Are Women Too Hard To Animate? Tropes vs Women in Video Games

Are Women Too Hard To Animate? Tropes vs Women in Video Games


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.
Now you might be asking yourself,
“Doesn’t having female enemies in a game
perpetuate violence against women?”
And that’s a good, fair question.
When we refer to depictions
of violence against women,
we’re generally discussing situations in which
women are being attacked or victimized
specifically because they are women,
reinforcing a perception of women as victims.
Such scenarios are very different from those in which
women are presented as active participants.
In the Street Fighter games, for instance,
when Chun-Li and Ryu fight each other,
this isn’t considered violence against women,
because the two characters are presented as being on
more or less equal footing,
and because Chun-Li is an active participant
who isn’t being targeted or attacked
specifically because she’s a woman.
Similarly, the waves of male attackers players face
in so many games are typically not passive victims.
They are active participants in the conflict,
and importantly, the violence against them isn’t gendered.
Players fight with them because they’re on the opposing side,
not specifically because they are men.
Unfortunately, when female combatants do appear in games,
they are often presented in sexualized ways
which inevitably lend the player’s attacks
an air of gendered violence.
In Saints Row The Third’s so-called
“Whored Mode,” for instance,
players must defeat waves of sexualized women,
sometimes beating them to death
with a large purple dildo.
In the 2009 game Wolfenstein,
the Elite Guard are a special all-female enemy unit
whose absurd uniforms sexualize not only
the female characters themselves
but also player’s acts of violence against them.
Similarly, in 2012’s Hitman Absolution,
the Saints are a special unit of female assassins
who wear latex fetish gear underneath nun’s habits.
It’s a ludicrous design choice that is
transparently intended to sexualize these enemies.
And in Metal Gear Solid 4,
the Beauty & the Beast unit is an enemy group
made up of five female soldiers
that players fight over the course of the game.
At a certain point during these encounters,
each boss sheds her armor and appears
as a woman in form-fitting attire.
“It’s all so funny.”
If players then avoid the Beauty’s deadly embrace
for several minutes without killing or neutralizing her,
the game transports them to a white room
where equipping the camera results
in the character making sultry poses.
Funny how that doesn’t happen
with the male bosses in the game.
Whenever female combatants are dressed
in sexualizing attire, it sets them noticeably apart
from other enemy units.
It’s intended to make the player’s
encounters with them sexually titillating
and that’s particularly troubling considering
that those encounters often involve fighting
and killing those characters.
Violence against female characters
should never be presented as “sexy”.
The way for games to handle female combatants
is not to present them as sexualized treats
for the player.
Rather, it’s to present them simply as combatants
who happen to be women fighting alongside
their male counterparts on equal footing.
For all of its many, many problems
one thing Bioshock Infinite did right was to include
non-sexualized female officers on Columbia’s police force.
And in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate,
both the player’s gang and the enemy gang
have rank-and-file female members
who fight alongside the men.
Despite the presence of female combatants
in games like these, there is still a tendency
for game studios to treat female representation
as some kind of extravagant goal,
rather than simply treating it as standard
in the same way they handle male representation.
The excuse that I hear most often for the absence
of female combatants in games is that players wouldn’t believe it.
But games, even ones that draw on historical locations
or events like the Assassin’s Creed series,
create their own worlds and set the tone
for what we will or won’t believe.
To participate in the worlds games create,
we happily accept time travel, superpowers,
ancient alien civilizations,
the ability to carry infinite items,
the idea that eating a hot dog can instantly
heal your wounds, and a million other fictions.
It’s certainly not too much to ask that these
fictional worlds give us believable female combatants too.
The media we engage with has a powerful impact
on our ideas of what’s believable and what’s not.
Games like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
demonstrate that when the existence of female combatants
is presented as straightforward, normal and believable,
players have no problem believing it.
And they shouldn’t, since,
unlike those magical healing hot dogs I mentioned,
female combatants actually exist.

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