Tom Bennett reports from Gamers heaven.
Last week, the annual E3 ‘Electronic Entertainment Expo’ took place at the Los Angeles Convention Centre. It’s the biggest event in the gaming calendar and this year featured all the usual hype and hysteria that results from having the biggest names in the industry coming together to tout their wares.
However, among all the lackadaisical frivolity and excitement, there was a firestorm of controversy that quickly engulfed the event in a critical blaze. What was the catalyst for this furious furore?
Well, during the Xbox and Ubisoft press conferences, two new reveal trailers were shown for the new Assassin’s Creed Unity. The Assassin’s Creed series of games are developed by Ubisoft Montreal. The series sees players control assassins in alternate history timelines, battling the Knights Templar in various eras and carrying out stealthy hits on targets. The upcoming Unity takes place in France at the time of the revolution, so expect plenty of Bastille-storming and full Les Miserables ensemble cast singing.
Well, maybe not the last bit, but one can hope.
During later interviews with the press, when asked why there were no playable female characters, Ubisoft’s European technical director, James Therien, claimed that the reason is that women take twice as long to animate. “It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production.”
“We wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character.” Therein explained. “A female character means that you have to re-do a lot of animation, a lot of costumes… it would have doubled the work on those things.”
The irony here is that these comments come from a developer consisting of nine studios, that have spent years painstakingly recreating revolutionary-era Paris to an impeccable degree of detail, yet claim to not have enough time or resources to make a single playable female character model.
Needless to say, with a comment such as this, the internet lit up with justified anger, and soon the Twitter hashtag #womenaretoohardtoanimate raced across the internet like a virulent strain of norovirus. What’s bizarre about the statement by Therien is that a previous game in the series, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation featured a refreshing change of style with a black African-French female assassin in the main player role.
It wouldn’t have been a risky move for Unity to have included a female character, or provide the option to play as one considering a previous game had already made the first small but progressive step forward in terms of gender and diversity. In addition, there are women NPCs (non playable characters) that can be seen throughout the trailer for Unity.
Bear in mind that I know absolutely nothing about game design (I’m more of a words person, those pesky numbers were never my strong suit), but it’s not like there are no female characters in Unity itself. Surely, using one of the many women NPC models that can be found throughout the game’s huge bustling crowds would have been a good enough starting point from which to develop a playable female character model.
In an interview with National Public Radio, gaming journalist Leigh Alexander points out that the crucial thing with Therien’s statement is that the idea of a woman assassin was never considered as a serious idea. “They didn’t scope for it. From the beginning, it wasn’t a concern. I think they must presume that they’re going to have to animate all these flowing dresses and flowing hair and jiggling breasts… [it’s] a really interesting insight into how technical folks in the game industry view women’s bodies”.
Ubisoft, meanwhile, has made a statement saying that they “recognise the valid concern around diversity in video game narrative.”
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