Assassin’s Creed: Unity was one of those games that I didn’t have any interest in when I first saw it, but cared more and more as the week went on and I got to see the ideas and mechanics explained and demonstrated more fully. It’s now become the first Assassin’s Creed game I’ve ever actually looked forward to. I was interested enough that I let the fact that all four of the playable characters were white males slide right by me without comment. Yes, I’m owning my white male privilege; or something. Others, however, did not miss that issue and brought up the question as to why there was a lack of female character options for the game. So why is that so? Creating a female character would have been too hard.
From Ubisoft technical director James Therien:
It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production. So 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 [inaudible]. It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision… It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development. Again, it’s not a question of philosophy or choice in this case at all I don’t really [inaudible] it was a question of focus and a question of production. Yes, we have tonnes of resources, but we’re putting them into this game, and we have huge teams, nine studios working on this game and we need all of these people to make what we are doing here.
Countering that was Assassin’s Creed 3 animator Jonathan Cooper who said that creating a female character would have taken a few days, at most, which sounds plausible given that Therien admitted that there are “tonnes of resources” and “huge teams” at “nine studios” all on the game.
This is such an easily avoided PR bungle that it’s amazing they stumbled into it. The game takes place during the French Revolution, and given the roles of women (and minorities, for that matter) in that society at the time, having a male protagonist might be justifiable. Though it is worth noting, as Susana Polo at the MarySue has, that one of the single most well known French assassins of the French Revolution was Charlotte Corday. A woman. As for the four all being clones of each other, well…that’s because they’re all supposed to be incarnations of the protagonist, Arno Dorian.
Having four white males as the protagonists for Unity is a valid, if lazy, choice. However, given the problem women already have with representation in video games, this choice and more importantly the subsequent statement was remarkably culturally tone-deaf, particularly after the incredible creation of female assassin Aveline for Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Many, including those who have worked on the series, have even noted how Aveline shares many recycled animations with past male assassins, making the “it’s too hard” argument ring even more questionable.
Intentional or not (most likely not), Ubisoft effectively said that representing half of their audience in their game wasn’t worth their time or effort.