not have any in real life, i don't remember what law it is but i am certain that there is one pertaining to women and direct combat.
    Also no male i know off wants to run around gunning down women.

      yup, at least i know here in australia women are not allowed to serve on the front lines.
      Though video games are a product of fantasy aren't they? Why not let the female characters have their glory? XD


    Political correctness strikes again. That's like people thinking RE5 was racist for having black people... IN AFRICA! And totally, when I'm playing Battlefield or CoD, the only thing on my mind is "where are the womens at?"...

    With the exception of Borderlands, I've always had to play a male character (changing my gender to female on Halo 3 doesn't count). While sometimes I do think it'd be great to have a female character for a change, there's no way I'd trade the destructable buildings in Bad Company 2 for it. Besides, I never see my character anyway.

    Dear author, your an idiot. There are no female combat soldiers in the military, it is agaist miliary law. For good reson. Their bones break esier. they do not have the same stregth (esp upper body)and stamina. men have a natural tendency to protect females. And men do not think that they can be relyed apon when the ---- hits the fan. Have you or anyone else ever seen a photo or footage of a woman in combat in say Iraq or Afganistan. No? Thats because it do not exist.

      dear peter, you're an idiot. have you seen soldiers take 5 shots to the chest, then hide behind a wall until they heal then come out shooting? no? that's because it is real life as opposed to a video game - where women can lift just as much weight, have just as strong bones and are just as reliable as men in a firefight.

      This may surprise you, but video games AREN'T REAL. So it's okay to have women in combat in video games; that doesn't mean it's going to happen in real life. Also, women HAVE seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though they aren't supposed to have. Read the news articles, moron.

    Well certainly your going to have an advantage using a Female model in games. Given that women are generally smaller in body size.

    It's a valid point but it misses half of the argument. There are two elements of gender representation in games (positive/negative) and ignoring one undermines the other. To be sure, we need more female soldiers but we also need more female cannon fodder. There's certainly a discussion to be had as to whether the exclusion of female soldiers in games is sexist, but I'd ask anyone who holds that opinion whether they also believe that sexism against men is evident in the comparative absence of women being killed in games and whether or not it perpetuates the belief that men are the 'disposable gender'.

    "Oh we have to get another skeleton mo-capped and do some new meshes and textures, and we have to adjust the code so much to fit it in."

    Wow, I never realised that their programmers and artists were so lazy.

    Given that it wouldn't be very hard (not trivial, but certainly not as difficult as Van Dyke makes it out to be) to implement a female soldier, one has to wonder what the real reason is. Are they scared of saying "because a part of society will vocally frown upon the perceived violence against women"?

    I may be wrong but wasn't there a woman in the original Modern Warfare in the level where you're carrying someone to a helicopter? I remember the pilot being a woman or someone being a woman there. I dunno, it's been a while since I've played it.

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