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Rust experiments with racial empathy by assigning players' skin tones

The latest Rust update assigns all players a permanent, randomized skin tone and face. Developer Garry Newman says it's led to an increase in racism, and also some intriguing player behavior.
"I would love nothing more than if playing a black guy in a game made a white guy appreciate what it was like to be a persecuted minority."

- Facepunch Studios founder Garry Newman ruminates in a Kotaku article on the sociological effects of assigning semi-unique skin tones to Rust characters.

The latest update to Facepunch Studios' Early Access survival game Rust is a fascinating one: It involves assigning all players a randomized "pseudo unique" face and skin tone (in roughly equal percentages) that's permanently tied to their Steam ID.

"We wanted a way to recognize people beyond their names, kind of a fingerprint," Facepunch's Garry Newman said. The idea is to mimic a sort of gene pool, where players adjust to the hand their dealt, appearance-wise.

Before now all players shared the same pale pink skin tone (all models are still men); Facepunch's decision to broaden Rust's epidermal palette keep players from choosing the color of their skin raises intriguing questions about where developers can (and should) draw the line between player agency and authorial intent. 

"People have a strange need to play someone similar to themselves in games," said Newman, mulling over the consequences of the update in response to Kotaku's line of questioning. "That's not something I understand...but maybe the curse of being a white 32 year-old male is not seeing these problems."

There's been a rise in overt racism in-game, Newman said. But at the same time, "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)."

Newman's comments on the matter are worth reading in full over on Kotaku.

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