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Escape from Tarkov : Defending Imagination & Expression / Countering Cancel Culture

It's time to sit in the Hot Seat. 

In the recent weeks, a new first-person shooter has surged in popularity and temporarily distracted players from games even as popular as Counter Strike and Call of Duty. Created by Battlestate Games, a Russian based game studio, Escape from Tarkov is a snails-pace and methodical shooter which heavily punishes the slightest of errors and equally rewarding the skilled and meticulous. At a base level, the game is smooth, looks fantastic while gritty and bleak in color, and has the care for details that could give a war veteran flashbacks. Tarkov is a game that has suddenly caught players internationally by storm, and while that sounds like a best-case scenario for its developers, it has unbeknownst to them put them also in the headlights of aggressive scrutiny, that has since proven lethal to the existence of many trends not just in gaming, but nerd culture, fashion and beyond. 

Those who create games, from story-writing to engine coding, work typically overtime jobs in order to share their worlds with their players, but something stands between them; a malicious and ignorant group of literal harpies, who slash their talons at concepts they are against until their prey stops resisting. It is the dawn of a new decade, and clear that the long-practiced modus operandi for game developers are to appease the literal tantrums of unstable journalists and activists to prevent a mass boycotting of their newest release. A mob mentality driven by animosity that originally stood for purposes genuine, yet has deviated far from its prior passion, the “proper” inclusion of all cultures in the creative space. This culture has forced developers to make a choice: amalgamize their games into politically adjusted garbage or follow their true vision and highly likely burn at the stake.

Battlestate Games now stands center stage because of their stance to omit playable female characters from Escape from Tarkov. For what will become increasingly apparent, and likely questionable, I am defending their position. Before doing so, there is some context to be explained. To elaborate from an interview from WCCFTECH in 2016,
…we came to the conclusion that women are not allowed to be in the war…we discussed it for a very long time, but we came to the conclusion that women can't handle that amount of stress. There's only place for hardened men in this place.

Notably, this interview with Battlestate’s Pavel Dyatlov is almost four years old, yet sites such as Polygon, The Verge and many others have resurfaced the interview recently as proof to label them sexists and misogynists that must be cancelled. The response from developers and their official Twitter have varied,
And just to finally clear the question about women in EFT. First – there are women in EFT already (trader, some future key storyline quests will have women as main characters)…But there will be no playable female character because of game lore and more importantly – the huge amount of work needed with animations, gear fitting etc #EscapefromTarkov

Both these examples have been used before in other games to justify similar outcries of female inclusion, but they don’t hold up for Tarkov’s case for a few reasons. 

Escape from Tarkov receives consistent updates through patches that add content such as new gear and maps, which in comparison to adding character models, is much less work. But Tarkov does not even have a character customization feature, which is more commonly expected in quality titles of this generation, and not having a standard feature seems to many like a convenient excuse for not including female characters. Regarding the lore, there is in fact a private military company known as the Wagner Group which consists of only men, but Battlestate fails to tie them or a similar company into the story, which makes the defense feel flat. Outside looking in, the impression given as to why women are not in their game seems even less defensible than it already was, so why would I? 

Industry activists and gamers are not playing Escape from Tarkov for the same reasons. Despite the flak Tarkov has already received, and the inadequacy to justify their genuine creative stance, it honestly won’t affect its success, and most likely bolster it thanks to the heightened publicity. Battlestate Games is based in Russia, meaning no amount of western outrage will threaten sanction on their product, and makes the whole situation almost comedic. Knights of the Inclusive Table drawing swords at an enemy they literally cannot touch, proves they will strike at whoever is in range, and do so without even knowing why nothing they do is stopping them. 

That doesn’t explain fully why I’m defending Escape from Tarkov, and that’s because I don’t fully defend them, really. From previous incidents, it's evident Battlestate has a habit of easily being provoked, this case being no exception, but that’s neither here nor there. What I am defending is that Battlestate has a vision, refused to waiver from that vision and undoubtedly created an experience that was quality without catering to the demands of their critics. Tarkov is a military simulator that focuses on the strategy and pace of realistic modern combat, and omitted women as soldiers to not deviate from that focus. Harpies can keep shouting, and nothing will happen, but onlooking western developers have much more to fear than them. It is as contentious as the topic of censorship, and as a believer in the freedom of expression, I agree with Battlestate’s priority on creative integrity. 


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