Rust Chooses Players' Race For Them, Things Get Messy

Rust Chooses Players' Race For Them, Things Get Messy

Many games let you choose your character's race, face and other elements of appearance, but not Rust. The chaotic survival game is imitating the gene pool — randomising who's white, black and everything else — and players have reacted in unexpected ways.

Prior to this, everyone in the game was white and looked more or less the same. The changes to race and other physical features were added semi-recently with a simple announcement:

"Everyone now has a pseudo unique skin tone and face. Just like in real life, you are who you are — you can't change your skin colour or your face. It's actually tied to your Steam ID."

So the game decides your appearance for you, more or less randomly. Usually when games don't have you play as a pre-written main character (think Mario or Lara Croft or Master Chief or whoever), letting you choose your race and face is a no-brainer. Rust lead Garry Newman, however, decided to try something different:

"We wanted a way to recognise people beyond their names, kind of a fingerprint," Newman told me via email. "We already kind of have this; players recognise each other via their voice, and that's pretty interesting. So we wanted to push it further."

At the moment, there aren't many face textures, materials, or skin tones, resulting in only a few combinations. The plan, however, is to make the in-game gene pool nearly bottomless, a swirling palette of possibility. "It's going to be an ongoing effort," said Newman. "Our ideal scenario is one in which no two players look the same, so you'll recognise someone in game by their face to the extent that nametags will be redundant."

However, with the addition of race — especially race people do not have direct control over — come some issues. Largely, said Newman, the change has been received favourably, but it hasn't been without its growing pains. Some people have protested the fact that they suddenly sport skin colours that aren't theirs (via PCGamesN):

Rust Chooses Players' Race For Them, Things Get Messy
Rust Chooses Players' Race For Them, Things Get Messy

There's also been a definite uptick in overtly racist language:

"It makes me wish I'd set up some analytics to record how many times the N-word was used before and after the update," he said. "It was used quite a bit from what I've seen."

Newman and the rest of the Rust team considered taking action against people who throw around racist language like so many sticks and stones, but then they observed an interesting trend:

"We debated internally whether to start censoring it, whether as the curators of the game we should be stepping in," he explained. "What we found was that when someone was being racist they were always in the minority and more often than not the other members of the server stepped in and took action (i.e. they all worked together to hunt him)."

Rust has always been, for better and worse, a sort of "anything can happen" frontier game world, and that won't change here. Newman continued: "Seeing this kind of thing play out made us realise that these aren't just 'real life' issues that we need to block. They're issues that we need to invite into the game to let people explore."

He hopes, too, that people might learn a thing or two from living a virtual life as somebody who doesn't look exactly like them, somebody who wades through very different brands of social and systemic bullshit day in and day out.

Rust Chooses Players' Race For Them, Things Get Messy

"I would love nothing more than if playing a black guy in a game made a white guy appreciate what it was like to be a persecuted minority," said Newman. He added, however, that Rust is currently set to distribute different skin tones more or less evenly, and he believes the likelihood of in-game racism will be lower if there are no minorities — at least, on a purely numerical basis. Of course, the real world has a way of bleeding over into the games we play no matter what, and let's face it: racism has never made a habit out of adhering to things like "logic" and "common sense."

On that point, Newman acknowledged that — while his intentions are good — he's not necessarily the best at seeing this stuff coming.

"People have a strange need to play someone similar to themselves in games," he said. "That's not something I understand. I don't think I'd have enjoyed Half-Life more if Gordon Freeman didn't have glasses or a beard. I don't think I'd have enjoyed Tomb Raider more if it featured Larry Croft instead [of Lara Croft]. But maybe the curse of being a white 32 year-old male is not seeing these problems."

Rust Chooses Players' Race For Them, Things Get Messy

Rust, then, is bound to be a learning experience for many, Newman included. The game still has quite a ways to go in development (it's currently in Early Access, coming off a complete restart on its codebase), but it's finally at a point where Newman and co can focus on adding new features again. How will it all pan out? Who knows. But then, that's kinda the whole point of Rust: it's unpredictable. Players, additions to the game, the experiences you'll have, the colour of your skin — all of it. Maybe you'll find it fun, maybe you won't, maybe you'll prefer older versions of the game over new ones. But Newman and co hope that, at the very least, you won't be bored.

"[Rebuilding the game] has taken longer than we thought it would," Newman said, "and a bunch of similar (and probably better) games have been released while we've been doing this. But we're really excited with some of the stuff we want to try out."


    Hey, when I'm born I don't have to pay jack. But when I fork out $50 for a game, it would be nice to be able to customise my character - especially in the context of a role playing, post apocalyptic game.

      So you prefer to lock people into things @nicrulz and not offer them choices?

        But games like Rust are built around taking away comfortable rules and customisation options players depend on in order to create higher stake worlds. A big part of the appeal is that these games have hard coded non-negotiable rules like this. You get dealt a hand and you play it. It's not for everybody but the same could be said of almost all of Rust's defining features.

        That said I would let players choose their background but none of their actual features. I'm not sure how deep the 'genetics' go but in theory that would allow players to be recognisable without distancing them from their avatars too much.

          Like I said below, personally, I would've made it random, but then in retrospect that would've also led to a lot of people restarting and restarting and restarting...

            I think you could do that with Star Wars Galaxy. Make a hundred characters and eventually one would be a Jedi. Eventually they stopped fighting it and just made it so you could just choose to be a Jedi. Not necessarily a bad move, in a vacuum I'd say 'let the player chose' and 'screw RNG' are always good moves, but I felt it sort of took away from the heart of the game.
            In an online multiplayer game I guess there's always got to be balance between restricting the player to create a world that's deeper than just a thousand clones, and giving the player the freedom to be who they want to be.

      But that was never an option in Rust, everyone was locked from having choice in their character.
      This expansion on the idea is going to be interesting to see unfold as time goes on.

    I think that this is a great idea. I've only ever followed Rust from a safe distance, but this actually has me a bit excited about it (which not many games have lately). Separates it from everything else and creates a very interesting dynamic. Video games need to push boundaries and MMO's especially are a great way to conduct social experiments like this. Very interesting stuff.

    The chaotic survival game is imitating the gene pool — randomising who’s white, black and everything else It's been a while since I did any biology but I'm pretty sure genetics don't work that way. In general, two (white) American people are not going to randomly produce an African child, nor will two Chinese people randomly produce a Russian child.

    Last edited 26/03/15 3:32 pm

      I’m certain he’s not genuinely implying that genetics are random. I think he’s implying that you can’t choose your own genetics so in that way it’s a lucky dip (and a random generator simulates that).

      You’ve got to give the guy the benefit of the doubt when it’s something so freaking obvious.

      I'm also fairly certain that Rust isn't simulating the human race from the Earliest Common Ancestor, and isn't creating vast family trees where you can trace your heritage back to a time before there was writing. Bar that, I think randomly assigning characteristics is a fair subsitute

    I don't care what colour I am as long as I'm hung.

      i still reckon they need a system like in dayZ, the more you help others the bigger your schlong and vise versa

    I'd find it hilarious if it made all female players White Cis Males.

    “People have a strange need to play someone similar to themselves in games,” he said. “That’s not something I understand. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed Half-Life more if Gordon Freeman didn’t have glasses or a beard. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed Tomb Raider more if it featured Larry Croft instead [of Lara Croft]."

    So glad someone else feels the same way about this. You're playing as a character, not yourself. It's infantile to insist you must see yourself as the one blowing up helicopters or punching people in half.

    I think it's a noble ideal personally. It's definitely brave. I *personally* would've done your character traits and genetics as purely random every time, as in Rust you die, and it's not persistent. Well, it's not MEANT to be.

    Awesome idea. I always play a different race/alien if I can... Same sex tho.

    So what? It's kind of the same as just playing a character that isn't you, anyway, isn't it? It's part of the game, don't listen to them. Empathy isn't a bad thing.

      That's what I was thinking, women and people of colour have put up with this for years, most video characters are white males, how racist do they have to be to say "I'm completely done with it" because they were given a black character. Do they avoid great movies like I am Legend and Django Unchained too? Don't answer that, they probably do :(

    i like it. i reckon its a good idea.
    for one reason, it's different and taking a new approach to things. gotta commend that.
    but also, realistically, im a white male - i'd say 99% of the time if i have to make a character that is a human, itll be a white male.

    that other 1% of the time, that character may be something else, be it gender or race. but i'm probably not taking the character seriously, and most likely made to muck around in or made in a tongue in cheek fashion.
    if i make a black guy, people are like why did you make a black guy? youre not black? or if i make girl its the same thing. and i think theyve sort of got a point, doesnt feel right to me.

    i'd actually prefer if i got something other than a white male in rust. makes it unique.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now