Last night I watched the E3 trailer for Assassin’s Creed V: Unity, and man does that game look badass! Intense cooperative multi-player action, an unbelievably detailed open-world recreation of revolutionary-era Paris, thousands of NPCs crowding the screen… I mean, watch the trailer and see for yourself. It’s just generally gorgeous.
I have, as of late, thought of Ubisoft as slightly more progressive than some other game companies. On Assassin’s Creed 3 they worked closely with two members of the Kanien’kehá:ka nation, Akwiratékha Martin and Teiowí:sonte Thomas Deer, both who praised Ubisoft’s attention to ensuring that the portrayal of colonial-era Native Americans was sensitive and accurate. In AC3: Liberation, a shorter game set in the same time period as AC3, you play as Aveline de Grandpré, a biracial female freedwoman. And while you couldn’t play as a female in AC4: Black Flag, there were those that felt the NPC females were well-rounded and interesting.
But let’s get back to Unity.
There are four different player character models to choose from, each unique and detailed, and all of them male. Ubisoft’s Alex Amancio told Polygon.com in a recent interview that female assassins had been planned but were scrapped because of the amount of work involved:
“It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets,” Amancio said. “Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work.”
Which is a huge bummer. And (in my opinion) kind of a bullshit excuse.
I’m in no way suggesting that there’s some conspiracy at Ubisoft to keep playable female characters from happening; I absolutely believe it was a business decision. It’s just a wrong-headed one… considering all the other time and effort that went into creating this rich experience, the decision to cut female avatars vs. cutting some other element speaks to Ubisoft’s priorities. And those priorities seem odd considering their recent forward-thinking development, as well as the perpetually rising number of female gamers and the public demand for more diversity in player characters.
Over at The Mary Sue, Susana Polo takes a very dim view of the decision:
Yes, it would indeed be “double” the work to make one of four characters female, if those four characters are the same dude in palette swapped outfits. And if your idea of “female character” necessarily demands a completely different way of dressing and moving than a male character. Amancio says that cutting a female character design was the only “logical” solution, but it is simply, farcically, not.
She goes on to suggest that a more androgynous model would solve the problem and cracks, “I’m making the risky assumption here that the Unity team has made Arno’s movements identifiably, obviously masculine in some way, perhaps by making him sit bowlegged on the subway or having him pause to adjust his balls every five steps.” (You should go read the whole thing.)
I’m absolutely still getting Assassin’s Creed V: Unity (because come on, did you see it?!) but I’m reminded of Kumail Nanjiani’s bit about Call of Duty: “It was on sale and it was SO GOOD! Totally worth selling out my people for.” Sigh.