Recently Kotaku posted an interview with Insomniac Games head honcho Ted Price and Drew Murray, the game director for Insomniac’s forthcoming acrobatic shooter, Sunset Overdrive. The interview, titled “The Challenges of Letting You Be a Fat Video Game Hero,” purported to explain why the game developers who said they were interested in providing players with a wide and diverse array of options for character creation (including, according to the article, the option to have “tiny mouths for eyes”) would neglect to include different body sizes other than “short/slim and fit” or “tall/muscular and fit.”
Murray told Kotaku:
One of the things Insomniac has always done really well is tight, responsive animations. I think that fits a lot better if you have specific body types that you’re animating to.
It takes a substantial amount of time [to animate more body types]—especially in a high action game like ours,” he explained. “In an RPG where you’re just swinging a sword over and over or something, it’s not as much work. But we have all these traversal moves. The hundreds of animations that go into just flipping up and down while grinding depending on what gun you’re holding and trying to make the clothes all work on the bodies, the possibility of things clipping through other things.
If this rhetoric seems familiar, its probably because you are remembering a similar complaint from Ubisoft about how difficult it would be to include women in their Assassin’s Creed series.
“It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets,” [creative director Alex] Amancio said. “Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work.”
“It’s not like we could cut our main character, so the only logical option, the only option we had, was to cut the female avatar.”
I am sympathetic to the notion that designing new character models and animations is difficult. But those of us who are invested in issues of this sort are not asking for every game to include every type of character imaginable. We recognize that the time and resources of game development studios are finite.
However, statements like the ones above raise the question: if developers have a limited amount of time and resources with which to craft player models, why is it that they consistently dedicate so much of that time to creating muscular white male bodies? Why do they seemingly always conceptualize other kinds of bodies as optional features to be included only if there are left over resources while muscular white male bodies are assumed to be a necessary feature of every project?
At one point, the answer to this question might have been that white males are the primary audience for games and thus their fantasies of super-embodiment* are the ones game developers prioritize. However, as recent data collected by the Entertainment Software Association shows, adult female women now outnumber teenaged boys as the number one game-playing demographic in the US. Game developers would do well to pay attention to these numbers and reconsider how they dedicate the time of their designers and animators.
We aren’t asking that every game contain every kind of body under the sun. However, we are asking that games supply us with a little more variety rather than assuming that one size (or race or gender or sexuality) of fantasy will fit us all.