Ubisoft, the masterminds behind the fantastically successful and beautifully made Assassin’s Creed have left fans slightly bewildered by announcing this week that they are cutting their playable female character from their new title Assassin’s Creed Unity.
According to Ubisoft’s technical director James Therien their female assassin has been cut as a matter of “focus and production”. Apparently adding a woman assassin would take too much time and cost too much. To include a female in the four player co-op a further 8,000 drawings would need to be done on a different skeleton.
Money understandably dictates the production of any project but this excuse appears quite incredulous when you take into consideration the financial means behind Ubisoft. Sitting pretty as the third most successful independent gaming developer in the world, valued at over $1 billion Ubisoft are clearly not short a few pennies.
Keeping this in mind, the idea of pushing back production to enable a huge team of developers (Ubisoft have nine studios worldwide) to add a playable female character should not be too huge an undertaking, surely? Does creating a female lead in gaming really cost that much or are there other factors dictating why Ubisoft and other renowned developers decide to drop their lady leads?
GTA V is officially the best selling video game of all time its creator Rockstar have the gaming market in the palm of their hands and yet they have never created a female protagonist in their Grand Theft Auto series.
Is this a case of protecting their massive sales? Video games with female protagonists are harder to shift from the shelves according to the likes of Epic Games, the creator of the Gears Of War series. Although Gears Of War 3 introduced some impressive playable characters their creator Chris Perna does not think that they will be creating a woman in the main role anytime soon. According to Perna the idea is “certainly interesting but I don’t know. If you look at what sells, it’s tough to justify something like that.”
It is often contested that video gamers are by and large male and these gentlemen want to identify with the heroes, or anti-heroes, in their games. How can they do this if there is something with lady parts given a principal role and allowed to hijack cars at gun point or lead armies into battle? Female protagonists simply don’t make mulah, sigh the definitely-not-sexist producers of Gears of War and Grand Theft Auto and the like.
This thinking is an insult not only to the huge amount of female gamers in the world but also to those who identify as male. Male gamers are being pigeon-holed as misogynistic, conservative and testosterone driven individuals who like their men hard and their women as empty vessels, unrealistically shaped and barely clothed. Where it is somewhat understandable for striving indie developers to latch onto this marketing ploy to shift their wares, this is no excuse for the huge and ridiculously wealthy companies.
If it is not lack of funds that makes gaming developers make this decision what is it exactly So convinced are the GTA creators in their resolve for keeping their protagonists with balls and all, that they justified their decision for not making any of three main characters in GTA V female by claiming that it just would not be in keeping with the ethos of their creation.
According to Rockstar Games’ Dan Houser “the concept of being masculine was so key to this story” that the inclusion of a female in a lead role would make no sense. This is an interesting argument that raises a lot of different questions, what exactly is “masculinity”? Is it an exclusively male concept? Can women be “masculine”?
As the world we live in becomes more open and gender roles are finally beginning to blur and disintegrate it is disappointing to see a company as innovative, talented and successful as Rockstar Games remaining so loyal to the stifling and gender restrictive status quo.
Perhaps rejecting women protagonists has less to do with masculinity and more to do with character creation. Maybe, just maybe, the geniuses behind Trevor Philips and Tommy Vercetti just don’t know how to create a convincing and powerful female lead.
For decades the gaming industry has consistently created female characters that are simply sexy vixens whose sole purpose is to move the male protagonists’ story along and reassert their “manliness”, for this reason it can be difficult to imagine a woman in an individual, strong and non-sexual main role.
Thankfully there have been a handful empowering female leads in the past and there has been significant progress in recent times. Take the reinvention of Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider series or the realistic Ellie in The Last of Us, these games show us that credible, inspiring, interesting and clothed female protagonists can sell.
Perhaps the problem in games isn’t the lack of masculinity but game developers’ lack of experience in writing believable, well rounded female leads? Anyone who has picked up a game controller will familiar with tough dudes with big guns blasting through buildings but will there be a day when we can control a female assassin with such comfort and familiarity?
Ubisoft’s decision to abandon their plans for female assassin is entirely up to them. They’ve created a series of incredible games with creative story lines and have earned more than enough brownie points to do whatever the hell they want, but blaming their decision on production costs is a load of rubbish
A female body doesn’t have to be flat or curvaceous to be female, the drawings wouldn’t have to majorly changed and if they are worried about having to start over surely with their talented, dedicated, not to mention plentiful, squad of developers they would be able to manage it?
It appears that lady killers just aren’t as marketable as their male counterparts and find it harder to be credible and powerful in leading roles.
Gender equality has come a long way in the gaming world but there are still a few impassable bridges and it should be up to the likes of Ubisoft with their truck full of machinery and their huge team of talented builders to mend them and transform them into sturdy, innovative and inspiring structures that leave us gaping in awe.