The Historical Case for Playable Women in Assassin's Creed: Unity

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The Historical Case for Playable Women in Assassin's Creed: Unity

On October 5th, 1789 a mob of women - many of them market sellers armed with knives - stormed into Paris' city hall. As the six thousand women swarmed over the guards they started grabbing more than bread. Taking up pikes, guns and cannons, they coalesced into a column.

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Sure, one can say it was a financial decision, but in a conversation I had with James Portnow recently, he suggested that it would probably cost less money than Ubisoft spent on their E3 booth.

Because I've had one half of this discussion multiple times by now, I have a question about the other half: How much did Ubisoft spend on their booth at E3?

Thank you Robert, excellent article. That last line gave me goosebumps.

I would like to wait until I hear about the modern-day-as-framing-device setting before I have a full opinion about this issue.

Robert Rath:
They proposed a different word: Unity.


Well put together. To be honest, it isn't even the lack of diversity in terms of race/sex that confuses me but the fact that they all look EXACTLY the same. Couldn't we get one with a beard or fancy mustache, this is France after all, I mean come on you got one in green looking like Robin Hood and Erol Flynns love child and you don't even give the fella dapper facial hair!?

Fore shame.

I'll say it again.

American Revolution ended in 1783
French Revolution started in 1789
Aveline was born 1746. Thus would be 43 by the time the French Revolution starts.

She exists during this time period and is half french. They could have just put her on a flash drive, mailed her to the developer, and used her. Hell, use her to create a couple of new female PC's.

I thought they looked the player characters all looked the same because on your screen, you are always the same character, and the other three players have 'different' player models, but on their screens, they look like the protagonist and you look like one the other player models, sort of like how you always look like Aiden Pearce to you in Watch_Dogs. I may, however be wrong on that count.

Either way, it isn't necessarily the fact that there is no female PC, more the fact that they lied to us about why as though we're idiots, that irritates me.

PirateRose:
I'll say it again.

American Revolution ended in 1783
French Revolution started in 1789
Aveline was born 1746. Thus would be 43 by the time the French Revolution starts.

She exists during this time period and is half french. They could have just put her on a flash drive, mailed her to the developer, and used her. Hell, use her to create a couple of new female PC's.

This is actually a pretty awesome idea....

Doesn't it seems rather foolish to expect a work of fiction like Assassins Creed to tell the truth?

I saw this arcticle and thought "Another feminist uproar on The Escapist? " I'm female and all, and pro-me stuff is generally awesome, but I was beginning to worry that the voices defending us were becoming overwhelming to the point of resembling something like radio static- here specifically. Though Ubisoft's the one being targeted by the content creators, I don't want men to feel so villified and brow-beaten that they won't want to listen further, lest they stick their neck out and it get chopped off.

Thankfully, this piece added depth to the subject. It was fascinating, factual, and did not make all women victims nor men villains, as has already been done recently ad nauseum. Thank you for adding to the conversation, Mr. Rath, and not just extending the bad mojo Ubisoft had started.

...For the record, I'm always glad to see social progress being talked about and debated. But beating a dead horse all week CNN/FOX style is just tiring to watch.

I mean, this is cool and all, but I don't think we need an historical case for an Assassin's Creed game in the first place. Assassin's Creed is an historically accurate series in the same sense that Doctor Who is hard science fiction. And that's fine. I like fake history stories, alternate history stories, and history lite stories, just like I likes me some Doctor Who.

The point is, women playing a part in the revolution is completely irrelevant to their presence in AC: Unisex. The revolution could have been a total sausage fest and it wouldn't make a difference. It could have been run by a matriarchy and it also wouldn't matter.

PirateRose:
I'll say it again.

American Revolution ended in 1783
French Revolution started in 1789
Aveline was born 1746. Thus would be 43 by the time the French Revolution starts.

She exists during this time period and is half french. They could have just put her on a flash drive, mailed her to the developer, and used her. Hell, use her to create a couple of new female PC's.

And asset recycling is common in game design.

ambitiousmould:

Either way, it isn't necessarily the fact that there is no female PC, more the fact that they lied to us about why as though we're idiots, that irritates me.

I doubt anywhere near as many people would have reacted as they did before the excuses were made.

I would rather have the option of female characters, but it wasn't going to be a dealbreaker for me. Still, the excuses are dumb. Some of the excuses that have been made (like historicity) are downright stupid.

She-Pudding:
I don't want men to feel so villified and brow-beaten that they won't want to listen further, lest they stick their neck out and it get chopped off.

I'm not particularly sure why men should feel vilified or brow-beaten merely by no longer having exclusivity status or being the only group taken into consideration.

VVThoughtBox:
Doesn't it seems rather foolish to expect a work of fiction like Assassins Creed to tell the truth?

I don't know why you'd say that. It's so far been accurate, from ancient aliens to da Vinci inventing man-powered flight.

ambitiousmould:
I thought they looked the player characters all looked the same because on your screen, you are always the same character, and the other three players have 'different' player models, but on their screens, they look like the protagonist and you look like one the other player models, sort of like how you always look like Aiden Pearce to you in Watch_Dogs. I may, however be wrong on that count.

You are correct, that is the "official" reason the PCs all look the same. However, it's a completely ludicrous design decision in the first place, and since the story of the game is made up by Ubisoft anyway, they have no excuse for whining "story reasons" as though the story were completely out of their hands.

VVThoughtBox:
Doesn't it seems rather foolish to expect a work of fiction like Assassins Creed to tell the truth?

The Assassin's Creed franchise has been openly boasting about its attention to historical detail. It's been a major selling point in the ad campaigns since day one.

Zachary Amaranth:

I'm not particularly sure why men should feel vilified or brow-beaten merely by no longer having exclusivity status or being the only group taken into consideration.

I think that this has less to do with the gaming population at large having a desire for diversity, and more to do with confused reactions from men who feel like they have been beaten in some contest that they were not active in, and yet appear to have been the other 'team'. I myself have felt vilified for things out of my control, like this exclusivity status you have mentioned. When someone is scoffed at and they have no control over the situation, it does get tiresome. When people achieve victories in equality, some of the language used inevitably can sound like a victory OVER white men. Since I'm not oppressing anyone in particular, as an example, such verbiage eventually weighs on one. It might be that individuals are taking it too personally, to be sure. But I can understand where that feeling might come from.

In short and more on topic, I don't want to play a female character. I never have and that's just how it is. To be fair, I want to play monsters and inhuman things most of the time, but I rarely get what I want anyways.

But I can understand how a gamer girl, or even just someone who is tired of the surplus of male only characters in non-narrative specific games, might want to play as a female character. And so I feel they should be catered to.

Thank you, Robert Rath. That was an excellent read and I really hope someone high up at Ubisoft gets a chance to read it too.

But Robert, we can't appeal to the majority demographic by NOT casting a 30 something straight white male!

Zachary Amaranth:

She-Pudding:
I don't want men to feel so villified and brow-beaten that they won't want to listen further, lest they stick their neck out and it get chopped off.

I'm not particularly sure why men should feel vilified or brow-beaten merely by no longer having exclusivity status or being the only group taken into consideration.

VVThoughtBox:
Doesn't it seems rather foolish to expect a work of fiction like Assassins Creed to tell the truth?

I don't know why you'd say that. It's so far been accurate, from ancient aliens to da Vinci inventing man-powered flight.

Even though Assassin's Creed is very accurate in it's historical depictions, it is still a work of fiction. The story told in the games are slightly embellished to make things interesting. I don't know, something about the way gaming journalists treat history rubs me the wrong way. I doubt many of them paid attention to the French Revolution in History Class.

The last line in this article gave me goosebumps. I knew that already, but that's what's so confusing. Not having female characters playable after naming the game after the proposed asexual motto of the Revolution... I don't know what's happening.. and the devs really ought to tell us. Enough with the bullshit excuses.

I was expecting far more people braying and screaming as is common every time this topic gets brought up instead of the just one, yay civility.

OT: It isn't the lack omission that bothers me nearly as much as to the laziness of the excuse. You had the resources, it was originally planned, then they changed their minds about it. There really isn't a good reason for it, but there it is.

Good thing Uplay is unusable, or I'd have a proper problem.

VVThoughtBox:

Zachary Amaranth:
I don't know why you'd say that. It's so far been accurate, from ancient aliens to da Vinci inventing man-powered flight.

Even though Assassin's Creed is very accurate in it's historical depictions, it is still a work of fiction. The story told in the games are slightly embellished to make things interesting. I don't know, something about the way gaming journalists treat history rubs me the wrong way. I doubt many of them paid attention to the French Revolution in History Class.

...

I really don't think you read the quote you responded to. Zachary Amaranth is clearly being sarcastic.

Charlotte Corday needs to stop being used as a historical case for this, she killed one crippled unguarded man (who in death became far more effective than in life), got caught instantly and executed within the week, all the while utterly failing to achieve her goals as her actions lead to thousands of the people she sympathised with being executed.

The Grim Ace:
I was expecting far more people braying and screaming as is common every time this topic gets brought up instead of the just one, yay civility.

And such an appropriately named gentleman too. :P

To the Op: Great write up! I knew some of these things(Learned in college art history class. We barely learned about American history in my high school. It'd be a nuts to learn about another country's) but there were a few names I didn't recognize. But even without what I knew I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that women did things (same with racial minorities in Western nations). There is always someone that did great things, their story just is never told.

Zachary Amaranth:

She-Pudding:
I don't want men to feel so villified and brow-beaten that they won't want to listen further, lest they stick their neck out and it get chopped off.

I'm not particularly sure why men should feel vilified or brow-beaten merely by no longer having exclusivity status or being the only group taken into consideration.

Ah, I think I see my error here. I suppose I am just worried that the very valid point of female (and minority) representation in media could get lost in sea of oversaturation and zealotry, much like politics. ("If you don't agree, you're wrong" or "one of them"). Not so much in the articles, but in the forums and comments, where not having the the majority's view can lead to downright toxic interactions no matter which side you're on. I'm glad to see minority representation is rather fully supported here, but the volume of articles (and forum threads following each one) can make a person with even a slightly different view feel unwelcome, and that would be a shame. It's better to change someone's mind than force them away y'know? And... I made the assumption that such a person would be a man. Sorry. -.-; Not neccessarilly true.

Of course, this "such a person" could always go somewhere else for gaming news if they really felt that way. But then The Escapist loses a follower, and the argument could be forever lost on them. I suppose I would rather have seen fewer, yet more thorough pieces- or an Extra Consideration-style co-contributing roundup- rather than a steady stream of similar pieces stemming from the same event. It would be one thing if it was an evolving story, but the only update was essentially a Ubisoft appology.

Then again, I can see how the structure of what comes out when on this site would lead to a week-long tangent on a hot, enticing subject like this. And CNN covered their missing airplane story to death for a reason- people watched. And this *is* a good topic that needs to be addressed. But if The Escapist isn't careful, the conversation could get drowned out by a two-sided media hype surrounding it, intentional or not. And perhaps even the people who agree would tire of hearing it?

Which is why I was weary of seeing another piece on the matter, but refreshed by the quality of the content there in. And while I wouldn't say that we have reached CNN-levels of oversaturation, I... well, worry. I do that quite well. But you are right; equality itself should not threaten anyone.

PirateRose:
I'll say it again.

American Revolution ended in 1783
French Revolution started in 1789
Aveline was born 1746. Thus would be 43 by the time the French Revolution starts.

She exists during this time period and is half french. They could have just put her on a flash drive, mailed her to the developer, and used her. Hell, use her to create a couple of new female PC's.

If nothing else, they could of used her skeleton and animations for female assassins. They been reusing the same animations from Altair for the last seven freaking years, for crying out loud.

She-Pudding:

Zachary Amaranth:

She-Pudding:
I don't want men to feel so villified and brow-beaten that they won't want to listen further, lest they stick their neck out and it get chopped off.

I'm not particularly sure why men should feel vilified or brow-beaten merely by no longer having exclusivity status or being the only group taken into consideration.

Ah, I think I see my error here. I suppose I am just worried that the very valid point of female (and minority) representation in media could get lost in sea of oversaturation and zealotry, much like politics. ("If you don't agree, you're wrong" or "one of them"). Not so much in the articles, but in the forums and comments, where not having the the majority's view can lead to downright toxic interactions no matter which side you're on. I'm glad to see minority representation is rather fully supported here, but the volume of articles (and forum threads following each one) can make a person with even a slightly different view feel unwelcome, and that would be a shame. It's better to change someone's mind than force them away y'know? And... I made the assumption that such a person would be a man. Sorry. -.-; Not neccessarilly true.

Of course, this "such a person" could always go somewhere else for gaming news if they really felt that way. But then The Escapist loses a follower, and the argument could be forever lost on them. I suppose I would rather have seen fewer, yet more thorough pieces- or an Extra Consideration-style co-contributing roundup- rather than a steady stream of similar pieces stemming from the same event. It would be one thing if it was an evolving story, but the only update was essentially a Ubisoft appology.

Then again, I can see how the structure of what comes out when on this site would lead to a week-long tangent on a hot, enticing subject like this. And CNN covered their missing airplane story to death for a reason- people watched. And this *is* a good topic that needs to be addressed. But if The Escapist isn't careful, the conversation could get drowned out by a two-sided media hype surrounding it, intentional or not. And perhaps even the people who agree would tire of hearing it?

Which is why I was weary of seeing another piece on the matter, but refreshed by the quality of the content there in. And while I wouldn't say that we have reached CNN-levels of oversaturation, I... well, worry. I do that quite well. But you are right; equality itself should not threaten anyone.

I wish there were more people like you on these forums and writing articles because I think you definitely illustrated well a view I very much share.

I think there is a problem that comes 2 fold with this issue, the first is absolutely what you said in your first paragraph and the second is that I think people don't like to be pushed blindly, and I think people appreciate reasoning, logic and compromise. I also think that no one in that male, or more specifically in the white male demographic is offended by the idea of diversity or inclusiveness, but I think they certainly take exception to being considered "part of the problem" based solely on their race and gender.

Also I think the Escapist is overdoing it a bit. I don't think The Escapist is extreme by any measure, but as far as Assassin's Creed goes, this is the 4th or 5th article I think I've read on this site about it. Everyone is commenting on it. And I should clarify that I don't think that it's all bad. I think Shamus Young's article was very informative, and I think this article was very interesting as well, but you could get the impression that this is the only thing that happened at E3 which has tons upon tons of game reveals and interesting things happen. The Escapist Movies and TV podcast could also be described as three feminists sometimes discussing movies and TV (and don't get me wrong I still listen to it).

I think a good example of how things can go horribly wrong is when someone like Suey Park defiantly decries that she does not want help from 'white liberals' which is certainly an extreme example, but I think its a perfect example that comes to mind where I see someone who is fighting for something I believe in but in such a way that I could never support her personally because she sees me as an enemy inherently, and there is nothing I can do or say to prove to her that I am on her side.

Great article, Robert. Amazing ending.

And now...

*sigh*

Toilet:

>With all the constant bitching about GTAV at least a single playable female should be playable and BAM! We get three males and it breaks sales records, goes to gross a billion dollars in 3 days and sells 33+ million copies overall.
>Ubisoft actually came out and cut playable females from both Far Cry 4 and Assassins Creed Unity and when they come out they will still sell millions of copies as usual.

Damn, the established franchises with millions of dollars in advertising behind it sell a lot of copies regardless of their content? Call the press, we got a headline for 'em.

Toilet:
Although most of you seem to forget Assassins Creed Liberation which actually features a black female protagonist which must be some kind of holy grail to you warriors of "equality".

We didn't forget that one. We also didn't forget that it was a Vita exclusive with barely an marketing or advertising behind it, and the PC port was even worse. There's people now who are still finding out that the game even exists for PC despite knowing of the Vita version. In short, handheld spin-off does not major release equal.

Toilet:

>In 2013 there were no women at Sony's PS4 reveal and lots of crying on Kotaku, Twitter and Tumblr and this year there were still no female presenters. The best you got was a single woman to demo LBP3 and she was terrible at it.

Except for a couple of women at the EA conference, at least one at the Microsoft one IIRC, and Aisha Tyler presenting THE ENTIRE UBISOFT PRESENTATION.

Toilet:
>Remember Me which stared a mixed race female character and we hardly hear about it in discussions of diversity despite the fact that is actually was a pretty good game.

It is pretty frequently brought up by people who remember it. However, again, poor marketing and advertising have resulted in lower public awareness that the damn thing exists than on average.

Toilet:
>Last of Us DLC makes Ellie a lesbian which is a great thing because who doesn't love lesbians?

The Last of Us is not under question here, and it ALREADY CONTAINS A CANONICALLY GAY CHARACTER IN THE MAIN GAME.

Toilet:
Nobody cares about your armchair protesting, especially not the people making games.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/135500-Ubisoft-CEO-Says-Company-Will-Work-to-Extend-Diversity
http://www.gearboxsoftware.com/community/articles/1077/inside-the-box-inclusivity
http://www.gameranx.com/features/id/21176/article/conversations-we-should-have-bioware-s-manveer-heir-on-diversity-in-video-games/

the December King:
I myself have felt vilified for things out of my control, like this exclusivity status you have mentioned.

Except it impacts and targets you specifically in no way, shape or form.

Unless you're bothered by the notion of no longer being the only group considered by mainstream gaming, I fail to see why it would be a problem for you. Nobody is saying men are evil for being the target market. Nobody's saying you've done anything wrong by being the target market. And you even said that you think girl gamers should be catered to, so where is the problem? And that's not rhetorical or meant to condescend, I just literally do not get it.

I mean, I'm not black, but it's never particularly bothered me the thought of more black protagonists. I don't feel like I'm a problem party simply because they consider people who look like me to be a key demo, either.

VVThoughtBox:

Even though Assassin's Creed is very accurate in it's historical depictions, it is still a work of fiction. The story told in the games are slightly embellished to make things interesting. I don't know, something about the way gaming journalists treat history rubs me the wrong way. I doubt many of them paid attention to the French Revolution in History Class.

"Slightly embellished" in the sense that CSI is "mostly accurate." They have a tendency to go pretty far off the rails.

I think the historical argument is pretty much a non-starter, but I don't get the claims of accuracy.

She-Pudding:
-SNIP-

Ah. Fair enough. I think the bigger worry there is less saturation and more fanaticism. I dislike the idea that "you're with us, or you're against us." I am friends with a lot of people I disagree with rather passionately on some subjects, and I'd be shocked to ever meet someone I was in complete agreement with. And maybe concerned that they were planning to take over my life.

It just seems there's a good chunk of folk who immediately take umbrage when the subject comes up, as if bringing up women in games is somehow a personal attack on them, and that also makes it hard to have anything close to a real discussion.

jurnag12:

It is pretty frequently brought up by people who remember it. However, again, poor marketing and advertising have resulted in lower public awareness that the damn thing exists than on average.

It also wasn't a particularly good game. I mean, I guess we're supposed to give it marks for having a female lead, and that's great, but the game was lackluster.

Probably didn't hurt that much of its marketing came from the devs being told they couldn't have a girl character prior.

So what is the game like? I'm assuming you've already played and finished the game that you can make a case for including an element in it.

Anyway, if this site really doesn't have any other topics to discuss, it doesn't deserve the ad revenue. You're now as bad as FOX, Escapist. At least when they spend a week trashing a videogame, it has a murder or something important behind it.

The idea of excluding women just because they weren't the majority of participants is just absurd to me.
How many historical events had women as the majority, anyhow?
In all of history, women were the minority of historical players it seems. Is an eternal game of catch up going to justify their exclusion?
I mean one has to defy the majority of players in most historical events to have a woman in media based off a historical event, then.

It's not like every game has to uproot history for the sake of giving a damn about inclusiveness, either.

Jupiter065:
Thank you Robert, excellent article. That last line gave me goosebumps.

Agreed. As I was reading, I felt it in my gut. Then that last line was a sucker punch.

"Ooo, Ubisoft got burned," is an understatement; that last line was Ubisoft getting a red-hot fire-poker jammed in its eye.

Is this an argument for why it would make sense if they did include a female PC? Or is this an argument for why they are compelled to include a female PC? And is it about including an entire female PC storyline (i.e. the single-player campaign), or about including playable female characters in multiplayer?

If the former, it's really an argument about the historical accuracy/PC-ness versus "the story they want to tell" and "the difficulty of including entirely separate storylines (and voice acting, and motion capture)." I'm no game dev, but I'm willing to (a) let storytellers tell the stories they want, and (b) give them the benefit of the doubt on the difficulty of adding a second iteration of the same complexity.

If it's the latter, it's just silly. At most you're asking for a reskin, some base and meaningless pandering which will affect the storyline not a whit.

And why do we feel like we're in a position to gainsay the story that the creators want to tell? This would be like saying that J.K Rowling should have made a separate line of books where we follow Hermione as the main character because otherwise there's too much focus on Harry, and in the real world women make up around half of the population.

And for all of the "OMG they should come up with/tell a story with a female protagonist" I have only this to say:

If you have a story with a female protagonist you want to tell tell it. Write that book, write that screenplay, write that script for a game (or even program that game). Stop demanding that other people tell the story you want to see told.

Seldon2639:

And for all of the "OMG they should come up with/tell a story with a female protagonist" I have only this to say:

If you have a story with a female protagonist you want to tell tell it. Write that book, write that screenplay, write that script for a game (or even program that game). Stop demanding that other people tell the story you want to see told.

The problem with this notion is that doing something for yourself can kill all sense of wonder, mystery, and excitement.
You'll know when something's going to happen, why it happens, and working on it so long, you may come to hate your own project no matter why you started it.

Someone else doing it means you don't necessarily know the story they'll tell. It can preserve some of the most important points of entertainment.

That's not even thinking about the other flaws like having the time to do it, the resources to do it, the creativity to do it, and so forth. Not everyone's cut out to be an artist/writer/game developer, so does that mean their voices automatically get silenced?

May as well say that to everyone that disagrees with what the government is doing, or how cars are built, or how food is cooked, or how someone argues a point, etc. etc.

I can understand the notion of encouraging people to try it, but it's not a magical cure-all.

Seldon2639:
Is this an argument for why it would make sense if they did include a female PC? Or is this an argument for why they are compelled to include a female PC? And is it about including an entire female PC storyline (i.e. the single-player campaign), or about including playable female characters in multiplayer?

If the former, it's really an argument about the historical accuracy/PC-ness versus "the story they want to tell" and "the difficulty of including entirely separate storylines (and voice acting, and motion capture)." I'm no game dev, but I'm willing to (a) let storytellers tell the stories they want, and (b) give them the benefit of the doubt on the difficulty of adding a second iteration of the same complexity.

If it's the latter, it's just silly. At most you're asking for a reskin, some base and meaningless pandering which will affect the storyline not a whit.

And why do we feel like we're in a position to gainsay the story that the creators want to tell? This would be like saying that J.K Rowling should have made a separate line of books where we follow Hermione as the main character because otherwise there's too much focus on Harry, and in the real world women make up around half of the population.

And for all of the "OMG they should come up with/tell a story with a female protagonist" I have only this to say:

If you have a story with a female protagonist you want to tell tell it. Write that book, write that screenplay, write that script for a game (or even program that game). Stop demanding that other people tell the story you want to see told.

Honestly it's because Ubisoft is an easy target and we need to end the Generic Grizzled White Guy spam in gaming. Not just because it's boring, but because it's actually a sign and perpetrator of institutional bias, which has a lot of indirect ill effects. Point being, Ubi is pretty much going with the "default" person in all their games.

It doesn't help that Ubi put themselves on thin ice constantly. First, constantly holding for hostage the sequel to the game that uses a strong female lead that actually embraces aspects that would be considered traditionally feminine. Then, we get the fact that all the AC games begin giant signs that say they love diversity, then... well here we are talking about Unity. Finally, and I made a thread about this, there is the aberration of the female characters from the recent Watch_Dogs.

So the industry constantly pandering trying to be as dudebro as possible needs to end. The only way to do this, their users need to apply pressure where they can see cracks. Target: Ubisoft

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