There is no great suffrage movement to credit for finally enabling players of the world's most popular first-person shooter to kill each other as female soldiers. For better or worse, that's not how these things tend to happen in video games. Certainly not this time.
With the announcement of playable female soldiers for November's sure-to-be-a-blockbuster Call of Duty Ghosts, the long-running gender barrier in CoD multiplayer finally shattered today, thanks to....advances in technology.
Adding female soldiers was a matter of adding a new feature to the game, one that the creators say wasn't technically possible before.
See, the folks at Infinity Ward, the studio behind the game, decided that, this year, they were finally going to let players customise their characters. They were going to let them change their heads and bodies.
"We really want players to feel more connected and engaged with who they are as a player," Ghosts executive producer Mark Rubin told me earlier today. "We felt that that was something that casual players, who are a huge portion of our fan base, would benefit the most from.
"Our fan base is huge. We cover such a dramatic range of people who play our game that we wanted to be as inclusive as we possibly could with character customisation. And that's where the idea came from. Why wouldn't we have a female [option] then?"
The chance to play female soldiers has been for Call of Duty multiplayer has been just that: an option not offered. While other popular multiplayer shooters like Halo and Gears of War added female character options long ago, CoD has stuck with only letting you be a man, multi-million-selling annual release after multi-million-selling annual release.
What took so long to let players finally play as women?
"A lot of it was the engine," Rubin said, referring to the tech that runs the game. "Our previous engine would not handle that. The way memory worked in the previous engine, it never would have been able to do that." The "that" he's talking about is the ability to run a multiplayer level that is populated with players who have complex custom looks — looks that include the female look.
"When we got a chance to re-tool the engine completely, that gave us the opportunity to make the change that we could have character customisation," he said. "That then gave us the opportunity to do female characters."
Crafty CoD players may be jumping at the chance to play as a female soldier under the supposition that the average woman might be smaller than the average beefy Call of Duty trooper. That would make her a smaller target and therefore a preferable character.
Forget about it.
Women and men are the same size in the new Call of Duty. That bit of equality is due to simple video game fairness. CoD is all about your character shooting other characters while not getting shot, after all. It'd be an advantage to be shorter or skinnier than other player-characters and a disadvantage to be shaped...differently.
"Even on the female characters, we can't make them smaller," Rubin said. "They have to have gear on them that makes them the same size as male players. We need to be fair. It has to be fair from a gameplay standpoint." As a result, the female soldiers may appear to have slightly differently-shaped bodies, but the areas that count as their bodies as far as the game's bullets are concerned will be the same shape as men's. "They might look differently, but they'll fill the same area so that your hit-boxes aren't out of whack."
There you go. Don't thank any major social movement for getting female fighters in the game. Thank technology and game balance for letting you finally be able to play as a lady soldier in Call of Duty. Can't put that on a half-dollar, but, hey, progress is progress.