GaymerX is a gaming convention that takes place every year in San Jose, CA. GaymerX is a “queer space”; a convention where panels center on queer themes, but all are invited and welcomed. As a proud media sponsor of GaymerX, Unicorn Booty is covering diversity issues in gaming.
The first-person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 made series’ history at launch with the first playable, fully voiced female protagonist for the story’s campaign. The game joins the ranks of other triple-A releases such as Fallout 4 and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate that have allowed female and female-identifying players to choose the gender that suits their play style. But Black Ops 3’s woman warrior fails to deliver an authentic performance in several key areas. In fact, the game’s overall narrative actually devalues the idea of female bodies on the front lines of heavy combat.
Call of Duty has had playable female characters in previous games. Black Ops 3 is the first attempt by the series to build a gender-neutral narrative where male and female characters can both participate interchangeably. However, many reviewers have pointed out its stumbling dialogue and player interactions clearly indicate a male-skewed script: She gets called a “him”, a “boy scout”, and is even attracted to another woman which could be construed as Black Ops 3 being super progressive and lesbian-inclusive, but is probably more a case of them not changing the gender from their original male storyline.
Developers say that they aimed for a tough heroine like Alien’s Ripley and instead missed the mark with obvious errors a quick edit could have solved. More female representation in actions is always welcome, but women gamers deserve better than general laziness from developers rather than gender and sexuality being treated as an afterthought in top-tier game titles.
But, the misrepresentation only gets worse when delving into the campaign’s storyline. Since Modern Warfare 3, Call of Duty games have been set in the near-future as opposed to conflicts past or present. Black Ops 3 takes place in 2065, a time when drones and combat robots go muzzle-to-muzzle with “augmented” (sound familiar, Deus Ex fans?) human soldiers. The campaign combines fast-paced fire fights with amplified tech powers such as imploding robots or swarming nano-bots that harass camped snipers. The protagonist plays one of these hybrid mechanical-human soldiers, but only after the first mission once his or her body gets violently torn apart — limbs literally ripped off — by a robot.
This gory start to the campaign applies to both male and female players. However, it is odd and maybe a little ironic that after a nearly dozen games, the Call of Duty series features its first campaign female player then essentially tears her body to shreds and “enhances” it with mechanical substitutes, especially considering the present-day context of today’s military, which for all attempts at diversity, still polices female bodies significantly.
The Department of Defense ran afoul of servicewomen, especially women of color, when it announced new hairstyle regulations banning dreadlocks and twists common on Black and other female soldiers. In 2014, only one in four victims of sexual assault in the military reported the incident to superior officers. Now, after a nearly three-year review period, the U.S. Department of Defense may finally allow women to serve in frontline combat beginning January 2016. Meanwhile, the Army Ranger School welcomed its first female graduates this year — the world’s toughest combat training regime for more than 60 years.
Call of Duty developers were right to acknowledge the growing importance of women in the future of the armed forces. But this augmentation storyline appears to say that the female body in itself must be fundamentally changed with mechanical advancements in order to be appropriate for extreme combat.
This seriously underestimates women in war, feeds into present-day fears of the female body in active combat and is a jarring misstep in the series’ attempt to introduce the first gender-neutral campaign.
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