E3 is still taking place over in LA, and it is still too soon for proper analysis, especially as games are still being announced. But there has been an aspect to come out of the exhibition, mainly from the presentations, and that has been the lack of women.
During the PlayStation presentation Rami Ismail, founder of indie studio Vlambeer, highlighted the continued trend throughout all of the presentations so far (thus excluding Nintendo) that there had been more severed heads than female presenters. This led to people making a count and found that it was indeed a correct observation. During these presentations there were five women presenters and numerous severed heads, there were eight just in the Assassin’s Creed Unity trailer.
The number of severed heads in Ubisoft’s latest entry in the Assassin’s Creed series wasn’t the only problem, as it was soon announced that the customisable assassin’s used in the cooperative campaign were male only. The issue with this is that when only players join someones game, there is technically only one Arno (the new lead character) as the other players faces will change so as to be distinct from Arno. Which is a shame considering the role of women during the French Revolution.
When asked about the absence of a female option in Unity Alex Amancio, the creative director, said that female assassin’s were planned but then Ubisoft came across ‘the reality of production’. Adding that it required double the animations, voices and visual assets and because the assassin’s are customisable it was too much production work. In a different interview level designer Bruno St. Andre estimated that another skeleton would require around 8,000 animations would have to be recreated.
However Jonathan Cooper, a former animator on Assassin’s Creed 3, joined the discussion and argued that whilst there would undoubtedly be more work, it is not to the extent being claimed. As often male animations are reused for female characters, with a few select animations created for actions such as walking and running. This was the case with Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation which had heroine Aveline de Grandpré (who is of French descent) who got many of her animations from the male protagonist of the main console game.
When this issue began to gain traction many brought up Bioware who managed to give players the option of choosing to be male or female and mostly provided the same experience for both throughout the three titles. Cooper also worked on Mass Effect 2 and noted that whilst extra voice acting was needed as well some additional facial constructions the games used a similar skeleton for both genders.
In other words, yes there is extra work required, but it can be minimised if an efficient system is put into place. The argument that it will put a strain on resources does have some validity, especially for smaller developers. Yet ironically it is the smaller developers who seem to be more willing to make the effort. Broforce despite its name has female characters, so does Super Time Force. The upcoming game from Mike Bithell Volume despite being a story that involves a male as the playable protagonist for the sake of the story will still include the option to play as a female once the story has been completed.
Ubisoft, on the other hand, is a gigantic company and has almost 1,000 people working on just the Assassin’s Creed series. This makes the argument that it requires more work harder to swallow, especially as Ubisoft have created an entry in the series with a playable female character. To make matters worse the way Ubisoft have dealt with the situation has not helped and already search entries are coming up claiming ‘women are too much work’, this was reinforced when it was also revealed that the developers of Far Cry 4 were ‘inches away’ from including women as playable characters, but again the rationale of additional work was given, although they were more apologetic about the decision.
Despite how it comes across, I do not mean this as an attack on Ubisoft, as like the message that appears at the start of Assassin’s Creed games, Ubisoft is a diverse company. Furthermore Jade Raymond was the producer for the first entry in the series, executive producer for the second and has since become the managing director of Ubisoft’s Toronto studio. Then there is the recent title Child of Light which had a princess as the main character who was accompanied by a diverse range of other supporting characters.
So the problem isn’t necessarily with the industry but there is a problem with the big AAA titles which are the most visible to those outside the industry and this needs to change. This is why the exclusion of women in Unity is an issue. There are very few lead women in AAA gaming, Mass Effect and Dragon Age have provided the best examples, and EA can be praised for their efforts of being inclusionary and featuring people other than masculine white males.
Although the most famous female lead, Lara Croft, isn’t exactly a shining example of a good female protagonist. In the early Tomb Raider games she is objectified, and the reboot is an exercise of how much abuse can be thrown at her, and now in the announcement trailer for the next game she is seen going through therapy. Whilst it is not surprising that she needs therapy, it undermines what they tried (and I think failed) to achieve in the reboot which was the creation of a strong independent women.
It is unfortunate that when one looks at the games which comprise the larger share of sales in the industry there is a distinct lack of women. As in doing so it is ignoring around 50 percent of the worlds population, and what’s more is that it is reckoned that women make up almost half of videogame players. This goes against the heavily ingrained stereotype that videogames are a male activity. To ignore women is to literally ignore half of the market and this needs to change.