Filed under: Headlines I never expected to write.
Facepunch Studios founder, Garry Newman, has been doing a bit of a media tour lately. He's been discussing at length their game, Rust, and how they've deviated a bit from traditional development tropes with regards to character creation. Namely, there isn't any. Players who purchase the game are randomly (and permanently) assigned skin color and other physical attributes that distinguish themselves from other players. And by "other physical attributes," I mean their penis sizes. You're literally born with a body in game and it sticks with you, forever tied directly to your Steam ID.
This is such an intriguing concept to me, since so many games either give you predetermined characters, meticulously sculpted by the developers, or you're presented with a series of options—drop down menus, sliders, preset hairstyles, etc.—to craft your own being. Creating my character always gives me a great amount of joy for all of five minutes before I get bored and just want to get in game, so how my character ultimately looks is usually irrelevant to me.
However, there's something about Facepunch's approach that makes me want to play Rust. You're effectively birthed into the world with your own unique flaws that make you an individual (as unique as you can possibly be, given the current limitations of the engine). As Newman says in this PC Gamer article:
Fuck spending months making a character designer, lets make the game about the game. Then the more we started thinking in that direction the more we liked it. Assigning based on steamid means that everything we add gets evenly spread across the playerbase. We don't end up with 90 percent male white guys. We end up with a full spectrum. Players have to live with and accept who they are. They are recognizable, so more gameplay mechanics emerge. The long term goal in the back of our heads is to hide player names and have them only recognisable by familiarity. I think we are approaching that.
What Newman and his team are looking to create is not a game where you're just playing another character. You're playing a game where your character is an actual extension of you, in a sense. You're not creating your own avatar through which to live vicariously. Your digital self is permanently tied to your physical self, and just like real life, you don't get any influence over the genetic hand you're dealt. You have to make do with what you're given. I can definitely see how this could make characters feel more personal and give people a true sense of ownership over them. This could mold player behaviors in ways alien to the current online multiplayer landscape. Maybe it will make people think about things from a perspective they wouldn't otherwise have the chance to visit.
Even if it never goes that far, it's still a very interesting social experiment. I long for the moment where a character in Rust is recognizeable by merely their physical traits, rather than the defacto nameplate that every other game out there gives you. Maybe people will approach others with more caution, not knowing if the person that looks familiar from a distance is their friend or not. Give them a chance to get up close and personal and really see that person for who they are. Use the natural talent for recognizing others our physical brains already possess, and apply that to a digital world.
And then punch them in the dick.