Why my video game chooses your character’s race and gender for you: Garry Newman


I am the lead developer on a multiplayer survival game named Rust. Last week, we made a change to the game that upset a lot of people: we made half of our players, picked at random, play as women. We also made some of them black. The response has been extreme.

Rust is not a game about identity. The objective in Rust is to survive. This is made difficult by things such as starvation, dehydration, radiation, exposure and bear attacks. The biggest threat in the game comes from other players who are trying to survive in the same conditions. You will survive better if you’re a part of a group, but this takes a lot of mutual trust. If you kill someone you’ll be able to loot their corpse and take all their food, medicine and weapons. This makes the game very interesting socially, since players struggle with trust and slowly build up relationships with one another.

The game is in “early access”, which means it’s in active development and we update it every week. Despite this, it has sold over 3.5m copies since it was first released in 2013, and around half a million people play every week. Whenever a project has this kind of popularity, people become very passionate. But the range and strength of opinions have never been this intense.

Originally every player appeared in game as a white bald guy. We were still in the early stages of development and had other things to focus on. Recently, though, we decided to change this. We decided that we didn’t want players to pick their own appearance. 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. They should be recognizable consistently and long-term – so anyone likely to commit a crime would be more likely to wear a balaclava or a face mask.

So this is what we did. Gender and race are randomly selected and linked to a player’s account, permanently unchangeable.

Inevitably, there are people who like it and people who don’t. Some players have praised what we’re doing. Like us, they think that who you are in the game, your race and gender, makes no difference to the actual game play – and are happy to have the diversity. Others aren’t so positive. They feel that playing a gender or race that doesn’t match their own is detrimental to their enjoyment.

For race, this seems to be a regional thing. For example, most complaints about being black in the game have generally been from Russian players. With gender it seems to be more of a geography-free complaint.

Here’s one of the many messages we’ve received from disgruntled male players: “Why won’t you give the player base an option to choose their gender? I just want to play the game and have a connection to the character like most other games I play. Not have some political movement shoved down my throat because you make the connection we can’t choose our gender in reality so let’s make it like that in game too.”

Others have accused us of forcing them to accept our “feminist ideals”. Some have told us that they are quitting the game entirely. One called the move the dumbest thing we’ve ever done.

Our female players seem more pragmatic. They point out that they’ve already being play Rust as men for the past two years. Some have got in touch to thank us. Mostly they see it as no big deal.

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 trans-phobia.

It’s maybe understandable why some male gamer’s wouldn’t want to play as women. They’re just not used to being forced to. You could probably count on your fingers the number of major, big-budget games where you have no choice but to play as a woman, never mind having no choice but to play as a black woman. Female gamer’s are obviously more forgiving – they’ve been playing games as men for most of their lives.

I understand the arguments from transgender players – well, as much as a straight man can. But it feels to me like the same response stands. We’re assigning gender randomly in game – not in real life.

Ultimately the decision comes down to game play. We don’t believe that letting you choose your race and gender would improve the game. On the other hand, randomizing everyone’s gender and race meets all our requirements. We get an even spread of races and genders that make players more identifiable – while at the same time making the social aspects of the game much more interesting.

Garry Newman.

This is made difficult by things such as starvation, dehydration, radiation, exposure and bear attacks.

difficult? heh? there is no radiation and no starvation its just the fucking bears. I had a nightmare recently where i got crunched by a bear…

There was radiation, it’ll be back, as for starvation, don’t eat at all the entire fresh spawn and you’ll starve. Bears are not scary nor vicious enough.

That was a really cool read and honestly, I really like the randomization aspects - I’m not sure why, it’s just neat??

Let’s put it this way: Players that like how it’s random are the players that don’t care what gender they are. Players that don’t like it are the players that like to choose a specific gender permanently. If you give us all the option to choose our gender the first time we launch the game and make it permanent, everyone is happy. Players that don’t mind whatever gender they are will still be happy while the players that like choosing what gender they want to play will also be happy. Isn’t that the most optimal option ? Make everyone happy ?

On a side note, I don’t want to be condescending but it seems like the bigger rust grows, the less the devs actually listen to our feedback. Exactly what blizzard did in World of Warcraft with the last expansion and it did not give good results.

Hey dont get me wrong im playing since the beginning but the starvation wasnt a thing since they changed it to main branch, and about Devblog 70(not sure) they removed radiation for a revamp, i know it will be back but in my oppinion his statement about that is just not Real/true.

Radiation is actually still in game, it’s been taken out of the official servers, bit server owners get a choice of true or false in the commandline, it just happens that almost all servers have it disabled.

I think it would be amazing if they let you pick your eye color. Kind of a big FU to everybody who complained.

I dont have any issues with being a black female in game, in fact i enjoy it. Not only that but some people who really dont like seeing the tits when they press tab can change it client side. If the biggest complaint about a game is your gender and race of a ingame character the game is obviously going in the right direction. Complaining about the gender of my character would be simular to me not playing the Lara Croft games simply because im a girl, immature in my opinion.

I applaud the sticking to the guns on this one. Some of the comments I have seen about this system are hilarious (Especially relating to the ‘forcing ideologies etc’) It’s a fucking video game and the only time you see your character is on the inventory screen. When people are wearing full armor I can’t even tell that they are a female until I’m looting them.

The only issue I see is if people were wanting to RP, but wouldn’t it be possible for modded servers to allow you to choose your model?

The game is early access and the developers have NO obligation to listen or shape the game based on what the playerbase (Or the most vocal part of it) says. I**f anything the majority opinion on WoW is that the game was infact ruined because of Blizzard listening to what the most vocal people had to say about it.
Simply put, if people are so against this system that they are willing to quit the game over it, it’s their own fault for buying into an early access game where the direction is still not clear. I really just can’t fathom why people would be so offended that they are forced to play a specific model in a game despite the fact that it is a neat system that makes it so no two players are completely identical. It’s both hilarious and sad.

How is it immature ? You don’t care what gender you play and everyone respect that. But you don’t respect other people’s opinion when it comes to choosing their gender. It’s simply a matter of preference. I prefer to be a male in game, do you have anything against that ? I’m respecting your opinion of not caring about your gender and I ask you to respect mine.

What will actually happen is that someone will choose a gender, then later change their mind and demand a reroll. World Peace is impossible, and there will always be someone who’s unhappy with a decision.

Not really that kind of mentality. The worst mindset a developer can have is to be spineless and break every time a very vocal minority of the playerbase throws a tantrum. We have known this is coming for a very long time and most people think the concept is cool. It’s not even necessarily a case of people not caring at all who they play, just that they can accept that their character has been chosen for them.

As the article says they don’t believe allowing a choice would improve gameplay. If it is randomized then it has a cool effect of giving every player a unique appearance that they can be identified by.

It works too, I do regularly recognize players at a distance who I know or have fought before rather than everyone being a white bald guy.

Can you respect Face Punches decision to make your gender a random choice and leave it at that?

I am happy that the female model got to the game, I always wanted to see women characters in Rust.

The game its about survival so you are provided with a player’s body for that purpose. The game is generous and imaginative enough to give you an unique randomly generated model wich is a symbol of your individuality and you dont even need to personalize it, its a gift that grants everybody in the server a visual demographic diversity.

If you are being reasonable you will be thankful for this, if not I understand you guys, I mean, how can anybody keep surviving in rust when you got tits and no dick? You cannot shoot that way, no way raiding or even grinding.

For those who cant play the game after discovering their new gender: Please, please find yourself the isolated only-male populated island of your dreams and move there, find there the pleasures you are all craving for so bad, because Rust is no longer offering you that experience.

I respect that you don’t like Rust. So don’t play Rust. Rust is a game where you can’t change race or gender. I respect that you are mature enough to go play a game that is better suited to your ideals.

Happy about this! Happy for Rusty women everywhere! Boo to whiners!

TBH, I have not played since the update. I’m in the midst of building a new rig and I really want to save my play time until I have it setup. I’m really excited to see what gender I’m assigned and frankly I won’t care either way. As a huge fan of rogue-likes I think a lot of fun can be had in games when you just roll with things. You never know where you’ll end up that way.

Mind you… where are the trans players? Huh? HUH?! *stares

Is that the same as me saying I respect that you aren’t literate enough to see that nowhere did they say they don’t like Rust? Wanting to choose how we look isn’t the same thing.

So when someone provides feedback on a decision or an aspect of the game that he doesn’t like, it means that he needs to quit the game ? Bruh

If I could customize my character I would go for a very short black female, it should hide better and be more cammo. Thus, I don’t agree with the idea that character looks don’t change anything because they do… surely the huge head tall white guys must have gotten killed a couple of times just because they were not a very short black female…