If you’re a gamer like me, then no doubt you were tuned in to this year’s E3 Expo. E3 is easily the biggest event on the gaming calender where publishers gather to present their latest products to the world. It’s a time of excitement and wonder, where all things seem possible and full-grown adults have an excuse to be kids once more. It’s also a time of colossal, mind-blowing cock-ups.
I’m referring, of course, to the controversy around comments made by certain members of Ubisoft’s development team regarding to the new Assassin’s Creed: Unity, specifically those addressing the noticeable lack of playable female characters. Basically, Ubisoft decided to not include female avatars in their game’s multiplayer mode because, according to creative director Alex Amancio, doing so would have meant “a lot of extra production work”.
While I would just love to dive into exactly what’s wrong with that statement (besides everything), I think their are much more important matters to discuss here. The exclusion of female avatars in Assassin’s Creed – whether or not the reasons are legitimate – represents a much more sinister picture, one where women are all but non-existent.
When it comes to the treatment of women, the video game industry has an atrocious track record. For starters, the number of playable female protagonists is ridiculously low. If one disregards customisable characters in RPGs like Skyrim or Mass Effect (more on that in a bit), then the number becomes even lower.
The reason for this is disturbingly simple: publishers refuse to finance a game unless the protagonist is a guy. Take a moment to let that sink in.
Before you ask: no, I’m not making this up. Last year, Jean-Max Moris – the creative director behind Remember Me – gave an interview to The Penny Arcade Report to promote the game. For the most part, it’s pretty standard stuff: what inspired him, why he chose x, y and z in the game, and so on. But then they get on to the topic of the protagonist’s gender and things become straight-up depressing.
You see, Remember Me’s main character, Nilin, is a woman and… well, I’ll let Moris explain:
“We had some [publishers] that said, ‘Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that,’”
And there you have it. Publishers are flat-out telling developers that unless their main character is a guy, then they can forget about ever being funded.
Of course, one could point to the many, many RPGs out there that allow character customisation – Skyrim, Fable, Saints Row, etc – as a counter-argument. While it is true that these games are easily ten times more inclusive than the vast majority of the video game industry, but even they manage to fall into this trap.
Look at the way these games are advertised. Look at the posters, the trailers and even the box art. In all cases, it’s the male model that gets the most attention. If you went by promotional material alone, then you’d never know that these games had a female option.
Given all of this, Ubisoft’s decision not to include a playable female doesn’t seem all that shocking any more. Maybe it is true that the development team simply didn’t have enough time to fit it in, but I’ll bet it’s also true that such a character was never even considered until it was too late.
See you all next week!
Three years ago, IGN ran a piece where they super-imposed popular video game characters over one another. The result? Nothing, because all the characters looked the same to begin with.
One of the more common arguments for the lack of playable female characters in games is that most players are guys. This report by the Entertainment Software Association explains why that’s BS. Take the time to read it if you can.
Jim Stirling rips Ubisoft a new one, using his trademark snark and brutal honesty. I’ll embed the video once it goes up o YouTube. Warning: Very NSFW language (added 16/06/2014)