Will Ubisoft Ever Live Down Their Assassin’s Creed Gender Blunder?
This weekend, it happened again: Ubisoft took criticism for their recent Assassin’s Creed Unity blunder. You know, the one where they ct female playable characters? This time, the critic was Ashley Johnson, voice of Ellie in The Last of Us (which is being rereleased for the PS4 this week). She was quoted in a VideoGamer.com interview as saying, “Give me a fucking break! It’s 2014! How many video games do you have to make to realize maybe have an option to have a female be in there?’
Johnson has been far from the first critic. In the six weeks since Ubioft announced that it was cutting female avatars from ACU claiming that “It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets [..] It was really a lot of extra production work,” they’ve become the poster child for everything that’s wrong with inclusiveness in videogames in 2014.
The push for female inclusion in central roles in gaming has been building for a number of years now, with people like Anita Sakrkeesian leading the charge against the traditional roles of women in videogames — as set dressing, as victims, or as sidekicks. Ubisoft had the unfortunate luck to get caught at a tipping point, one where demand for inclusion has begun to outstrip the forgiving of traditional gaming tropes. It’s hard to say whether or not Ubisoft deserves all the flack they’re taking, but one thing is clear: the Internet isn’t going to let them forget the Assassin’s Creed gender blunder anytime soon.
It didn’t help Ubisoft that they tried to explain away their Assassin’s Creed gender blunder with such a lame excuse, which essentially told players, “Female characters weren’t worth the extra effort.” They might as well have just said, “We want to alienate female gamers so that they don’t buy our game.” And nowadays, dismissing the female segment of gamer culture is a stupid thing to do.
From cons to cartoons to messageboards, everybody is getting their digs in at Ubisoft nowadays. One of my favorites is this:
— Feminist Frequency (@femfreq) July 13, 2014
And then last week’s announcement that there would be a playable female Robin in the new Super Smash Bros. also provided an opportunity to get a dig in at Microsoft, this time from Twitter user Not Reggie Fil-Amis:
— Not Reggie Fils-Aime (@Reggie_NOA) July 14, 2014
Will Ubisoft ultimately come through with some sort of female character DLC? Who knows. When the Internet zeitgeist latches onto a joke it doesn’t let the joke go easily, and Ubisoft may ultimately decide that the smart move is to backpeddle and give the people what they want. But I’m willing to bet that their next game doesn’t forget to plan for the “extra work” of female playable characters.
And I guarantee you this: no other AAA or mid-tier gaming company will forget the lesson that Ubisoft is allowing the whole industry to learn.