Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Ubisoft: Straighter. Whiter. Duder.

Shamus Young | 17 Jun 2014 15:00
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Tomb Raider Lara Croft

Yes, not every game needs to have females in it. I can totally buy the concept that some games are just designed around playing one gender or the other. It would be silly to make Tomb Raider so you could play as a dude. (Although I hope they would at least have the decency to name him Tom Braider.) A male-focused or female-focused game is fine. It's not that any one game leaves out women. It's that so many games leave out women. Ubisoft's catalog is sausagefest even by video game standards. Far Cry, Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Assassin's Creed, Watch_Dogs. Their big-budget headline franchises are by, for, and about dudes.

This is made all the more painful by just how bland and shallow their male protagonists are. It's one thing to be obliged to play as a dude when he's interesting and different, but after five minutes playing as Adrian Pearce I was ready to demand a game that let me play as a pan-ethnic differently-abled gender queer senior citizen, if only to escape the smothering sameness. If we're going to play as thirty-something straight white dudes all the time, then is it too much to ask if they have some personality?

Even if you don't care about female players, this is still ridiculous from a business standpoint. Ubisoft can't argue that "women don't want to play these kinds of games" because Ubisoft has no way of knowing that. In fact, they've gone out of their way to avoid knowing about that. The one Assassin's Creed title that had a female protagonist was released for handhelds, and with such understated marketing that I didn't even hear about it until after it was already out. (Compare this to the Black Flag marketing blitz, where I was sick to death of the game before it even hit stores.) They released their one female-focused game on a different platform and to little fanfare, so that whether it sold well or poorly they would have no idea if it had anything to do with the gender of the audience or the protagonist. Even in Unity, it would have been really useful to let people choose to play as a woman, just to see how many people wanted to do that.

The point is: This has nothing to do with how hard or easy it is to put females in the game, or how much it would cost, or how difficult it is to do mo-cap these days. Ubisoft doesn't want to put females in their games, they have no idea if it's something the audience wants, and they are avoiding any move that might shed some light on the subject. I'm not pointing fingers at any specific person in the company, but taken as a whole Ubisoft comes off as shallow, stupid, single-minded, and lacking in creative vision.

No, they don't have to put females in their games. But I don't have to stop heaping shame on them for fumbling at PR and game design. Their characters are bland, their multiplayer system sounds awkward and silly, and their excuses are actually more patronizing and irritating than just coming out and admitting that the only thing they want to do is make more stories about shallow 30-something white dudes.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided. Special thanks to the excellent and venerable Ric Chivo for the article title..

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