Rust’s New Random Gender Assignments Opens Up New Conversations about Life, Art, and Video Games

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Survival game Rust, which is currently in its alpha phase on Steam, has recently implemented randomly chosen gender tied to each player’s SteamID, causing a bit of a stir. The discomfort, for some players, seems to be that they have trouble identifying with a character who doesn’t look the way they’d like. Others claim there’s a political agenda at play. These complaints aren’t new for the game, which has had skin color and even penis size assigned in the same manner for some time. Lead developer Garry Newman explains the decision in The Guardian:

“We felt that player customization had got a bit out of control in other games. And we didn’t want to spend six months making a player customization tool – we wanted to concentrate on the game. We also wanted the appearance of the players to be consistent over time. A survivor shouldn’t be able to attack another then come back later with a different gender or race and befriend the same player.”

Newman reports that the response to the implemented change has been “extreme,” saying that though most women seem indifferent to the change (many have been playing men in the game for two years), most complaints come from men disgruntled with being forced to play as women.

It would seem that the experience of being assigned a gender in conflict with what one personally feels is true for them is akin to the real life issues of gender, and that perhaps this game is giving the rest of us a taste of those identity concerns. In fact, the game might be a bit too true to that experience, as Newman claims that some trans players are not exactly happy:

“We’ve also received complaints from transgender players. One called the new system horrifying, unpleasant and uncomfortable. Another argued that assigning a fixed sex was reminiscent of real-world transphobia.”

Again, much of this forced assignment issue has already played out in regards to race in Rust, with players having to endure voiced racial slurs for some time. The Youtube show Extra Credits makes the case that showing white players what it’s like for members of other races to play games is an incredibly powerful and artistic choice.

Discomforting or not, these game design choices are causing us to confront gender and race in new and provocative ways. Though they may have been made as cost cutting measures or simply to court public interest through controversy, this could be a sign that video games truly are moving into the realm of art. With all of the games out there informing and challenging us, isn’t it good that a few choose to challenge our notions of identity, rather than simply our reflexes and puzzle solving skills?

In the end, the skin tone and gender assignments may not have harmed sales for the game. Despite public knowledge that these implementations were coming down the line for some time now, Rust has sold over 3.5 million copies, earning over $30,000,000 on Steam.

If you have thoughts on this controversial topic share them below. Just keep it civil, folks. 

Featured Image Credit: Facepunch Studios

Image Credits: Facepunch Studios

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