This is the launch trailer for the upcoming about-to-be monster hit, Titanfall. It’s pretty typical of its ilk. Lots of sound and fury, bullets flying, bombastic speeches resonating, smoke, fire, quickcutsloudmusic RAWRRR. It’s meant to pump you up and get you amped for the fast-paced gameplay, and it does that quite adequately. It also does something very special that you won’t even notice unless you’re looking for it.
It has women in it.
I don’t mean back on the command ship, offering support as the voice in your ear, little more than a floating head on your HUD. I mean actual pilots, on the ground and in the thick of the fight. It’s ok if you missed them, because there’s nothing much in the trailer to call them out as women. Their slightly smaller physiques and rounder backsides are fully covered in armor, the same as the men, and so it’s easy to overlook their presence as you focus on the giant mechs doing battle.
I noticed, because I was looking. One of the things I greatly appreciate about Titanfall is its inclusion of female character skins, right from the start. The game is also incredibly fun, well designed, and innovative, but the fact that I get to play a shooter as a woman means a lot to me. I’d play Titanfall even if I couldn’t, of course, because it’s a very fun game, but I can. I can. And not some half-naked woman whose bullshit armor leaves her vital organs exposed so that you can enjoy the flatness of her abs, but a proper soldier, no different than the man at her side.
Some of you undoubtedly don’t get it. Ok, so you can be a chick, who cares? Why is that something to get worked up about? It’s all about the game, after all. And you’re not wrong about that last part – I can’t think of a single game I’ve ever rejected playing simply because there were no female characters. (Though I can think of a few that I haven’t played because the female characters were too sexualized. Soul Calibur IV, I’m looking in your direction.) A game is fun, or not, regardless of the gender of your character. That is absolutely true.
I could talk all day about how important it is to be able to see yourself in your heroes, how roleplay is an innate part of any game, even ones that aren’t considered RPGs, and how constantly being asked to view things through a lens that isn’t yours is a drag, but instead, I’m going to ask you to do an experiment. We’re about to hit Lent, so that’s as good a time period as any for this exercise. During Lent (which ends on April 17th this year), every time you play a video game, try to play as something other than a white male. I’m not asking you to skip playing anything, or to seek out something you wouldn’t normally play. I’m not even asking you to actually play as a character that you wouldn’t normally play as – just try. I just want you to start paying attention to how often you’re able to play as anything other than a white dude. The answer, as Upworthy would say, may surprise you.
I don’t avoid games that have male protagonists any more than I think men avoid games with female protagonists, and I’m not for a moment suggesting that all games must or should have a female avatar available. All I am saying is that every time I have no choice but to play as a guy, I feel pushed back, just a tiny bit. There’s just this little undercurrent of “This isn’t for you. This isn’t about you. We don’t know you and we don’t think about you. You don’t belong here.” It’s a tiny voice that might not even register if I didn’t play as many videogames as I do, or care about them as much, but over time, it adds up. Over and over and over again. This isn’t about you. This isn’t for you. You don’t belong.
Being able to play Titanfall as a female pilot – a woman of color, no less – is a small detail that means a lot to me. It tells me that I, as a player, matter. That I’m welcome. That I’m invited to play, to get blown to pieces when a rival’s titan goes nuclear, to get jump-kicked in the back, to get sniped by some jackhole camping the Hardpoint, to rodeo the hell out of the other team.
Some will say it’s just a gimmick, a ploy to get positive PR for Titanfall, and hey, maybe it is. I’m ok with that. If your PR maneuver ends up with me, and others like me, feeling like we belong, I’m not exactly going to bitch about it. And just think…what if it isn’t a gimmick? What if Respawn, you know, actually thought it was important? Now wouldn’t that be a thing.