If you’ve been on Twitter this morning, you’ll have seen that there’s a lot of controversy surrounding Assassin’s Creed Unity, the latest open-world title from Ubisoft. The issue is that the game doesn’t feature any female assassins, but the rest of the gaming media have unhelpfully put a misleading spin on the story (and Ubisoft’s mixed messaging doesn’t exactly help). Here’s why Ubisoft aren’t sexist, and why it makes perfect sense for AC Unity to only have male assassins.
So, what’s the specific problem?
The main problem people have is with the co-op mode. In this, four player co-op seamlessly integrates into the main storyline, and the question some are raising is why one of these four characters can’t be a female.
Sounds like a valid point. So, what’s the reason for it?
The resolution is surprisingly simple, and it’s insane that people don’t understand this. In your game, you are always playing as protagonist Arno. When you start the co-op, you are still Arno: the other players appear on your screen as generic hooded people. For player 2, however, you look like a generic assassin: they think they are playing as Arno. Thus there is, in fact, only one playable character in Unity: the protagonist. It would be impossible for Ubisoft to include multiple playable characters without completely overhauling the narrative and story, and I think that we can all agree that this would be an unfair demand. Creative choices like this should be defended.
Oh. That makes a lot of sense, actually. But wait…why can’t one of the other three assassins be female?
What would that achieve? The issue people are raising is one of player agency and a lack of female playable characters. If one of the other assassins was female, you would not be playing as them! Your customised female character would simply appear on someone else’s screen: you would never see them (because you’d be seeing Arno). Do you really care enough to want Ubisoft to implement a form of female characterisation that would never be seen by the player, except for in the background as a random co-op partner?
But what about the thing Ubisoft said about how implementing female characters would have used up too many resources?
Yeah…Ubisoft shouldn’t have said that. That was pretty much nonsense: they spend enough time implementing random features that they could have put women in if they wanted to. But creatively, it wouldn’t have made sense. And we have to respect their decisions here: they prioritised a seamless multiplayer experience over a hyper-fragmented co-op mode that wouldn’t really have worked. I can’t blame them for that.
So female representation in games isn’t an issue then?
No: it’s still a huge issue. We need more female protagonists, we need more female writers and developers…but this particular instance of the debate isn’t a debate worth having. There are things that Ubisoft could have done: female side characters or a female companion, and I’d be shocked if there were no women in the game (I mean, AC Liberation had a female protagonist, and Black Flag had some really strong women!). But talking about Unity’s co-op mode obfuscates more important problems: ironically, by calling AC Unity misogynistic, you’re hampering the real debate about misogyny.