Blockbuster games rarely feature women as protagonists, and those that do often feature hyper-sexualized characters like Lara Croft. It’s a sad truth of the video game industry: games that cost tens of millions of dollars court the 18-25 year old male demographic.
But the situation is thankfully getting better, and this year’s “Assassin’s Creed” embodies that positive evolution.
In “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate,” a set of twins — sister and brother — share the lead role, as players must use both Elvie and Jacob Frye to quest through a wonderfully complex recreation of 1880s London.
“We need more modern storytelling, to change the way we’ve been telling stories on ‘Assassin’s Creed,’ if we really want to make this experience feel fresh,” creative director Marc-Alexis Côté told Business Insider in an interview last week.
Côté’s perspective stands in stark contrast to the statements made by previous “Assassin’s Creed” creative directors. When asked about playable female characters in last year’s “AC” game, creative director Alex Amancio said it was planned, but ultimately cut for budget reasons.
“It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets,” Amancio told Polygon. That claim turned out to be dubious at best, as animators publicly refuted Amancio’s answer.
In 2012, the absence of playable female characters was blamed on historical accuracy. Here’s “Assassin’s Creed 3” creative director Alex Hutchinson in an interview with Kotaku:
“It’s always up in the air. I think lots of people want it, [but] in this period it’s been a bit of a pain. The history of the American Revolution is the history of men. There are a few people, like John Adams’ wife, [Abigail] — they tried very hard in the TV series to not make it look like a bunch of dudes, but it really is a bunch of dudes. It felt like, if you had all these men in every scene and you’re secretly, stealthily in crowds of dudes [as a female assassin], it starts to feel kind of wrong. People would stop believing it.”
To be clear, “Assassin’s Creed 3” is a game starring a half-Native American/half-British man who helps George Washington fight the American Revolution. There are some pretty serious liberties taken with its representation of history.
Notably, there was previously a game in the franchise called “Assassin’s Creed: Liberation” that featured a female lead, but it was a spinoff released only on Sony’s handheld game console, the PlayStation Vita, not the flagship entry that comes out every holiday season.
“Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate” is a smart move in the direction of inclusivity.
In addition to a playable female lead, it features a diversity of male and female enemies (another first for the series); and female boss characters. Ubisoft hasn’t released any images of Evie yet, but what we were shown (briefly) in a demo last week didn’t seem to depict her as a lesser character.
Here’s how Côté described the difference in-game between Evie and Jacob:
Jacob is more oriented to combat: he’s brash, he’s a brawler, always jumps headfirst. I can’t talk to you about Evie’s personality, but I can say that she’s more tactical. She’ll explore the other side, the stealth side.
Ubisoft isn’t saying much about its female protagonist just yet, but we were told by representatives that more information will be available later this summer.