A few weeks ago there was an amazing internet uproar because of Ubisoft’s claims that it would take too much time to create a female character in their upcoming Assassins Creed Unity. It really was the most pathetic comment that was indeed doomed to be ridiculed and disputed. And thank goodness for that! I’m so pleased that we’re at a place in the industry where we can stop and say “Wait a minute … what? That doesn’t sound right!”. I’m also so pleased that so many male developers are getting involved in the discussion. What depressed me was some of the comments that followed. And I know that I should never read the comments – but my heart just sank.
The Norwegian game dev scene has so often touched me and given me hope that there is no need to fight on the barricades and shout anymore. I’ve had an amazing conversation with a game developer on female protagonists and how interesting complicated female characters such as Anna Karenina would be in a game. One company embraced their transgender team mate with open arms and another made sure to have females represented in their gaming inspiration presentation without making a big fuss about it. I adore some of these guys and I believe them to be true artists who have the capacity to challenge their minds to thinking differently, outside their own worlds and into the hearts of so many others.
So perhaps I had been too smitten by this younger, more independent generation of game developers, that I was temporarily was blinded and forgot my responsibility as an grown woman to watch out for sexist attitudes. So – for the record – here’s some of my responses to some of the comments I’ve been hearing about the issue.
1) “I don’t want to be told what to create just because women are feeling left out! Let them create their own games!”
This comment annoys me on so many levels, I suppose mostly because it makes me feel guilty about not becoming a game developer myself – just to prove a point. Luckily we have so many wonderful women developing games, not just for their gender but for the mainstream gaming market. Like Brenda Romero, Kim Swift, Anna Marsh and so many more! It’s not about that.
I’m not saying that you – working on your very first game with a team of three should be forced to create female protagonists in your game – it would be nice if you did – but I’m not going to come knocking on your door if you don’t. I’m a big believer that all artists should start with what they know.
But for a series like Assassins Creed – with 7 hits under their belt and rather large teams working on different areas – HELL YEAH, I expect them to consider female characters. And it really doesn’t take a genious to figure out that something else is going on when one representative says that it would be too time consuming to create a female character and an earlier AC-artist calls them out on the comment being bullshit. And yes … when you’re a series that has sold over 73 million copies – too f’ing right, I expect them to have diversity in their games.
And urgh … Assassins Creed has already done this which made it kinda hurt some more. Ubisoft have later revealed that Unity, although having a cooperative multiplayer function, there’s still only one character you can play.
As artists I feel that game developers have a responsibility to challenge their own world view. I expect you to think of more ways to express your story than through a white male. I swear – we really do want it.
I have no idea if this is true but I sometimes get the impression that someone out there (perhaps marketing departments, which is my world) is telling game developers that gamers don’t want female characters, or any diversity what so ever. Which has to be bullshit – I refuse to believe this!
I remember being rather confused about some of the marketing for Tomb Raider: Reborn which portrayed a completely different Lara Croft than I experienced while playing it. Lots of the advertising was about sex, when the creators made an amazing female character that I respected and felt proud to play. There seemed to be a mis-match between the creators and marketing strategy which was terribly sad. Although, googling through some of the advertising now – I can’t seem to trace back to any of it – was I just dreaming?).