Controversies in Geek Culture: Assassin’s Creed Unity

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“Assassin’s Creed Unity” was recently announced at E3 to be released later this year. The game is set in 1800s Paris during The French Revolution, with a protagonist named Arno. While little is known about him so far, he seems to fit the mold of almost every other Assassin’s Creed protagonist: a rugged, tough, white guy in a hood. While “Unity” is definitely going to be a great game, there has already been a whirlwind of controversy surrounding the game’s multiplayer characters. A number of four players can play at one time, each playing as Arno, only in differently colored outfits. Therefore, once again, no female character will be introduced in a blockbuster series such as “Assassin’s Creed”. Ubisoft’s creative director, Alex Amancio, explained the lack of a female character in a quote that has been scrutinized by the internet ever since it was said:

 “It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets, especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work.”

So basically, Ubisoft originally planned on having women in the game but couldn’t because it’s “too hard”. “Unity”’s level designer, Bruno St Andre, estimated that 8000 new animations would be required to include a playable female character. Jonathan Cooper, the animation director for “Assassin’s Creed III” (who no longer works for Ubisoft), rebutted this and tweeted “In my educated opinion, I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work, [not] a replacement of 8000 animations.” Cooper also tweeted that Aveline de Grandpre (of “Assassin’s Creed: Liberation”) shared more animations with Connor Kenway (of “Assassin’s Creed III”) than Edward Kenway (of “Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag”), Connor’s biological grandfather.

Arno. Source: gpgr.net

Cooper is not the only one to respond to Amancio’s problems with women. A huge part of the gaming community has been in debate over this. Michelle Starr, a writer for Cnet.com, stated that changing a male animation to a female animation would require a significant amount of work. Depending on the height and build of the character, the way that they would interact with their environment, such as climbing buildings, would have to be altered. Transferring simple animations over would also be difficult due to females having a different skeletal structure than males.

Amancio said this himself, stating that “Because of that, the common denominator was Arno. It’s not like we could cut our main character, so the only logical option, the only option we had, was to cut the female avatar.”

Jumping to the conclusion that the only option for creating successful multiplayer gameplay is to completely cut the female character is, quite frankly, lazy. There were multiple options that could have been considered to fix this problem. One option is to have the female be of a more masculine build, so her movements would not have to be entirely replaced. The female character also could have been androgynous in design, leaving the character’s movements up to interpretation. While I know nothing about animation, I’m sure that making these changes wouldn’t have been too much of a problem for Ubisoft, considering their talents with animation, as shown with past games.

Each version of Arno as seen in the multiplayer mode. Source: cinemablend.com
Each version of Arno as seen in the multiplayer mode. Source: cinemablend.com

A really easy way to eliminate the problem of women altogether is to, I don’t know; make the main protagonist a woman. I know that this is extremely radical thinking, but hear me out. Ubisoft wouldn’t have had a problem with adding women later on if they had just considered them from the beginning. Wow! What a simple solution!

You might be thinking, “But they already have one game with a female protagonist!” That’s nice. Having one female protagonist doesn’t excuse you for refusing to acknowledge them any time after that. That’s like saying, “Hey, we had Black Widow in The Avengers, so it’s okay if we don’t have any women for like, 3 years.”

Now, I know what else you might be thinking: “Unity” is set during the French Revolution, a time when women had little rights. The chances that a woman would be in the revolution are very slim. They’re just being historically accurate!

That is a valid point. Past “Assassin’s Creed” games have shown their attention to historical accuracy. They’ve even included some diverse characters in the past, such as Adewale and Altair.

However, I’m going to go out on a whim here and say that Ubisoft used Google at least once during the production of Unity. A simple search of “French Revolution assassin” would have solved their problem of female representation:

As you can see, the first (non-Creed related) result that appears is a woman named Charlotte Corday. Immediately after her is Jean-Paul Marat, and immediately after that is “The Death of Marat”. Any guess as to how these things are connected?

If you can’t figure it out, Corday assassinated Marat, who was one of the leaders of the Reign of Terror. This assassination is one of the most important and renowned of the French Revolution.

So if Ubisoft focuses so much on historical accuracy, why is it that they never took Corday into account when they began to create this game? You could say it’s because Corday was executed. You could also say it was because Ubisoft always creates original protagonists. However, wouldn’t it make sense for you to take some inspiration from the most highly regarded assassination of the French Revolution? This, I believe, should be the main focus of controversy concerning Unity. Arguing over the mechanics of animation is something that little people actually have knowledge of, and any claims of how long it would take could only be valid if actually acted upon. The real problem here is the lack of any representation in one of the biggest video game franchises of all time.

What Ubisoft is doing is feeding the flames of female representation in the video game industry. If you look around your local video game store, you’ll notice that almost every video game has the protagonist of a white guy. Every company that releases a game with this kind of protagonist is adding to the idea that only games led by men will sell. While video game industries might have a certain character or story in mind, which is perfectly fine, it seems that no one wants to expand their mind to other kinds of people. “Unity” also adds to the idea that “Female-led games don’t sell.” This isn’t because people don’t want to buy them – it’s because there are none to buy. There are very few games out there that are female-led, and an even smaller amount that are successful.

Source: gamersofcolor.tumblr.com
Source: gamersofcolor.tumblr.com

The biggest problem I have with all of this is the idea that women are “too hard” to animate. This isn’t the first time that the complexities of women have been touched upon. Lino DiSalvo was the head of animation for the widely popular film, “Frozen”. If you haven’t noticed, Elsa and Anna look extremely similar to Rapunzel from “Tangled”. It’s so similar, in fact, that it basically looks like the same face reused. DiSalvo commented on this, stating:

“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.”

Source: skunkandburningtires.com
Source: skunkandburningtires.com

Yes, because women looking pretty is always the top priority when animating them. This quote, along with Amancio’s quote, shows how women are seen in the media, whether it is in a movie or a video game. “Unity” hasn’t even been released yet, and already the lack of representation has caused a stir of controversy. It deserves the controversy, however. If we continue to let these interpretations of women in the media occur, we’ll keep experiencing the same problem we’ve had for so many years already. Even if Ubisoft adds a female character later as DLC, it doesn’t make up for the problems they’ve already caused.

Ubisoft, I don’t care if animating women is just too hard for you. You should have thought about them from the beginning. There are no excuses.

Featured image courtesy of gamesided.com.