Gender, Race, and Rust!

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The complexity of race and gender in the real world is entangled with political and ethnic conflict. First and foremost, race is a social construct. As in race is a man made construct used to stratify people. Race is a global debate partly due to a push to understand different cultures in broader terms than specific classifications. So in that case would we consider being a gamer a race of people if the term “gamer” is the broader term, even though there are many types of gamers? Especially since the term “gaming culture” is now an actual identifiable marker related to those you immerse themselves in virtual and non-virtual spaces. Hopefully, this gets gamers and non-gamers alike to think about how important is race within virtual spaces?

Rust is a survival game! Keyword here is survival, therefore the gameplay is tailored more so to survival techniques for your avatar than any other feature or mechanic. The development team of Rust has decided to randomly and permanently assign the gender and race of player’s in-game avatar based on the players Steam IDs. Needless to say, there has been mixed reactions. Lead developer for Rust, Gary Newman, wrote an article discussing the controversy behind this bold choice. He states, “Rust is not a game about identity. The objective in Rust is to survive.” He goes into more detail by bringing up examples of the overall reactions Rust  has been receiving. Basically, women are okay with the decision, some Russian players are complaining about “being black”, and some transgender players are also disgruntled. Newman closer to the end states, “Ultimately the decision comes down to gameplay. We don’t believe that letting you choose your race and gender would improve the game.”

The feeling of having part of your real life identity being represented in game is commendable and important. I myself customize characters to my likeness all the time if I have choice. Even if I have limited choice, such as picking between a few color palettes and choosing between a man or woman, most on my first playthroughs I would choose a brown skinned man. However, I am so use to that option, that freedom, it is a tad upsetting when I can not customize my avatar in certain games that have avatars. It is because I am comfortable while the game itself is pushing another agenda. An agenda that I am not accustomed to, therefore I am startled by it. Very quickly, I will forget all about it, especially if the game focuses my attention on the core aspects of gameplay. I am not saying the studio is right or wrong in not allowing players an option. I am saying, if gaming is such a transformative and experiential place, then can’t the lack of choice be beneficial in engaging the player in another side of gaming culture? Could the lack of agency in an avatar really be eclipsed by gameplay? Most if not all gamers would agree that gameplay is important. So if giving agency to your character does not enhance the gameplay in any way, then does race and gender matter? Many games force players to play as a particular character, yet the gameplay keeps players engaged which make what the character looks like irrelevant. Again, I am not picking sides for I do not have the answer, but just questions to ponder.

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