Fans of online survival game Rust up in arms over sex change update

Some players shocked to find that, instead of their avatars automatically being assigned the male sex, they are randomly made either male or female

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2016, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 April, 2016, 5:00pm

Some games let you spend hours tweaking the look of your character before you even start to play the actual game. Not Rust.

Rust is an online survival game where each player starts naked and alone, with no say in how they look. But until recently, there was one thing that players could count on: their randomly generated character would be male. Well, not any more!

As of this month, Rust’s entire world was reset and updated, and each player’s appearance was regenerated. And this time, in addition to randomly selecting things such as the arm length, skin tone, and facial features for each player, the game also chooses the sex.

So how are players reacting? Some players were so enraged by the change that they’re threatening to quit Rust. Others peppered Rust’s subreddit with suggestions for coconut bra tops; some asked the developers to add hair to the (entirely bald) characters so that the women don’t look like “a lesbian porn star with a shaved head”, in the words of one.

As online magazine Motherboard’s piece on some of the outrage noted, many of the worst comments responding to the change have since been deleted from a particularly active thread on Reddit’s Games section, comments that one of the moderators described as “mainly racist jokes and comments like ‘muh misogyny’ or ‘inb4 feminazis’”.

But others – in fact, a large segment of Rust’s players – are taking the whole thing in their stride. This is, after all, a game that (for male avatars) randomly assigns you a penis size, a feature that pretty much every player can see and comment on until you manage to acquire clothing.

This is not a game for players who want to, deity-like, design a character in their own image. Instead, Rust is a game that plays God with you.

“It’s not even controversy. It’s a survival game,” one player wrote in the Reddit debate on the topic. “The focus is on survival. You aren’t born with a choice of where you live, how tall you are or what is between your legs. Life isn’t fair and Rust is definitely not fair. People crying about this don’t belong on Rust.”

Administrators have had the female models available to them for a few months now, when the developers first announced that variation was coming to Rust. So many players had time to come to terms with the change, the very idea of which prompted an earlier round of complaints and arguments last summer.

Game developers Garry Newman and Taylor Reynolds anticipated that the actual roll-out of the changes would still upset some players – specifically, some men who were now assigned female avatars – and addressed it in a note accompanying the update.

“We understand this is a sore subject for a lot of people. We understand that you may now be a gender that you don’t identify with in real life. We understand this causes you distress and makes you not want to play the game any more,” they wrote.

“Technically nothing has changed, since half the population was already living with those feelings. The only difference is that whether you feel like this is now decided by your SteamID instead of your real life gender.”

Rust’s community has gone through this before, the last time that Newman and his team moved the character’s appearance away from a “default” white male.

Some of Rust’s players who had been accustomed to playing a character that looked like them suddenly found themselves playing a character who didn’t, and there was outrage and complaints in the days after the change. But eventually, things calmed down.

Newman, in an interview with Kotaku at the time, said he found that some of the racism being directed at the non-white characters was handled in a typically Rust fashion. “What we found was that when someone was being racist they were always in the minority and more often than not the other members of the server stepped in and took action (i.e. they all worked together to hunt him).”

He also wrote in The Guardian that the primary objective in Rust is to survive. It is not a game about identity.

“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,” wrote Newman.

“This makes the game very interesting socially, since players struggle with trust and slowly build up relationships with one another.”

He believes that at the end of the day what’s important is the gameplay. “We don’t believe that letting you choose your race and gender would improve the game. On the other hand, randomising 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.”

It’s been just days since Rust’s world acquired this diversity, so it’s a little too early to tell how it will play out long-term among the game’s dedicated followers. Meanwhile, most players seem to be going about their usual business in Rust, building stuff so that they don’t get murdered by the other survivors.

The Washington Post