At the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the game development company Ubisoft debuted a trailer showcasing the cooperative mode in their upcoming game Assassin’s Creed Unity. One thing viewers quickly noticed about the trailer was that all the assassins in it were male. When questioned about why female characters weren’t an option in this mode, the game’s creative director said that although there were originally plans to allow for female assassins, the development team couldn’t add them because it would require “double the animations, double the voices, and double the visual assets.” Meanwhile, a level designer on the game stated that including female assassins would have meant recreating 8000 animations on a new skeleton. These comments led to an explosion of controversy and criticism on Twitter, with many people using the sarcastic hashtag “women are too hard to animate.”
A number of experienced game developers joined the chorus of voices calling out the absurdity of Ubisoft’s claims. Animator Jonathan Cooper, who had previously worked on Assassin’s Creed III for Ubisoft, tweeted, “I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations.” And Manveer Heir of Bioware summed up what Ubisoft was actually saying: “We don’t really care to put the effort in to make a woman assassin.” Ubisoft’s disregard for female character options didn’t stop with Unity. Also at E3 2014, the director of Far Cry 4 admitted to a similar issue with that game’s online co-op mode, saying, “We were inches away from having you be able to select a girl or a guy as your co-op buddy.” Again, the excuse for why this option wasn’t available was that it would just be too much work. And yet again, what they were really saying was that they just couldn’t be bothered to do the work it would have taken to provide that option. Though it’s worth pointing out that in the two years since this controversy, Ubisoft has made clear efforts to improve the representation of women in the core Assassin’s Creed games, with the most recent entry, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, giving the option to play as Evie Frye through much of the campaign.
Of course, Ubisoft weren’t and aren’t the only ones with this apathetic attitude toward female inclusion. In fact, not doing the necessary work to include women has long been the norm in the video game industry. The FIFA soccer game series, which had its first entry in 1993, took over 20 years before finally introducing female teams in FIFA 16. “I’m in the game.” And it took ten years for Call of Duty to introduce female soldiers into its competitive multiplayer with 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts. The long-running Battlefield franchise, on the other hand, has still never allowed for playable female characters in its multiplayer modes. There’s an important conversation to be had about the ways in which military shooters work to glorify violence, but as long as we’re going to have such games, it’s actually better when they include female combatants in them.