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Creed: It's A Man's World


Assassin's Creed III will feature a Native American hero, which is detailed a bit further in terms of how that fits into the narrative being spun by Ubisoft in this interview on Kotaku. During the interview, creative director Alex Hutchinson made mention of why the game didn't go with a female assassin:

It's always up in the air. I think lots of people want it, [but] in this period it's been a bit of a pain. The history of the American Revolution is the history of men. ... There are a few people, like John Adams' wife, [Abigail]--they tried very hard in the TV series to not make it look like a bunch of dudes, but it really is a bunch of dudes. It felt like, if you had all these men in every scene and you're secretly, stealthily in crowds of dudes [as a female assassin], it starts to feel kind of wrong. People would stop believing it.

What confuses me is trying to think of periods of history where what we learn isn't all about men. It's a very true statement on the front of it, and it makes specific mention of certain facts around history. At the same time, historically, women have tended not to be involved in the military very often. They generally have not had many rights.

If this is an excuse used, I wonder in what setting it would then be appropriate to use a woman? Does this excuse mean we can use very few settings? Because even when we have female rulers, we still don't tend to have outright female liberation happening in most countries. Amunet, whose statue is pictured with this article, was the one to supposedly kill Cleopatra, after all.

Now, the series has already made strides in some areas, such as even mentioning Leonardo DaVinci's probable sexual leanings in previous games. Considering its sci-fi elements, and bending of historical fact, I wonder why this couldn't be seen as a challenge to overcome, rather than just an outright, "Nah, it's a bunch of dudes."

Guess I'll go back for longing to go to Ancient Egypt with the Amunet, whose statue we see in the crypts of Assassin's Creed 2.

I am glad to note that the inclusion of a Native American protagonist is so as to provide some distance from a game that is purely about jingoism, which would be very easy to fall into considering the era in which this game takes place.


Charlie said:

Female assassin stories are a very interesting sub-genre with film and fiction and part of the story is generally how a woman enters into male controlled halls of power. Looking back on: La Femme Nikita, Killing Time, Elektra, Salt, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Point of No Return, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet, Razor Blade Smile, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kill Bill - none of them really have women in power and the targets of the assassins are nearly always men.

Even video games with female assassins almost all have them going after powerful men: WET, Bayonetta, Velvet Assassin.

If Assassin's Creed ever does a female lead character (or has two lead characters) she will probably be in a society where men are in charge because that's just about all we have to work with.

Grobstein said:

In my opinion, a nice and interesting compromise might have been to have a female assassin protagonist who has to pass as male most of the time.

I'm sympathetic to their argument that a woman would have "stuck out" in some of the scenes they want to put us in, but that seems like an opportunity for exploration to me. In a game that's already about sneaking and passing, playing a woman passing as a man might have added an interesting layer.

(Tangentially: if we're worried about the protagonist sticking out, the persistence of the hooded assassin costume seems pretty silly -- it looked like appropriate period dress in the original game, but in each sequel it gets more out-of-time and conspicuous.)

Seth said:

I could see a female character in a Civil War/Southern Slavery setting, since I imagine such a game would focus on broader societal rebellion and reform. A Cold War female character would also have some archetypes to fit within.

Neither of those are necessarily all that subversive, but it seems like part of the challenge with this series is to include protagonists who are -just- a step outside and to the back of society, rather than one whose presence at events couldn't ever be ignored or overlooked.

NazcaTheMad said:

I polled some feminist historians on my Facebook for some insight because I am no expert, but they assured me that there are plenty of female spies/soldiers/assassins in operation during that time period for a believable female character to have been created without taking more liberty with history than the series has already done. This is lack of imagination and systemic white male privilege at its best.

Some names if you'd like to read fun stories about cool women: Deborah Sampson (unanimously regarded as a good model), Hannah Snell, Peggy Shippen Arnold, Hetty deBerdt Reed.

fanshawe said:

I'm glad to know that Ubisoft is maintaining its commitment to completely believable historal realism, here. To me, that's what Assassin's Creed, and its story about magical artifacts, a machine that can force you to experience the memories of your dead ancestors, and *SPOILERS I guess* a hyper advanced race of god like sentients who engieered humans and then bred with them in a failed attempt to prevent the end of the world, *END SPOILERS* has always been about.

Bieeanda said:

The only reason that the history of the American Revolution is about men, because it was chronicled by men, who were interested solely in the exploits of men. Strong, courageous women aren't a recent development by any stretch. Unfortunately that excuse rings true for a lot of people.

I'd prefer more frank responses, like 'We don't want to work with a female assassin, and the idea bombed with focus groups anyway', or 'We thought about making a cross-dressing woman as the main character, but it felt tacked on and everything we wrote in to reflect it read like screwball comedy'. Not necessarily more palatable, but better than 'our research for the game's setting came straight from a Cliffs Notes book'.

Maverynthia said:

I guess they are just ignoring all the women that participated in the Revolutionary War as well as the Civil War. I guess being soldiers, nurses, etc. just doesn't count. It's all about TEH MENZ!

Limeade said:

I'm glad to read some of the comments above mention and criticize the same things I felt the urge to post about as well. Women *were* and *are* part of our history, no matter what culture and society that is.

An active part in American Revolution wartime? Yes. It is openly documented that women would dress up as men to fight in the war, or women would go into war with their husbands to fight (and would often take their leadership positions when their husbands fell in battle#. I'm not saying this was a common thing, but it certainly wasn't unheard of either. Women as spies and doing espionage and combat is not in the realm of fiction. It is and was a reality.

And if these folks can't even find it in their imagination to see a role for women beyond prostitutes and fawning girlfriends #like past AC titles have shown us, even so far as having Mercenaries, Thieves, and Courtesans as the major three aspects the Assassins draw from#, then it's a really, really sad day. Especially for real history. This is a series about ancient astronaut theory, of gods that are aliens, and the generous liberties taken for characterizations like Lucretzia and Cesare Borgia among many, many others they have woven into the conspiracy fabric of the Templar/Assassin war throughout the ages.

If they can't imagine a setting where women had more power or agency #and there are many cultures in our ancient past where women did have a small to decent amount of freedoms and rights compared to societies that came later#, or imagine making a character that could fit the era they wanted to design in #the American Revolution, where many women of both Native and white descent did serve in support roles, or combat roles with subterfuge, or outright as spies), then that's just really unfortunate and telling of many things.

MadM@ said:

The creative director just comes off as lazy and uncreative in his quote. His response should have been "well, we really didn't want to try that hard." I guess it's also a failure of our education system to dig a little deeper into historic events to try to find some people other that white men to chronicle. However don't insult my intelligence by saying "well only men were doing anything, so that's what we were locked into"

Twyst said:

There was a whole series (at least 3 podcasts) from Stuff You Missed in History Class on Civil War lady spies. Just throwin' that out there :D

"This is lack of imagination and systemic white male privilege at its best." -NazcaTheMad

Okay... let's all take a step back here. I've never played an Assassin's Creed game, but I think that everyone has a right to tell a conventional story about a male protagonist if they want to. I agree, I'd love to have more female protagonists in games, but the lack of one in an Assassin's Creed sequel is hardly a blow against women's rights.

Like it or not, the guy has a valid point on some level. He may not have expressed it to your satisfaction, but I see what he's getting at. When he says the story of the revolution is "all a bunch of dudes", he's kind of right if you limit that statement to apply to the folks in elected positions of hard power (which is who he was likely referring to). True, many women played vital roles on both sides of the revolution, and that history was not preserved as well as it should be. Also true that he didn't make this point in a short sound bite in an interview. Let's not form a mob about it.

Would it have been interesting to have an Assassin's Creed game about a female assassin? Yes. Would the revolutionary war have been the best setting for it? Probably not. There's already enough thematic baggage associated with the revolution, patriotism and jingoism. To the game's target audience a female native American revolutionary war assassin would seem unusual, especially if (as I expect) she would be dealing with powerful white men in positions of hard power. This cultural and gender displacement would probably need to be dealt with in the narrative, or suspension of disbelief would become even more difficult than it already is.

Assassin's Creed is a AAA franchise, and you can only challenge a mainstream audience so much and hope to turn a profit. I love stories that actively challenge my assumptions and ways of thinking, but most people just want to be entertained. As long as that entertainment doesn't actively reinforce harmful stereotypes, isn't it kind of churlish to insist that entertainers all become crusaders for equality?

NazcaTheMad said:

Dear David,

Speaking of taking a step back... nobody's infringing on anyone's rights here, including the right to tell a story about the American Revolution starring whatever protagonist they'd like - critique is about challenging something or someone to be better, not silencing them. Last time I checked there's no right not to be criticized.

Using an incomplete historical view not only to make excuses for yet another male protagonist of the game (which is almost as bad as "the hardware made me do it") but to actively make invisible the women who participated in changing history by insisting they didn't exist sounds kiiiiinda like it might "reinforce harmful stereotypes" to me. It'd be nice to see devs being more honest about these questions instead of doing even more harm with ignorant, sexist, misinformed statements.

I'll say again: unimaginative for failing to see how a woman might fit into the story as more than a wife during the Revolution and systemic white male privilege for ALL SORTS OF REASONS, but mostly for the pervasive historical myths this guy draws on (lol their research - "I watched a TV show this one time") + his legitimating them through repetition and endorsement. I'll withhold brownie points for creating a non-white protagonist until we see how they execute him.

The Churl

BrookeTF said:

I was really hoping ACIII would finally have a female protagonist, but once against they've let me down. When you have your 4th male protagonist in a row, you know they're just being lazy.
ACIV will most likely star Desmond, so I have very little to look forward to in the next few years, my interesting in this series is seriously waning.
Guess we'll see what female assassins they come up with in multiplayer...

idvo said:

Let's see if they ignore the role of women in Mohawk communities, as well. If I recall correctly, Mohawk women held a lot of power. They were the clan leaders, and voted on which men got to represent them in the Iroquois Great Council. They made the decisions about property and resources, as well.

I'm glad that the new main character is half-Mohawk (we'll also see if they avoid any problematic tropes when telling his story), and to be honest I'm not all that bothered that he's a man. It's their game, they can have whatever protagonist they want. But why do they need to come up with a half-assed excuse to defend why he's a man? Like Bieeanda said above, it'd be better if they just admitted that they just didn't want to have a women protagonist. To say that the American Revolution was about All Men All The Time does a great disservice to the women who played a part in it. This is almost as bad as people who claim that women played no part in any war ever, even modern ones, and that's why there shouldn't be women in war-themed games. It's an ignorant and lazy excuse, and I'll never buy it, especially in games that take such liberties with historical events and figures as this series does.

A person has the right to tell the story they want to tell, but it's awfully suspicious that the stories defended with this statement more often than not limit women (and other marginalized people, for that matter) to very stereotypical roles, if not exclude them altogether. Will women's myriad roles throughout history ever get acknowledged in games, or will they be ignored and downplayed yet again by yet another mainstream institution?

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idvo on Creed: It's A Man's World: Let's see if they ignore the role of women in Mohawk communities, as well. If I recall correctly, Mohawk women...

BrookeTF on Creed: It's A Man's World: I was really hoping ACIII would finally have a female protagonist, but once against they've let me down. When you...

NazcaTheMad on Creed: It's A Man's World: Dear David, Speaking of taking a step back... nobody's infringing on anyone's rights here, including the right to tell a...

David Greenwood on Creed: It's A Man's World: "This is lack of imagination and systemic white male privilege at its best." -NazcaTheMad Okay... let's all take a step...

Twyst on Creed: It's A Man's World: There was a whole series (at least 3 podcasts) from Stuff You Missed in History Class on Civil War lady...

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