Nothing is true, everything is permitted — except a female Assassin

One of the really cool things about the Assassin’s Creed series is how many liberties it takes with the historical source materials, in order to build a vast conspiracy theory of Templars vs Assassins. The story goes about assigning historical figures throughout the ages to one or the other faction, putting them into direct conflict for artifacts of a precursor civilization from which, it seems, every religion in history drew inspiration. The entire franchise is history-inspired fiction. Assassin’s Creed 3 is due to be set in the American Revolution.

And yet when Kotaku asked creative director Alex Hutchinson whether AC3 could feature a female assassin, considering the story from 1 through the Ezio trilogy that makes up 2 is absolutely chock full of killer ladies, he suggested that the story of the American Revolution is a story about dudes.

“It’s always up in the air,” the new game’s creative director, Alex Hutchinson, said, “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.”

My jaw literally dropped at that last line. We’re talking about a story where the Greek Gods are actually aliens from a precursor race, and people throughout history are using Pieces of Eden to acquire power and control the human population, and having a woman do something other than playing prostitute might break immersion? SERIOUSLY?

Queereka’s Cheyenne covered this one as well:

I still defend ignorance as a better explanation. Yes, even Forbes of all publications has had its fun with Hutchinson’s interview. The previous two games have shown women being taken in for assassin training, or pitted the protagonist against women masquerading as male Templars. Let me repeat that: This series has embraced women as Crusades era Knights Templar, and now Hutchinson wants to talk about how ladies will break our precious immersion. I can almost hear him asking, “why you gotta bring up old shit?” when confronted with all this.

Well, history matters. Hutchinson’s culpability isn’t the point. Kotaku’s far more forgiving coverage still includes Hutchinson saying, when he thinks about women during the American Revolution, he thinks about an HBO show which “really is a bunch of dudes”. If we’re generous and assume that his TV influenced ideas about American history were augmented with a high school education, I don’t believe we can expect Hutchinson to be the video game equivalent of Howard Zinn.

This is the real problem, the failure of our education system to inform Americans about where they came from. Usually when we say that, we’re talking about evolution and the attacks on sound science education. Too often we forget how history and the humanities are just as vital to understanding our origins. It is not an accident that belief in intelligent design correlates highly here with believing the “Founding Fathers” were all devout Christians.

While I think a lack of education about American history is certainly part of it, the other part is that the people writing the history books are historically men, and will therefore frame everything in terms of the men who made a difference. So there’s no shortage of opportunity to manipulate history somewhat in that respect, in much the same way as they’ve manipulated other parts of history to build their larger plot arc. There is obviously a lot of draw to include a woman in the series as someone whose memories Desmond can access — and there’s even good reason to think it should happen, since at one point Desmond’s memory stayed with the mother when Altair impregnated her. There’s no reason he can only access male ancestors, considering the fertilized egg certainly couldn’t have had any kind of genetic memory at that stage of its development or Desmond might accidentally synchronize against any of millions of sperms or eggs from his ancestors instead. And considering the Templars can synchronize with female assassins in the multiplayer portion of the AC2 series, I don’t see any reason to think there are actual gender barriers at play in that genetic memory mechanism.

As Cheyenne points out, there’s no shortage of influential women in the story of the American Revolution, right down to women actually fighting in the trenches while dressed as men. The concept that a woman could move freely among these men and blend in as though she’s one is not difficult to grasp — it only depends on being willing to build an assassin whose looks aren’t explicitly female or feminine. It is, in fact, well possible to build a female video game character whose design is not about their tits or ass. Samus Aran springs to mind quite readily, recent out-of-suit redesigns notwithstanding. Commander Shepard in Mass Effect (the real Shepard, not DickShep) is another.

So having a female assassin wearing the full assassin’s kit and not looking all womanly as a result — well, that might be a good reason not to do it, to a provincial mind. While that might be antithetical to your ideas of how women should look in video games (or in general), or how you’re providing immersion for the men you think are the only ones playing your games (thanks to the feedback provided in other franchises where you are given a choice, like Mass Effect), you should maybe consider that people are only not playing women by default because men are always made the default. And that the women playing these games — and yes, there damn well are women playing these games — are almost always forced to break immersion and play as a man.

I’m sure you’re stepping into a minefield with a Native American lead as it is, so you’re not shy about the potential controversy from mishandling a character from an underprivileged group. If you made the default Assassin a woman, dressed as a man to move through male crowds the way you want her to, I’m certain your game would not suffer for it. It might even win you some praise.

Or is it that you personally want to play a man, and you’re really only interested in your own immersion? Because it’s obvious there’s enough reasons and motivation and no real game-world barriers against having a strong female lead. And, if you force men to play as women who AREN’T fighting-game characters whose designs are entirely sexualized, and if you do it often enough, you might start noticing that the fanboys who are appalled by any breaks from gender normity might even change their minds about their small-mindedness over time!

Be the change you want to see, Alex. That is, if you actually want to see that change.

Nothing is true, everything is permitted — except a female Assassin

10 thoughts on “Nothing is true, everything is permitted — except a female Assassin

  1. 1

    Feminism, Atheism and video games, my favorite three subjects! πŸ˜€ Thanks, great read! Also, women are treated different in some Native cultures where they are the leaders and it would make sense to have one as a protagonist if you’re going to go with a Native American lead.

  2. 4

    Ive always hated Assassins Creed, I could never jive with the wonky control scheme.
    Plus going into it, I had always hoped it would feel like a spiritual successor to the Thief series. and it wasnt by a long shot from what I played of it.

    From what I’ve seen, assuming its not canceled, they are making a Thief 4, which should be fucking awesome (even though Thief 3 wasnt really as good as Thief 2, it still had the right atmosphere and was pretty good.)

    One thing I really hope for, is that at the end of Thief 3 it looked like Garret might pick up an apprentice when some girl tries to pick his pocket. She should definitely be a playable character at least, if not the main character (with Garret as a kind of mentor/narrator [since it really wouldnt be a Thief game without his voice, I think])

    There was a fan-made expansion for Thief 2 (T2X: Shadows of the Metal Age) with a pretty cool female lead (from what I remember of her anyway, been a while since Ive played it).

    Not sure what this has to do with anything, but still, Thief > Assassins Creed…

  3. 5

    Oh thank you for this, Jason. This especially:

    My jaw literally dropped at that last line. We’re talking about a story where the Greek Gods are actually aliens from a precursor race, and people throughout history are using Pieces of Eden to acquire power and control the human population, and having a woman do something other than playing prostitute might break immersion? SERIOUSLY?

    I’ve linked on Facebook, hope that is OK! (I’ve got teenagers who might find your writing more than a little interesting, too!)

  4. 6

    In the area where I spent my teens, there’s literally a few dozen documented women who posed as men to study and work as doctors, fought against the Americans in the Revolutionary War, against the Americans in the War of 1812, and/or against the Brits or the French in the wars over the region before Canada became a solid British holding (depending on which time period you’re talking about).

    And those are only the ones people found out about. How many were never caught out?

    Furthermore, if they didn’t shackle themselves to the “soldier” idea, there’s many more stories from my area women who spied on enemy soldiers (since men of the time had a bad habit of thinking women had as much brains as chairs, a server or maid often made an excellent spy), or women who crossed 50+ miles of countryside (in some cases, they did so in full-length dresses, no less – and if you’ve ever gone on a several-day hiking trip in the back country, imagine doing that in a dress that weighs ~30lbs, gets caught on things and is long enough that it’s next-to-impossible to even walk up a gentle incline without catching the hem under your foot and tripping – I used to work at a living-in-history museum, so I know that part from experience. The women who did that, behind enemy lines, where slipping at the wrong time would lead to having way too many extra holes in your body, were badass and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t have a damn clue what they’re talking about) to carry vital information to and from forts, women who donned trousers to scout, or women who defended the homestead against invading soldiers whilst their husbands were fighting with the army or dead.

    So yeah. No reason to not be inclusive. Except being male-centric and ignorant. My respect for the franchise has dropped because of this, not gonna lie.

  5. 7

    Um…Tomb Raider? Granted it was very much T&A. Still, guys had no problem playing as a female in that series.

    I know I might give some of these games more consideration if they’d let me play a female character…maybe.

  6. 8

    the real Shepard, not DickShep


    Spoiler warning, but one of my favorite parts of the AC series was in Brotherhood when Ezio started recruiting citizens, and some of them could be women. When he later inducted his sister into the “Brotherhood”, that was such an awesome moment of valuing her many contributions to the cause. My thought: “WOW, they actually let Claudia do more than just be in charge of prostitutes.” They didn’t have to put that in there, and I thought it displayed something of a desire to BE inclusive, to say: “Hey, heavily enforced societal role notwithstanding, there are interesting stories about women here too.”

    Despite Hutchinson’s ignorance, there would be plenty of room for a playable female character in an Assassin’s Creed title. As was mentioned elsewhere, there are tons of female templars to play in the multiplayer, and I think it could be fairly interesting for Desmond to have an experience like that. πŸ˜‰ More seriously though, there’s no reason they couldn’t do it, apart from lazy writing. They’ve proven more than capable to play fast and loose with history to fit their narrative before (and the way they’ve strung together almost EVERY major historical event into this grant conspiracy is one of the most fun things about the series) so there is no reason they couldn’t come up with a believable reason for a woman to be the main character.

    I mean, I’d rather they just come out and say “we don’t think the sexists in our playerbase will like it”, even if they’re possibly wrong to think that, instead of insulting our intelligence with weird and incorrect appeals to history. You want to make the main character a guy? Fine, even though I think you’re missing out on a great opportunity, but stop trying to b.s. us with defensive rationalizations.

  7. 9

    What some of you are trying to do here is to enforce your feminist political views on a form of art. There’s no bad in sobbing about the fact that they don’t make female main characters in AC but you should never forget the freedom of expression in art and entertainment. It’s their game and they will make whatever they consider. Most people don’t make a problem of main character’s gender and thus games become successful or not regardless of that – and this is not going to change. And yes, the “Real Shepard” is obviously the default male version (because he is featured in game’s cover, wallpapers, posters and other merch).

  8. 10

    This seems very strange after they announced the Vita AC with a female main character. It seems like it might very well have been in development at this time.

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