(a promotional poster of assassin’s creed III bundle featuring Aveline de Grandpré and Connor Kenway)
Ubisoft, the video game developer behind AAA titles such as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, announced in the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2014 their decision to scrap out a playable female character for their latest installment of the Assassin’s Creed series, the Assassin’s Creed: Unity due to, supposedly, technical and budgetary constraints. James Therien, the technical director of Ubisoft, claimed in his discussion with VideoGamer that their decision is an unfortunate reality of game development, citing that having a female character means that they have to “redo a lot of animations”, which would have doubled their work despite Ubisoft having tons of resources and nine studios working on this game, something that Therien also admitted in the same discussion. Naturally, this decision raises a lot of criticism—Jonathan Cooper, Ubisoft’s former animation director for Assassin’s Creed III who is currently working for Naughty Dog (which, by the way, is the developer of the excellent survival horror game featuring a female lead and multiple female characters, The Last of Us), commented in an interview with Polygon that creating a female character would only take a day or two, as there is no need to recreate anything but key animations; his educated opinion is echoed by many other developers with experience working on similarly-sized games, such as Manveer Heir (gameplay designer for BioWare, famous for their Mass Effect series). Ubisoft’s excuse sounds even more ridiculous if we consider the fact that the developer released Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, featuring a woman of color as its protagonist, in 2012, thus signifying that they do have the experience and resources necessary to create a female character for their latest installment of Assassin’s Creed which, by the way, offer four customizable male characters for its co-op mode (why Ubisoft deems four customizable male characters to be easier to be made than one female character remains questionable). Cooper further noted that Aveline de Grandpré, the female protagonist of Liberation, shares more of the main protagonist of Assassin’s Creed III, Connor Kenway’s, animation than his male successor in Assassin’s Creed IV, Edward Kenway, does.
A female gamer, @lionschmion, then began to criticize Ubisoft’s decision with the hashtag #womenaretoohardtoanimate, which is then picked up by fellow female gamers to tweet satirical reasons explaining why animating a woman is a daunting task even for a developer of Ubisoft’s caliber. “#womenaretoohardtoanimate but here’s a CGI trailer with meticulous attention to the pores of Nathan Drake’s face,” @lionschmion tweeted sarcastically. “#womenaretoohardtoanimate because the world needs more adult white male protags with stubble,” another Twitter user, @wisecookiesheet, chimed in.
In the age of high-resolution games with pixel-perfect rendering technology and even an incredibly realistic water physics engine readily available, there should be no excuse to leave out female protagonists from game development. And indeed, some gaming franchises have included female characters in their leading role, or offering customizable characters of both gender (and often, multiple races ranging from elves to aliens)—some of my personal favorites include Mass Effect, Fallout, Remember Me, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bioshock Infinite, and Dragon Age—but we cannot overlook the fact that nine times out of ten, the video gaming industry is still pretty much filled able-bodied, heterosexual, white, masculine, alpha male protagonists. It is high time for video game developers to get off of their high horse, stop making excuses to exclude 48% of the gamer population, and start making well-written female protagonists to cater to female gamers, instead of reusing the old over-sexualized damsel in distress trope over and over again or removing women from the game altogether.
Zivya Syifa Husnayain | 016201200114