Why Female ‘Call of Duty’ Players Aren’t a Tech Breakthrough

This week, game studio Infinity Ward, makers of the preternaturally popular "Call of Duty" series, announced that their upcoming title "Call of Duty: Ghosts" would support character appearance customization in multiplayer mode.

That means you can customize your character's facial features, skin tone and sex.

Yes, you can now play as a woman in "Call of Duty" multiplayer.

But Infinity Ward didn't need a technological fix to get women into the game. It could have added them anytime. The new customization feature just means that players can create their own female characters (or male characters) without waiting for the game makers to finally do it.

Customizable character tech

Okay, let's break this down. The "Call of Duty" games run on a custom-built underlying system called the IW engine that was not built to accommodate customizable multiplayer characters.

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"It's basically a memory allocation issue. We had to create a new way for character models and textures to be loaded into memory," Mark Rubin, executive producer of "Ghosts," told Tom's Guide.

That meant significantly modifying the engine, which meant a lot of work. Infinity Ward announced in May that it was rehauling the IW engine for its upcoming game, the engine's first major rehaul since its creation.

When Infinity Ward decided to implement customizable multiplayer characters, it decided to include female appearance options as well as male. There's no in-game difference; it's all just polygons.

"With customization, we wanted to be cognizant of our diverse fan base," Rubin told us.

The female avatars will even be roughly the same size as the male avatars. Infinity Ward decided to prevent players from customizing their characters' sizes because a smaller character is a smaller target. That would give players using female multiplayer characters an advantage in a shootout.

This allows the first female playable characters in "Call of Duty" multiplayer, and the first playable woman in the series since "Call of Duty: Finest Hour" (2004), in which Russian sniper Tanya Pavelovna was one of several playable characters.

So in terms of tech, the fact that women are playable in "Call of Duty: Ghosts" is just a side effect of a new customization feature.

Women warriors

In an interview with gaming site Kotaku, Rubin said that the ability to do character customization "then gave us the opportunity to do female characters."

This is misleading. The IW engine was not preventing Infinity Ward from creating female characters. It just didn't allow players to customize characters of their own, male or female.

Rubin explained that in previous "Call of Duty" games, when you played multiplayer "you were just a randomly selected character model."

So why weren't there any female character models among that random selection pool?

"Couple of reasons," Rubin told us. "But one is that the factions that you used to play were pulled from [single-player] lore."

In other words, the lack of female characters in "Call of Duty" single-player meant that there weren't any readily available female character models for the multiplayer modes.

Why weren't there any female characters in single-player? It's not a question of technology.

For whatever reason, when the various developers at Infinity Ward sat down to design a single-player campaign, all but once (in the case of Tanya Pavelovna in "Call of Duty: Finest Hour"), the story they came up with happened to feature an all-male cast.

Women have served in the U.S. military in some capacity since the country's founding, and have served active duty in every U.S. war since World War II. Earlier this year, the United States Armed Forces announced it would now permit women to serve in certain active combat positions.

It's fitting, then, that women characters can finally ply a larger role in "Call of Duty," a franchise that celebrates the military.

So in terms of tech, the ability to play as a woman in "Call of Duty" multiplayer isn't a big deal. But in terms of game design and player experience, "Call of Duty: Ghosts" acknowledges the diversity of its fanbase and of the U.S. military.

Email jscharr@techmedianetwork.com or follow her @JillScharr. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • fulle
    If they wanted to be representative of the "diversity of the US military", they'd keep the dominantly male character models.
    - Statistically, still around 98-99% of casualties of war are male, precisely because the more dangerous roles, like you'd see in Call of Duty, are performed almost exclusively by males. Is that discrimination? Well, against whom, exactly? The male gender, who's lives are considered more expendable? Or the females who want to be treated as true equals, but have difficulty advancing due to lack of combat experience?

    Anyway, though, despite the irritating PR spin, I'm glad that gaming is becoming more inclusive.
    15
  • kin3000
    Putting 'Call of Duty' and 'Tech Breakthrough' in the same sentence made me throw up in my mouth a bit. I think including the word "Aren't" (though it should be "Isn't") kept it from spilling out. The need to create an article to explain that the ability to create a playable female character isn't a tech breakthrough baffles me. I don't think anyone would've thought it was.
    13
  • Other Comments
  • fulle
    If they wanted to be representative of the "diversity of the US military", they'd keep the dominantly male character models.
    - Statistically, still around 98-99% of casualties of war are male, precisely because the more dangerous roles, like you'd see in Call of Duty, are performed almost exclusively by males. Is that discrimination? Well, against whom, exactly? The male gender, who's lives are considered more expendable? Or the females who want to be treated as true equals, but have difficulty advancing due to lack of combat experience?

    Anyway, though, despite the irritating PR spin, I'm glad that gaming is becoming more inclusive.
    15
  • kin3000
    Putting 'Call of Duty' and 'Tech Breakthrough' in the same sentence made me throw up in my mouth a bit. I think including the word "Aren't" (though it should be "Isn't") kept it from spilling out. The need to create an article to explain that the ability to create a playable female character isn't a tech breakthrough baffles me. I don't think anyone would've thought it was.
    13
  • gggplaya
    Nothing breakthrough here. Other games like APB reloaded center around character customization, male and female.
    2