Guns were always a given for the next Call of Duty. Women? We really did not expect them.
And yet when I saw the game in action last week, there they were. Women. Two of them in the recent press demo alone! Ye gods.
I went down to Call of Duty: Black Ops II developer Treyarch's studio in Santa Monica to take a gander at the latest entry in the massively popular, multi-billion-dollar shooter franchise. (A franchise which has historically featured about as many female characters as you'd find in your average men's room.)
The demo the press was shown involved a protracted, exuberant bit of megadestruction in the city of Los Angeles. As our controller-wielding demonstrator shot and grenaded his way through the city, he was regularly rescued by a female pilot named Anderson who flew a high-tech VTOL aircraft. Sure, she got injured at one point and the player-character had to take control of her plane. But so what? That didn't make her any less female.
Then again, plenty of military shooters, from Modern Warfare to Battlefield 3, have featured female pilots. But how about a female Head of State?
"We have to escort the President to safety!" shouted a soldier early in the demo. And with that, the gruff, burly dudes started escorting... a woman in a pantsuit through the warzone. Wait: you mean the President in this game is a woman too? Yup.
After that, the developers showed us a demo of their facial-capture tech. In addition to showing a motion-captured male actor portraying a soldier in the game, they showed us… yet another woman, speaking lines and emoting and everything. She started fighting back tears at one point. "Look at me. I said I wasn't going to do this," she said.
Women everywhere! You'd almost think this wasn't a bro-tastic military shooter. (Almost.)
I asked Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia about the game's infusion of double-X-chromosomes. "There's a female character role in the game," he confirmed. "Not just the President and the fighter pilot; as we're working on characters and stories, it's something that we wanted to do. You saw the [motion capture] demo, and while that's not [her], there is a female character role in the game. We wanted to explore that part of storytelling. "
What part of storytelling is that you may ask? Why, the female part, of course. It's a whole other part. Of storytelling.
Call of Duty is known more for its popular multiplayer than its single-player stories. So, what about finally having playable female characters in multiplayer, a feature that the series has never included?
"We haven't talked about create-a-class in multiplayer yet."
Hmm. Results are inconclusive.
The first Black Ops bravely blazed a new path for women in games by casting Emmanuelle Chriqui as "The Numbers Lady." Specifically, they cast her lips and cigarette-holding hand, as she played a mostly faceless woman who read numbers into a microphone for about 20 seconds during the opening cinematic. This role earned her a Spike Video Game Award nomination in 2010.
It sure looks like Black Ops II is going to up the ante by including multiple female characters, giving them faces and names, and having them speak non-numerical dialogue.