Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Sensible Foundations - Eponine and the Female Avatar 'Problem'*

Here we come, Walkin' down the street...**
A friend linked this article relating to the forthcoming Assassin's Creed: Unity. It concerns the fact that, as the promotion image suggests, the game's four-player co-op mode is - unlike the multiplayer modes of the previous releases - a complete sausage fest, and that the reason given for this is that creating and animating a set of female avatars would have overtaxed the development team (or rather, teams).

I admit, I am - like the interviewer - unconvinced.

So, why does this matter? Many would point out that there are an increasing number of games with female protagonists, so what does it matter if this one doesn't have any? Firstly, there are still more games with male protagonists than with female, and this disparity really ought to be less than it is. Nonetheless, where a game is focused on the story of a single, defined character, be that character male or female, I see no particular problem with that.

The issue arises in co-op and multiplayer games in which a larger cast of varied and less defined avatars omits 50% of the populace. It's done in large part because of a persistent and increasingly inaccurate perception that men play games and want male avatars, and it also feeds into that perception. Whenever a defined character is replaced by a more general one, the player will tend to identify more closely with their avatar; without a story of their own, the main character becomes us, especially if we're group chatting with our buddies instead of speaking in the character's voice. This means that the absence of female avatars will tend to alienate women - and men, for that matter - who would prefer to play as a female character, bolstering the misapprehension that 'girls don't want to play this kind of game'.

Of course, what makes it more of a disappointment is that the multiplayer modes of past AC games have always featured a range of female characters to play.

Now, cards on the table, I am not a game developer or a programmer, so it is entirely possible that I will be catastrophically wrong about something in the rest of this post; if so, please let me know and I am happy to alter my text and opinions to better fit reality. However, from my place in the peanut gallery, these are my thoughts on the claim that it is too much work to include female avatars.


What is it that makes animating a female avatar so different to animating either a male avatar or a female background character (because they'll be there, unless the entire great nation of France has suffered a devastating outbreak of lady flu in the AC universe, in which case the fall of the monarchy would, you'd think, be taking a serious back seat) that the workload is doubled by their inclusion? Why is adding female co-op avatars so much harder than the female multiplayer avatars of previous games? The developers quote changes to the costumes, but it's hard to see why; practical combat garb is much the same for either sex, and you would hope that a female assassin would think to wear sufficiently sensible foundation garments and shoes as not to need much in the way of jiggle physics.

And in fairness to Ubisoft, past AC games have been jiggle free, and the multiplayer avatars have worn at worst low kitten heels, so the challenges of animating Sugar Kane, revolutionary shit-kicker don't arise.

In fact, you know what you want your badass lady French revolutionary to look like?
It's now canon for me that Eponine faked her death to join
the Assassins.
Seriously, even if you feel it behooves you to have your female avatars look like Samantha Barks, the differences in costume can be kept to a minimum by having them look like Samantha Barks.

Speaking of revolutionaries, this discussion isn't really complete without mention of Brink. Heavily marketed on the basis of its vast customisability, not one of its 102,247,681,536,000,000 avatar element combinations uses a female base model. As in AC: Unity, the revolution will not be feminised, and worse, as in the case of Brink, in which there are no additional avatars for allies, enemies and crowd characters, it seems that when the chips are down, 50% of the human race just vanishes.

* I say 'problem' in quotes to indicate my skepticism that including female avatars is a major problem, rather than that the absence of female avatars is a non-problem.
** Yes, I know; Little Green Bag would have been more apt, but using The Monkees was funnier.