Rust is a game set in a post apocalyptic world where players have to scavenge, trade cooperate and fight to survive.
Recently, the developers introduced different genders and skin colurs for players in a game where they once could only play a generic bald white male. The catch was, these attributes were randomly assigned and they were permanent.
It would appear that not having a choice and having a choice made automatically on your behalf is a rather different affair.
Gamers have been playing games in which the protagonist has an immutable gender and skin colour for decades.
When it was revealed to predominantly male players of the 1986 Nintendo platformer Metroid that their protagonist was female all along, players took to it positively right away. In an age where male heroes rescued princesses from turtle monsters, Metroid floored the gamer community.
In today’s multiplayer gaming ecosystem however, players meet other players routinely in a virtual environment, and having an identity, gender and race thrust upon them suddenly takes on a social dimension.
Players of games like Rust learn the value of resources and the detriment that misplaced trust can bring. Building trust in a particular player in the world becomes a slow, protracted exercise with either player gradually feeling each other out.
Much like real life, really.
Trust, and the ability to represent oneself authentically is imbued with greater value the closer to real life that Rust gets.
That also means that now when you’re up to no good in Rust, you’ll need wear a ski mask because whoever your character screws over will remember your face.
Conversely, trusted people will be compelled to present themselves without a disguise.
This behaviour is closely tied to the social media usage habits of internet users and businesses. Intertwining the identity of the brand with the value of the product becomes as important as the product development itself.
Customers want to know that they’re not just buying a commoditized product, but one that was curated by a trusted friend.
Today the digital and the social are quickly becoming a singular experience and developers of games, apps and digital media need to remember that allowing users to choose how they want to be perceived, and connecting their identity to their actions is even more important then before.