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.