I like to offer a bit of a Devil’s Advocate view sometimes, but I can’t think of any way to defend Nintendo on this one. The absence of homosexual relationships in Tomodachi Life, a game that encourages you to populate it with real-life friends and family, is genuinely insulting and exclusionary. But do I think that those at Nintendo are homophobes because of it? No. Thoughtless, old-fashioned, lazy, perhaps, but to accuse them of irrational hatred would be a serious step, one I am unwilling to take without first looking for a more logical reason.
Bashing on E3 is fashionable these days, which I fully support, but throughout the most recent show I felt like the gaming press and social media were playing a game of politically-correcter-than-thou, competing to see who could get a controversy going first. FarCry 4 being racist didn’t catch on. Neither did complaints about Lara Croft being in therapy. But then someone noticed that there weren’t any female characters in the co-op mode of Assassin’s Creed Unity, and someone at Ubisoft made some unguarded quotes for people to jump all over, and the storm broke.
For the record, I think this outrage was founded on misunderstanding. Unity seems to be doing the same thing Watch_Dogs does, that is, integrate the multiplayer seamlessly into the single-player story. So when you join the multiplayer, you’re still playing as the story’s protagonist, as are all the other human players. They take on slightly different appearances when appearing in someone else’s game just so that you don’t see four copies of the same dude running around. It’s no more sexist than there being no option to play a female Aiden Pearce, or a male Lara Croft.
They could have had other players appear as female, true, but it’s not as easy as just rendering one more character model. A game like Mass Effect can get away with using the same animations for both sexes, because the character doesn’t do much more than run, shoot, and crouch behind walls. It’s a far bigger job in Assassin’s Creed, which features much more complex interactions with the environment. All of the climbing would have to be re-done to suit narrower shoulders and broader hips, just for starters. But this is missing the point. It doesn’t matter how much or how little a workload it could’ve been, it’s still only a cosmetic change that a lot of players won’t even see (I know I don’t plan to spend much time in the multiplayer), so if the budget runs tight and deadline looms, it’s going to get struck off the priority list pretty quick.
So no, you can’t play as a woman, but neither can you play as a black guy or Peter Lorre or indeed anyone other than this one specific beardy French ponce. Which admittedly does nothing to help the more general issue that white male protagonists are over-represented. A valid problem, just not one exclusive to Ubisoft. Now, I could argue that you can’t just demand that a creator change their story to suit you, and that if it doesn’t appeal to you then you’re free to not buy it. But I can’t keep a straight face and pretend that triple-A video games are largely auteur-driven. Or that a game’s popularity is determined solely by raw appeal, and not the influence of the publisher’s marketing department.
No, the fact is, the lack of diversity may well be a result of big companies not wanting to take risks. And I’m not saying female-driven games would definitely be a risk, but if white-dude-driven games are bringing in the cash, then it is the nature of the soulless corporation to not try to fix what isn’t broke. And why SHOULD they? It’s not something they can do casually, experimentally; the jobs of hundreds if not thousands may depend on a game’s success. Even more so with budgets being so ridiculously high these days. I don’t think you can blame a corporation for keeping things safe and bland out of the desire to maximize its chances of continued existence. More to the point, I don’t think you should be ‘blaming’ anyone.
I personally take the view that the over-representation of male game protagonists stems from an over-representation of male creators in the triple-A industry. And while one could certainly find individual cases of misogyny in action, I think the broader explanation is that less women are game designers for the same reason that less men are fashion editors: they are less likely to consider it an option because of societal gender roles. Which are ingrained into us from birth because of instincts we have retained from our evolutionary history that we may no longer require.
Whether you agree or not, my point is that I don’t find ‘X has an irrational hatred for Y’ a satisfactory explanation for any lack of diversity, and to claim it is the basis hurts the debate. I didn’t find Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s content an ounce as disturbing as some of the response: the anger, the misinformation, the self-righteous refusal to accept apologies or explanations. The internet is far too willing to let emotion fuel the argument, and to leap to irrational hatred as an explanation. Perhaps understandably. It’s human nature to want to identify enemies, so that we know what to blame our problems on.
But I don’t think Ubisoft hates women, if for no other reason than because there’s no profit in doing so. And I don’t think Tomodachi Life hates gay people. It is at worst only trying to avoid complexity in a rather poorly thought-out way. There may be some who genuinely do hate you for your gender or race or sexual orientation (Finnish Hearthstone tournaments, maybe), and by all means hate them back, but when you cry hatred where none exists, you do nothing but weaken your position. You will persuade no-one to a cause by associating it with unfounded hysteria.
And besides, these arguments distract from the broader issues. Don’t hate Tomodachi Life for homophobia, hate it for being dull with no apparent purpose to its existence. Don’t hate the games industry for being sexist, hate it for being bloated, uncreative and dishonest. And don’t hate me for being a heterosexual white guy disparaging slacktivism, hate me for all those murders I’ve done.