The video game industry, like the tech industry at large, has a poor history of welcoming women into its culture. That’s not exactly an original sentiment, but it’s something that can’t be said too often. This was recently demonstrated by the uproar this week over Ubisoft eschewing the option for gamers to play as a woman in the latest entry in the Assassin’s Creed series. The company claimed that developing female characters would have added too much work for the development team.
While misogyny and exclusion have been issues in gaming for decades, it’s only the in past few years that video game launches have become blockbuster media events that rake in billions of dollars in a matter of days.
Those issues have manifested in outrageous ways, like strippers who players could throw money at or run over/bludgeon/shoot to death, but subtle exclusion can be just as embarrassing for the medium:
At a time when technology has given developers the ability to add minute details like realistic horse defecation, developers still excuse the exclusion of women with “it’s too much work.” Seriously.
When questioned about the fact that Assassin’s Creed Unity wouldn’t let gamers choose to play as female assassins, Ubisoft technical director James Therien told VideoGamer.com:
“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. It would have doubled the work on those things.”
Okay, it’s fair to argue that the realities of development might get in the way of adding the “feature” of being able to play as a woman. But on Wednesday, industry veteran Jonathan Cooper claimed that Ubisoft’s excuse doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny:
Animator Tim Borelli added:
Which Cooper then backed up with the fact that a prior female protagonist in the series shared a significant number of animations with a male lead:
There’s also the fact that Ubisoft previously showed off a fancy technology built specifically to make it easier to create these kinds of animations:
To be fair to Ubisoft, there are other expenses involved with adding a female playable character: voice acting, character modeling, resizing outfits, etc.
Those are less eye-roll-inducing than some of the other excuses given by those in the game industry, like “girls don’t play action games!” But in this day and age, almost none of those reasons reflect the realities of women in gaming, but instead follow “common sense.”
The Guardian’s Keza MacDonald wrote a great story in February that addressed the most common excuses used; I’d rather you read through her post than rehash her points here.
It should also be noted that not everyone in the video game industry fails in this regard; one need only look at the character options in series like Mass Effect or The Elder Scrolls to see that some developers give plenty of opportunities to let players become empowered women in their games.
Hopefully, the push back from gamers will make Ubisoft and other publishers realize that they need to straighten out their priorities. If they really want gaming to be a mainstream form of media, it has to be inclusive. If they don’t, people will notice.