Anyone who follows the gaming industry looks forward to the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3) to see the first trailer for that sequel everyone’s been waiting for. Unfortunately, E3 has also been home to some of the most awkward tech demos, presentations, and just flat out cringe-worthy moments the industry has to offer.
This year’s E3 brought us a lot of great stuff, with Nintendo in particular churning up a lot of excitement for future games. It’s refreshing to see more positivity come from E3, especially after 2013’s horrendous console wars, but one controversy that stuck out this year.
Ubisoft, known for the Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry series is certainly no stranger to E3 weirdness (remember “Mr. Caffeine”?), but this year they stepped over the line from awkward to controversial. After showing a gameplay trailer for the upcoming installment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise which featured four-player cooperative gameplay, creative director Alex Amancio stated in an interview that there would be no female playable characters in the game at all. His reasoning? “It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets.”
In other words, female characters would be too much work.
Players were pretty outraged immediately. Some cited the short production cycles the past few Assassin’s Creed games have had as a leading cause for the bizarre exemption of female characters in multiplayer, especially because the previous games did include women in the multiplayer modes.
However, animator Jonathan Cooper, who has worked on Assassin’s Creed 3 and Mass Effect 2, quickly took to Twitter to debunk Amancio’s assertions. Rather than the massive amount of work he claims it would take, creating a female character would only take “a day or two’s work.” This lead to many people questioning Ubisoft’s true motivations.
Most of the Assassin’s Creed games have had male protagonists, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when the vast majority of games shown at an event like E3 feature only men. There are barely any women seen at the expo at all – not because girls don’t play video games, but because developers think that girls don’t play video games, which puts them in the mindset that male is the default, female is disposable. Ubisoft’s motivation is no different than it seems at first; they don’t feel like putting in the work to make playable female characters even if it’s only a couple days worth of work.
This isn’t a problem isolated to Ubisoft. Pretty much every game developer is guilty of believing that male is somehow the default. Even a more progressive game series like Mass Effect showcases this perfectly in its advertising. Every Mass Effect game cover features a white male Shepard, even though the character is customizable to be any gender or race the player chooses .
There was similar controversy last year when Frozen’s head of animation Lino DiSalvo claimed that “animating female characters are really, really difficult” because you have to “keep them pretty.” Maybe that’s the real reason for the lack of women in animation: men are allowed to be ugly, but women aren’t. This is just a regurgitation of what society has been telling women for decades: you have to be pretty to be worth anything.
This needs to end. Our popular culture needs to end the idea that women are disposable. This isn’t a new problem; it’s been happening for years. Just about all popular culture tends to shove female characters to the wayside all the time, and the excuse that ‘animating women is too hard’ is just an easier way to do that before the game is even completed. Game developers, animators, and storytellers need to wake up and realize that women read, watch and play their work, too.
It seems like it should be common sense, but Ubisoft has shown us that they need to be told. Stop being lazy, and stop acting like 15-year-old boys are the only people buying your games. As someone who was skeptical about another Assassin’s Creed game in the first place, this little “incident” definitely put me over the line. Congratulations, Ubisoft, you just lost a lot of customers.
Joel Wallick is currently pursuing a degree in film studies at Bowling Green State University with an undecided minor. He has been gaming since early childhood, beginning with Pokemon Silver.