Escape From Tarkov has been out in open beta for some time now, but recently enjoyed a surge in popularity thanks to soaring interest on Twitch. The game itself is a bit like “What if Destiny gave me a tacticool PMC cosplay boner?” That is to say: it’s a hardcore shooter in the vein of Arma, but with loot. It also looks like about a million other modern military games with exactly the same aesthetic. It will not, however, let you play as a lady, seemingly ever.
In a statement that feels so stale that it can only be a naked PR stunt to appeal to online reactionaries — and yet I’m writing about it anyway — developer Battlestate Games announced via Twitter that the game will feature “no playable female characters.”
I say that the statement feels “stale” because both of the developers arguments are quite old. Battlestate cited both “game lore” and the extra work needed to model and animate female character models. Lore is an absurd excuse because, as the creators of the game, Battlestate writes said lore. If there is an in-universe reason why women can be main characters in the story, but not playable, the developer itself has the final say. There is no Lore Goblin tearing pages of playable lady characters out of the writers’ notebooks, leaving them to sob over half-written descriptions of AR-15s.
But there will be no playable female characters because of game lore and more importantly – the huge amount of work needed with animations, gear fitting etc#EscapefromTarkov
— Battlestate Games (@bstategames) January 6, 2020
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The workload excuse is equally familiar. Back in 2014, various Ubisoft developers explained that the option to play as a woman would simply be too much extra work — an excuse immediately derided with ironic hashtags and side eye from other AAA developers. Ubisoft itself eventually relented, and included an optional woman protagonist in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate just a year later.
Even without the backlash and skepticism, it’s an easy argument to pick apart. Ubisoft endlessly brags about the incredible scope, detail, variety, and depth of its open worlds. The fact that it — and Battlestate Games — chose not to include female avatars is partly an issue of priorities. Both companies prioritized something else (more guns, more buildings, more trees, more whatever) over including women in positions of agency in their games.
It’s also an issue of assumptions. Women are only a ton of extra work to model and animate differently if you assume… men and women are tremendously different to model and animate. They certainly are in other gruff, modern military shooters, but that doesn’t need to be the case.
Ultimately, though, I’m pretty damn skeptical of this entire statement. Nothing I’ve just laid out in this piece is remotely new or novel insight. Nor is using easily deflated excuses to exclude certain kinds of people from fantasy spaces. I seriously doubt any of this is news to Battlestate, either. Instead, I expect it’s a low-impact effort to capitalize on Escape From Tarkov‘s 15 minutes of fame.
The “nice” thing about a statement like the one in this tweet is that it theoretically lets you have your cake and eat it, too. If Escape From Tarkov gets with the times, as Assassin’s Creed once did, it’ll enjoy another moderate bump of goodwill for seeing the light down the line. Meanwhile the worst corners of the internet — the ones being pandered to with a statement like this — get to touch their noses and say they know the developer was really just forced into it by those mean, nasty SJWs. And before any of that, the studio might garner some minor attention for kicking dirt in the first place. Otherwise why even make a public statement at all?
Either way: gross.