One of the biggest uproars to come out of this year’s E3 is the announcement that Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Unity won’t have playable female assassins. Not even in co-op mode.
This is an incredibly disappointing decision, given that some of the previous Assassin’s Creed games have featured female assassins. One of the games, Assassin’s Creed Liberation, even stars a female protagonist.
This time around, the dangerous ladies were cut because of looming production costs and time. The team decided to focus on its customizeable male assassins.
The excuse does check out—in a sense. As developer Brianna Wu of Giant Spacekat stated on Twitter, “Lots more animation would have to be made for a female assassin.” But when it comes to the question of Ubisoft putting in the effort she said, “I think they should.”
The lack of female assassins in Assassin’s Creed Unity is poignant and disappointing. This time, the game takes places in Paris during the French Revolution—a revolution that involved women on both sides of the fighting. Their involvement took many forms: they were involved in demonstrations and riots, they organized their own movements, and yes, they committed assassinations.
Charlotte Corday is one of the most infamous figures of the revolution. In 1793 she stabbed revolutionary writer Jean Marat as he took a bath—an act that inspired one of the most famous paintings of the time.
The French Revolution was symbolized by Marianne: a fictional French woman who was an allegory for “Liberty.” Marianne first became popular as a symbol during the Revolution, though she had existed before. She continued to be drawn upon as inspiration for French political action in the 19th century.
These are just two examples of the influence of women on the French Revolution. I hope we’ll see them in the finished game, but Ubisoft’s decision not to create female playable characters is still a huge disappointment.
We’ve written before about the educational benefits of the Assassin’s Creed games, specifically when studying history. If your teens are playing this game, you should be sure to ask questions about the lack of women and suggest that they do further research themselves about the female figures of the revolution. The Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen (1791) is a particularly good read for anyone interested in learning more about women in 18th century France. Bringing up these real-life stories in conversation with young people is a great way to remind them that, while games can have enormous benefits, they are still worthy of our scrutiny.
By not allowing women (or anyone else) to play as women, Ubisoft reaffirms a commitment to the male customer base and the idea of male as default. Any other kind of representation, whether focusing on race or gender, or both, is simply “extra work.”
French women were not “extra” to the revolution, and they are not “extra” to the player base. In their reactions, male and female players are making this abundantly clear. I hope Ubisoft will listen.