Assassin’s Creed: Unity Reveals What’s Valuable

Jun 11, 2014 by

Assassin’s Creed: Unity Reveals What’s Valuable

Ubisoft has the work of nine studios behind Assassin’s Creed: Unity, but that isn’t enough to include any female characters. The game is set around the time of the French Revolution, and that period was no stranger to women working to help bring about change and even as famous assassins. The game will also feature co-op multiplayer, but you won’t find women there either.

Personally, artistic vision is something that I respect. So I’m not looking for people to start shoehorning in token women or minorities anywhere. One of the reasons people that care about diversity talk about diversity is for visibility’s sake. If people are visible, and in your everyday life, maybe it won’t take a stretch of the imagination in order to include diverse characters and portrayals from the start by default. For now, engaging in discourse is one tool that technology allows us.

While it is arguably true that games with female protagonists sell fewer copies, they’re also granted less marketing support. So it’s a little bit of a ‘chicken or egg’ scenario. Since a studio must balance profitability with creativity, it’s easier to simply keep pumping out games starring men. Even in the face of approaching gender parity when it comes to gamer demographics and the demographics of game buyers, these things continue to repeat themselves.

What struck me about the Ubisoft position was not that it happened with Assassin’s Creed (it’s nothing new for the franchise), but how insensitive the remark came off in the response. “It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production,” tech director James Therien told Videogamer “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”. The message comes off as ‘men are default – women are part of an optional “feature list”‘.

Therien went on to insist this was not a decision based on “philosophy or choice” and that the team really wanted to include some women. Yes, it’s “a reality of game development” that some features get cut, plots dropped, work trimmed to fit deadlines, and other forms of scaling back. I’m not calling any of this malicious or a deliberately exclusionary decision. It was likely a simple business decision as stated, yet one which shows what is valuable to the studio. Not for the first time and likely not for the last.

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