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Why Call of Duty: Ghosts (finally) has female soldiers in multiplayer

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

The first footage of Call of Duty: Ghosts' multiplayer mode, released earlier today, ended with a kicker. The slaughter and destruction being unleashed upon a squad of male soldiers was being handed out by a female soldier, the first time women will appear as playable characters in Call of Duty multiplayer.

Offering male and female gender options to Call of Duty: Ghosts players in the game's Create-A-Soldier mode was a product of the game's focus on character customization. But it was also a product of Activision and Infinity Ward looking to give the diverse Call of Duty fan base an equally diverse set of character traits. It was not, Infinity Ward executive producer Mark Rubin said, an attempt just to try to draw in more people.

"It wasn't us saying, 'How can we attract women to [our game]?'" Rubin said in an interview with Polygon. "That's not going to do it and that wasn't our goal. What we wanted to do was acknowledge the fan base that already existed. We have a lot of different kinds of people who play [Call of Duty] and we want them to be represented when we do character creation."

"This would be near the top of the charts of things we hear from our community."

Rubin said the reason why women haven't been an option in multiplayer was technical. "We couldn't do women soldiers until we did character customization," he said. But thanks to new engine technology coming in the current-gen and next-gen versions of Call of Duty: Ghosts, gender diversity is now possible.

"If I had a billboard chart of requests, this would be near the top of the charts of things we hear from our community," said Eric Hirshberg, president and CEO of Activision Publishing. "It's certainly something I've wanted to do for a while. We have a lot of female players that want to play as female characters."

Hirshberg told Polygon the reason this is the right year to do it was that the developer wanted to give players more control to customize their character in Call of Duty: Ghosts.

"With that came the right set of tools to choose not only how your player looks and how your player is equipped but what gender [players prefer]," Hirshberg said. "It just made all the sense in the world."

In the multiplayer build of Ghosts we played today, players could customize their soldier by gender, face (and face camo), headgear, uniform, an embroidered arm patch — options included a shark, devil head, a bat, a unicorn on a rainbow field and more — and background patterns, as well as a clan tag. The options were limited — only "Head K" was available to female soldiers, for example — but Rubin says the customization options in Create-A-Soldier will be substantial. What's not clear yet, however, is how players will unlock custom looks. Whether it will be through spending Squad Points, XP gain or in-game challenges, Infinity Ward is still figuring out.

Both genders will be equal when it comes to the size of their hitboxes

Male and female soldiers won't play any differently from each other. They'll animate slightly differently, thanks to motion capture performed by women actors for the female soldiers, but both genders will be equal when it comes to the size of their hitboxes.

"We had to pay attention to size" when it came to designing female soldiers, Rubin said. "We actually had to sort of bulk up their gear a little bit to compensate for the fact that they're smaller, so that there's no perceived advantage."

Call of Duty: Ghosts' female soldiers are part of an effort by Infinity Ward to give players "an avatar they were tied to, they had some input into, they had some value behind and they felt represented them in the game."

It was also about inclusion, he said.

"It was about trying to get multiple races, genders, having it be something where you could actually feel like 'That's me. That represents me.' in a way we haven't been able to in the past."

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