Ubisoft Can’t Have Female Characters Because “Women Are Too Difficult To Animate;” One Million Eyes Are Rolled

The annual E3 conference, announcing news and debuting game footage and trailers from new and upcoming video games, is currently going on and a lot of the news so far has been great. We have some great steps forward in the representation of both women and queer people (and queer women). One of the bigger games that was highlighted was the next installment in the super popular Assassin’s Creed series, called Assassin’s Creed Unity, coming out in October. Unlike many other companies, who seem to be accepting the call to make their games more diverse, Assassin’s Creed is digging its heels in and holding on to its white male protagonist.

This new installment features multiplayer gameplay for the first time in the game’s series. Up to four players can go around and assassinate people together, playing as, presumably, different characters. The problem is, instead of having different choices of which assassins people want to play as, having a variety of people of color and women for example, players can only choose to play as slightly different versions of the game’s protagonist, a white man named Arno.

Look at all the diverse options you have! via techradar

Look at all the diverse options you have! via techradar

Ubisoft keeps insisting that it just would have been too hard to animate a woman character. When asked why there weren’t any playable women assassins, their answer was that women are hard to animate and that “more than 8,000 animations would have had to be recreated on a different skeleton.” According to Ubisoft creative director Alex Amancio, it’s just not worth it to do some extra work in order to have a female character.

It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets. Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work. Because of that, the common denominator was Arno [the white, male protagonist]. It’s not like we could cut our main character, so the only logical option, the only option we had, was to cut the female avatar.

So that makes sense; they had to have the main character have different outfits, and it just goes without saying that the main character couldn’t be a woman. Just imagine how difficult it would have been to animate an entire game with a female lead! This excuse is even more bizarre because this series actually has had a female protagonist before, so they know what to do and have something to build off of. The 2012 game Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation features the protagonist Aveline de Grandpré, who was not only a woman, but also a woman of color.

Aveline de Grandpré via XBLA Fans

Not only do they already have experience animating women, but a former designer for the game series is calling them out online saying that they’re greatly exaggerating how much time it would have taken to add a female assassin. Jonathan Cooper tweeted out that in his “educated opinion, I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations.” He went on to say that de Grandpré “shares more of Connor Kenway’s (the male protagonist of Assassin’s Creed III) animations than Edward Kenway (the male protagonist of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag) does.” So, it’s not only those who play video games who are pointing out the absurdity of Ubisoft’s claims; actual video game designers who have worked on the series are doing it too.

Of course, social media is exploding with people (of all genders) calling out Ubisoft for this garbage excuse. Some took to twitter, using the hashtag #womenaretoohardtoanimate, pointing out the ridiculous lengths the studio goes to animate things like water and the individual scales on dragons, and imagining how ignorant Ubisoft might be about women’s bodies and movement. Others are pointing out that this kind of attitude is, sadly, far too prevalent in the gaming industry. Despite the fact that 45% of gamers are women, many in the gaming industry insist that women just don’t like video games.

All the men are shouting "Women can't be assassins!"

All these men are shouting “Women can’t be assassins!”

Also, as many people are pointing out, one of the most notorious assassins of the French Revolution Era was Charlotte Corday, a woman, so having a woman be the protagonist of this particular game would have more than made sense. The game developers have been bragging about the painstaking detail and effort they’ve put into making this depiction of Revolution Era Paris realistic. Apparently, it’s more important to them to have a 1:1 scale Paris than it is to have any (we’re not even asking for equal) representation for women in the game.

Everyone else seemed to pick up the pace regarding playable women in video games. We saw new information about Dragon Age: Inquisition as well as the announcement of Mass Effect 4, two games where you not only can play as a woman, but you also have the option of romancing other women. We saw a sneak preview for Rise of the Tomb Raider, the follow up to the extremely successful Tomb Raider relaunch from a couple years ago. The new Smash Bros lineup features more women than ever before. There was even a mysterious hint when Zelda director and producer Eiji Aonuma said, regarding the new Legend of Zelda game, that “we never explicitly said it was Link” who was firing the bow in the trailer, leaving many to speculate that it could be Princess Zelda herself or another playable female character.

An image from the new open-world Zelda game. via Comic Book News

An image from the new open-world Zelda game. via Comic Book News

Seriously, there was so much cool news out of this year’s E3 that Ubisoft and Assassin’s Creed dropping this bad news is like discovering a new comedian and they’re super funny and then all the sudden they tell a joke about how women belong in the kitchen. I mean, I’ve been telling my brother for years that I would be totally interested in playing a Legend of Zelda game again if I could play as a girl. In the new footage, we see an even more androgynous character than the Link we’re used to, one who isn’t wearing the traditional green tunic, and one who is wielding a bow instead of the traditional Master Sword. How incredible would it be if you could play as Zelda or as a female Link? Also, with new Dragon Age and Mass Effect games coming out soon, the rampant queer undertones of the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise and Square Enix’s announcement that they’re making a patch that will allow same-sex marriage in Final Fantasy XIV, this was a pretty good week for queer representation in video games.

At this year’s E3 it was finally looking like things were turning around for female representation in gaming. So many companies seemed like they were finally listening to the complaints and criticisms that had been thrown their ways for years. Then Ubisoft had to step in and remind us why so many women are afraid to call themselves gamers no matter how many games they play or how long they’ve been playing. There are plenty of games being announced and highlighted that look really great and that I hope to play, but I can assure you, if Assassin’s Creed can’t take the time to even try and animate a woman character, I’m not going to take the time to try and play it.

Profile photo of Mey

Mey is a lesbian Latina trans woman living in Idaho. Her areas of expertise include comic books, trans issues and pop culture. She has an English Degree, a cat named Sawyer, a tumblr that she uses a lot and a twitter that she only uses occasionally.

Mey has written 152 articles for us.

39 Comments

    • Thumb up 5

      Please log in to vote

      Good point! If the essentialism/dimorphism wasn’t SO pronounced, they’d really have no excuse. Or, lawd forbid, they could simply make a buff woman character.

      Oh noes, no eye candy! How EVER will we make it through the winter?

  1. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    This just breaks my heart, reading articles like these. Sometimes, I get so overjoyed that I get to live during the 21st century and other times? I rue the fact I was not born during an even more progressive time in history. It’s a shame Ubisoft is using this excuse to get out of providing a female character for their fans to play, enjoy and maybe even identify with in some small way. I used to love the Assassins Creed series, but this has seriously made me reconsider spending 60 of my hard earned dollars on a product that is just a slap in the face to women who game everywhere.

  2. Thumb up 7

    Please log in to vote

    Assassin’s Creed has begun to suffer from what I call “Call of Duty Syndrome.” Basically, it has become one of those games that is guaranteed to be released every single year just to appeal to those same fans every single year. Therefore, what incentive to Ubi Soft have to change any part of the formula if the same people will buy it every single year. Having a white protagonist makes sense in the setting, as France is part of Europe, but as you point out, limiting the playable character options strictly to males, ESPECIALLY IN A MULTIPLAYER GAME, makes no damn sense, even taking the setting into consideration. And considering the fact that the game already contains women in the form of NPCs, we arrive at only one logical conclusion: This is not about budgets or time–it’s laziness. Even Halo now allows the usage of female characters in multiplayer (and in Halo Reach, single player), but due to its bad case of Call of Duty syndrome, Ubi Soft doesn’t want to work to change anything because they’d have to peek their heads up from the piles of cash that they’re swimming in. If Nintendo can treat the reveal of Palutena (yay Ali Hillis) as playable in Smash as a big deal, without people suddenly being scared off like “oh no, there’s a woman and this is no longer appealing,” then we can have female assassins.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      Agreed!!! Especially about the piles of money. CoD, Fifa and Ass Creed are the games I always suspect are just churned out for a specific group of male gamers who only play those games year in year out. They’re not made for the broad inclusive gamut of all gamers, even though Ass creed started out that way, they are made for casual male gamers who have a specific amount of money and can be relied upon to buy their games and who have a belief that these 3 games are the most awesome and that actually they’re not casual gamers they’re hardcore because they have every copy of ass creed and CoD and Fifa and loads of online friends who they scream obscenities at .

  3. Thumb up 7

    Please log in to vote

    If you look at all the Assassins Creed games, I actually would say Ubisoft is/was on a good way, but this feels like a step back.

    But the positive thing here, and proof that the game industry is slowly but steadily changing, is the media outcry. Five years ago this wouldn’t even be worth a news snippet but now all the mayor and influential gaming sites are reporting heavily on the subject.

    There are great articles on Kotaku, Polygon, Rock Paper Shotgun or PC Gamer and that is something that Ubisoft and others can not completely ignore.

    http://www.polygon.com/e3-2014/2014/6/11/5800522/female-characters-assassins-creed-video

    http://www.pcgamer.com/2014/06/11/ac-op-ed/

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/06/12/assassins-creed-unity-characters/

    • Thumb up 4

      Please log in to vote

      Right? I just don’t get it. They had added npc female assassins to most of the games already, if only for side quests. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised after the direction Black Flag took.

      I was really excited initially by Mary Reed, but then she had to go die a damsel death in the main character’s
      sad white male arms. While technically true to history (she did die of a mysterious illness in prison after childbirth) they didn’t have to dramatize it the way they did.

      Also, the side quest female assassins used to be barely distinguishable from the male assassins, which was awesome! They wore the same armor and it didn’t have boob cups! In Black Flag, they were sexed up considerably. Furthermore, they were meant to be native women, which makes their new sexy midriff baring outfits that much worse.

      I thought the Aveline game was a sign of good things to come, but I see now that I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. Assassins Creed has a very large female audience. I wish they would stop trying to pretend we don’t exist. I really think they’re afraid that their game is being considered “girly” so they’re taking steps to cater to the male audience. I am so sick of boys’ wants taking precedence!

    • Thumb up 2

      Please log in to vote

      That’s a really good point you make about how this would have been handled five years ago. In a way, it’s nice to see that this even matters to the gaming world and media now, compared to how it used to be for so many years.

  4. Thumb up 13

    Please log in to vote

    So much bullshit.

    Including a female character isn’t an unnecessary doubling of work — it’s a minimum expectation that they’ve utterly failed to meet. I feel like what they’ve done is put out half a product and hoped that nobody would notice. Ubisoft, WE NOTICED.

  5. Thumb up 8

    Please log in to vote

    Don’t forget this little gem: “Prior to the release of Assassin’s Creed III in 2012, creative director Alex Hutchinson talked about how it would have been a ‘pain’ to include a female protagonist in that game because ‘the history of the American Revolution is the history of men’.” Via tumblr

  6. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    Tbh I abandoned the AC series because I found the gameplay for ACIII far too exasperating on the XBox (AC Brotherhood remains one of my fav games ever though – I had an all-female “brotherhood” by not rescuing any male potential assassin recruits, because misandry) but now imma say it’s because of this bullshit.

    But more importantly, HOLD UP HOW DID I NOT HEAR ABOUT MASS EFFECT 4 OMFG THIS HAS MADE MY LIFE

      • Thumb up 0

        Please log in to vote

        Yeahhh, just so you guys know, Mass Effect 4 is just a working title. It is not going to have Commander Shepard in it and may not be a direct continuation of those games. They haven’t said whether it will be a prequel or sequel yet.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      Yeah, I kinda got tired of the AC series around AC3. While I did think Ezio was a cutie and fun to play, it would have been nice to have a women assassin (the Assassins had to have women ancestors!). I like your all-women Brotherhood!

      I’m looking forward to Mass Effect 4 too! From what I’ve read, it might be a prequel (before the events of ME1, I guess?)

  7. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    Feeling so much better about my decision to get the AC games second hand. I like to support the industry when they make good games but that shit is just dumb. Wish that Bioware would do proper merchandising for FemShep though.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      They tried with ME3 after years of bitching from fans. I was pretty happy with one Femshep trailer and a reversible cover of Femshep. It’s not much, but I’ll take take small victories over no victories at all.

  8. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    Yeah, this is especially infuriating because they may have intentionally let people be excited about the rumors there would be a female lead… there was a promo my SO and I were both super psyched about because the angle made it look like the playable character had a bust (just a regular bust! under a regular coat!).

    Maybe they didn’t get enough pats on the head for their lame-o take on having a Native assassin in AC III? But how much more did they need people to love Aveline to decide maybe lady characters are a good idea?

  9. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    Here’s the thing… even if this wasn’t sexist, and it totally is, it’s just LAZY pure and simple! I thought we moved beyond multi-player games with color swaps as the only real distinguishing factor between characters. Guess I got spoiled with Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer – I could be any race and gender I wanted.

    But no… giving players options and choices would just be too much work.

    I understand Ubisoft doesn’t want to be cut corners and make the same mistakes that Mass Effect 2 made. Using the same animation for the male and female Shepard was awkward and clunky at best and honestly interfered with my immersion in the game. So on one hand, I like that they’d rather not deliver something half-assed. However, it’s my personal opinion that if you are going to deliver a product that costs 60-70 bucks a pop, you should probably deliver a quality product. And that doesn’t mean one white dude running around killing people and looking GREAT. That means varied character models that are all equally detailed and move seamlessly.

    Is that too much to ask? Or is Ubisoft so pressed to meet a deadline so they can crank out more crap every year for profit rather than actually spending time to create something fun and artistic? I’m guessing the later, because it seems like there’s a new Assassin’s Creed every year just like Call of Duty.

    • Thumb up 2

      Please log in to vote

      I have to disagree about femshep’s animations. I like that femshep moved the same way the male shepard did. It is part of her character to me: she had swagger. And I have heard the opposite complaint: many people feel that femhawke’s movements in DA2 are so stereotypically feminine that they make her seem like a caricature.

      • Thumb up 1

        Please log in to vote

        I get what you’re saying about ME2/DA2. I don’t necessarily think that they should have given Femshep a more “feminine” move set, just that they should have at least polished some of the animations that worked for Male Shepard but looked awful for Female Shepard.

        For example: the awkward neck-craning-to-look-behind-her gorilla jog. Or when she’s in the dress and crosses her legs like she’s wearing a pair of chinos. Personally, I would have loved a Female Shepard in a tux, but if you’re going to force the dress, at least make the animations work for it. It just seemed lazy to me. Yeah, you had the option of a female Shepard but the real work and crafting (at least character model-wise) went into Male Shepard.

        So, I guess my point being that I’d like to have a polished female assassin that has her own move set and animations rather than the same ones as her male counterpart. It doesn’t have to be “girly” – just unique. Kind of like how Catwoman had a distinct move set and fighting style versus Batman or Robin in the Arkham City game.

  10. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    E3 had some AWESOME stuff this year! I’m a Sega/Nintendo lifer, being super excited about the Wii U and especially the 3DS’ new releases. So much recently out or soon upcoming like Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros, Bravely Default, etc.

    A couple of downsides though are with Tomodachi Life, which looks so adorable but the game BANS same sex marriage (?). Then Bravely Default gets tainted with some sexist quips in game. Honestly, I still love games but as a woman and/or queer and/or feminist it can be hard to stomach.

    All of this has me wistfully thinking of an old school game that was like a Feminist utopia: Chrono Trigger. There were legit female rulers, megalomaniacs, desert nomads, and main characters. The character with the strongest physical strength in the whole game was a woman. If anyone has a game that can meet or beat that in feminism, please let me know!

  11. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Given my avatar, an animated female assassin, I find this article more amusing than infuriating, which is no slam of my favorite Nerdy Femme Bruja. But it does makes me miss The Wit of the Staircase. Theresa would have had something arch to say about the male gaming establishment at this point!

  12. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    You know, if AC: Unity had featured a woman lead in the main story, they wouldn’t have cut men from the co-op. It wouldn’t have turned into four women assassin’s running across French Revolution Paris just because of ‘animation limitations’. Asking to only be included/added in co-op in a massive annual franchise is essentially women fighting for scraps in the AAA part of the gaming industry as is.

    But to clarify from this article a bit, the game has featured multiplayer for the last 4 years, this is the first time co-op will be available. Multiplayer is removed from the main game, while co-op is integrated into the story. Also, Liberation, the only title to feature a woman was NOT a main installment in the franchise, but was instead a Playstation Vita title, Sony’s handheld platform (which many in the industry see as dead/dying because very few people have one). It was eventually ported to Playstation 3, so you can download and play it there.

    Overall though, this is particularly a shame because this game marks Ubisofts move to the new console generation, ps4 and xbox one. Its unfortunate that they would usher in the new age of consoles, which marks so many steps forward in the industry with such a backwards and unprogressive choice.

    Other recent games with female protagonists you can support: Beyond: Two Souls (Ellen Page is the lead!!! Did the mo-cap and everything). Remember Me, Gone Home, Child of Light, and Transistor are all good options. And obviously, any Bioware game since they continue to be leading the industry on inclusion in blockbuster game productions(they stumble along the way, but they are very sincere in their efforts).

    Also: http://www.polygon.com/2014/6/12/5803936/women-in-games-e3
    Lots more games with playable women characters were announced this year.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      Beyond is amazing…but I stopped playing when it wanted me to clean a room for a man to come over…WTAF. It felt so very wrong. My GF said she’ll play that section for me so I can get past it and complete the game.

  13. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    The only thing I could think of while watching the Assasin’s Creed trailer was: “OMAIGAH IT’S THAT ONE LORDE SONG I LOVE!”

    Then I started noticing that the four main characters looked awfuly white and assumed they were brothers.

    I honestly have never played AC, I am mostly a second-hand videogames appreciator (sometimes player), but more than angry that there isn’t a female character in this latest AC, I am more angry at the excuse as to why not. It’s bad enough that the Frozen animators made such lame comments over the complexity of animating female characters with diverse emotions without them losing their beauty; we also have to deal with this shit of an excuse.

    Everybody else is getting the message, and although it’s a slow climb to equal representation, we are getting there!

    For the moment I guess we can take refuge in fanfics and genderbending: http://www.ohjoysextoy.com/spectrumsliding/

  14. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    For god’s sake, if they’re lazy enough they can even take a male template and modify it! Soften the jawline, remove the stubble, alter the bone structure and widen the hips, and boom! What the hell, Ubisoft.

  15. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Do you people know nothing about game design? Woman are a hell of a lot harder to animate because of the curvy bodies. Not to mention the jiggle physics. And before you say that games don’t need jiggle physics or girls with curvy bodies, 75% of gamers are males. And these said males, are horny nerds. And Ubisoft would get so fucking shit on if they made a fat female character, that doesn’t have jiggly tits.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      I mean, never mind that percentage isn’t even true. And never mind the fact that many, many game designers already said “that’s bullshit” to women being too hard to design. This comment is still just… damn.

      Kinda crappy that the GAMERZWARZMAGGLE found its way to our door, but pretty jawdroppingly hilarious in all the wrong and terrible ways.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.