Written by Cheryl Cottrell-Smith
Ubisoft has been dealing with a lot of flak lately for their announcement that they will not be creating a female lead for the new Assassin’s Creed: Unity game. The announcement of this decision—at the hands of Technical Director James Therien—has blown up the interwebs. Twitter is trending with the #womenaretoohardtoanimate hashtag, Facebook is sharing (much more quietly, because they’ve crushed organic reach) thoughts and articles on the matter, and forums and discussion boards are running long numbers of participants.
“It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production…So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes [inaudible]. It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision…It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development.” – James Therien, Technical Director, Ubisoft (as told to VideoGamer.com)
It’s important. Of course it is. The marginalization of women in what was traditionally a boys’ league of video gamers isn’t a new issue. ‘Girl Geeks’ generally have to deal with a lot of negativity, competitive attitudes, and resistance towards their membership in the realm of gaming and nerd culture. There is a growing number of women in the video game and comics industries, but the progress to perceive them as a part of the culture is taking a lot longer than it should.
BBC News recently covered this issue and shared some stats: 48% of gamers are female, while only 15% of video game characters are female. The latter statistic hasn’t changed since the 1990s—a good indication of how slowly it’s taking for people to realize that video games appeal to women, too.
If you still don’t think women factor largely in video game playership, have you happened to swing by Facebook and Twitter lately?
— Ms. Anne Derry (@bonneanneeray) June 14, 2014
#womenaretoohardtoanimate because of their prehensile tails, digitigrade feet and extra limbs. It would easily blow the game’s bone limit.
— Bryanna Lindsey (@glittervelocity) June 11, 2014
Of course, the icing on the cake was a revealing tweet from Assassin’s Creed III animator, Jonathan Cooper, on the reality of the situation:
In my educated opinion, I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations. http://t.co/z4OZl3Sngl
— Jonathan Cooper (@GameAnim) June 11, 2014
Man, if I had a dollar for every time someone at Ubisoft tried to bullshit me on animation tech 😉
— Jonathan Cooper (@GameAnim) June 11, 2014
Cooper’s figure might just be an estimate, but the point is clear—Ubisoft is making excuses to exclude a female lead. The cost isn’t the issue, especially considering Ubisoft has created playable female leads for the Assassin’s Creed franchise before. Is the issue simply that they didn’t want to make a female character? If so, why not own to it? The decision-makers at Ubisoft are trying to justify this choice by blaming financial issues and it’s causing people to lash out, particularly on social media. A lot of fans and potential customers aren’t buying the financial excuse. Would it have been different if the game’s Technical and Creative Directors simply announced that they didn’t think the game needed a female lead? If, creatively, they didn’t think it fit the story?
There’s another byproduct of this whole situation…and it’s an unpleasant one. The discussion fostered by Ubisoft’s decision to cut a female character in Unity has unearthed the world’s worst in video game misogyny—the scum of the earth who think that this gives them an excuse to stereotype, marginalize, and condescendingly shunt genders into the worst approximations of what it means to be female or male.
Any preliminary foray into the discussion boards will out a number of people claiming that “women don’t play video games” or, even worse, “women only play games like Farmville or Bejeweled.” There are even people claiming that “men don’t ask for romance novels to appeal more to men, so why should video games appeal more to women?” The level of ignorance and blatant (yet, in my opinion, often oblivious) sexism against women is astounding.
The fact that backlash against Unity’s lack of playable female characters is so widespread and acknowledged in Western media is, on the other hand, extremely helpful. It’s demonstrating to the world that women do play video games and that we feel it each time we’re underrepresented in the industry. Gender issues in nerd culture can’t be ignored any longer; hopefully, Ubisoft’s mistakes will help to bring this fact to light.