This Week in Video Game Criticism: Ubisoft's women problem
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Lindsey Joyce on topics ranging from the representation of women in Assassin's Creed and Tomb Raider to feeling imposter syndrome through play.
You Can't Get Away with Ignoring Half Your Audience Anymore
In case you somehow missed it, this past week hosted the annual E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) trade fair.
One of the biggest media storms of the expo, however, began when Ubisoft Creative Director Alex Amanico said in an interview
with Polygon that the addition of playable female characters in Assassins Creed: Unity
had proved too costly to include. Promptly and deservedly, the internet called BS on Amanico. For instance:
argues that Ubisoft had the opportunity to reach a compromise that would appease both pro-women gamers and "he-man-woman-hating types," but ultimately failed to do so because women continue to be seen by industry higher-ups as superfluous and unimportant add-ons.
In a parody of what it must be like to sit in on Ubisoft’s pre-production creative meetings, Brenna Hillier
concludes that, from Ubisoft's perspective, "all players play as the same character" is seemingly less ridiculous "than the concept of women existing and having a nice time blowing shit up."
Fed up with such false logic and poor excuses, Rhea Monique
looks backs on a time in the not-so-distant past (the late 1990s and early 2000s) when the inclusion of women was more status quo.
Elsewhere, Daniel Golding
reflects on the historical irony that while the most famous assassin from the French Revolution, Charlotte Corday, was a woman, Ubisoft elected not to include a playable female character in their assassin game set during the French Revolution.
Without any muss or fuss about the matter, Sande Chen gives us the cold hard truth
Ultimately, the decision to include female playable characters really boils down to whether or not a video game company makes it a priority.
Offering a glimmer of hope, however, Elisa Melendez
recounts her day at E3 spent entirely playing women characters.
Finally, if the above isn't enough, Go Make Me a Sandwich
has curated a list of articles on the issue as well.
But Remember, There's More to Representation than Making Women Playable
This week, prompted by the trailer for the new Tomb Raider
game in which Lara Croft undergoes a therapy session, Leigh Alexander
notes the double standard in games whereby:
When you want to make a woman into a hero, you hurt her first. When you want to make a man into a hero, you hurt... also a woman first.
While Alexander is careful not to dismiss the importance of examining mental health or trauma in games or the importance of allowing female playable characters to show their emotional depth by being more than "strong," she laments that games are "still largely populated by men who feel unsure about how to write and build nuanced women." On the other hand, Rhea Monique
, argues that we should embrace, rather than bristle at Croft's weakness because she takes the player along with her, through every part of her journey, including her pain and her healing.
Not So Fast, E3, We Aren't Finished With You Yet
Zack Kotzer reminds us that "Blockbuster Video Games Still Suck at Handling Racism
" as well.
Alternatively, rather than calling out games for what they lack, Martin calls out the journalists
who are too busy rolling their eyes at the AAA industry to provide equal coverage to independent titles and exposition spaces such as indiE3
In a similar move, Nick Hanford at Higher Level Gamer
cautions game consumers and those practicing game criticism to be wary of the rhetoric we use and reuse, especially the rhetoric perpetuated by marketers and PR gurus.
Developer vs. Player
Moving away from E3 specific coverage, this week also brings us several pieces that investigate the differences in perspective between developer and player and what happens when we interrogate issues across those spaces.
In "Walkthrough Vs. Speedrun,
" Nathan examines the differences and similarities between a developer's slow and cautious walkthrough of a game that intentionally avoid glitches against a speedrunner's exploitation of glitches to promote speed. He concludes that while neither is the "common player," both have intimate knowledge of the game's systems.
Elsewhere, Zach Alexander
compares Flappy Bird
and the opportunities their developers were provided to talk about their games and how those games were received and critiqued by players. Alexander argues that perspective is paramount in how we talk about and villainize game clones, and states:
The label of "clone" is subject to things other than passionless examinations of precise details. It is influenced by the surrounding culture. The next time we are tempted to call a game a clone, we should think long and hard about what we’re targeting and why.
Examining the issue that the majority of programming languages have English origins, Robert Yang
considers how non-English developers must sometimes prioritize, as the Noserudake2
developer did, to connect with English-speaking audiences over polishing the look and feel of the game itself.
While elsewhere people are concerned with how to make future games better, Darby McDevitt
stresses the importance of preserving the technological present and past, as our obsession with technological advance makes all digital media subject to increasing temporality and code rot.
In a great long-form read, Christian Donlan
looks at the intersection between coding and code cracking by telling the story of Elonka Dunin and her attempts to crack Kryptos
In yet another take on the issues of code, Dr. Paul Ralph
provides a new way to code our language and theory about games in order to:
...help game designers and academics speak a common language, to legitimize the study of game design among other social sciences and to educate the next generation of game designers.
Building Better Worlds
worries that Dragon Age: Inquisition
will fix all the wrong problems by conflating Dragon Age 2
's liberal reuse of environments (bad) with its deliberate choice to reduce the game's scope (good).
Alternately, Peter Christiansen
takes a look at how Crusader Kings
expanded its scope to include theories of social construction of technology.
Looking through the lenses of experience and nostalgia, Eric Swain
examines why, upon return to Myst,
the world seems so much smaller than it did 20 years ago.
Speaking of nostalgia, by playing Bioshock Infinite
in the "1999" difficulty mode, Steven Margolin
realizes that perhaps Irrational Games is nostalgically holding onto what is now an outdated game design -- as if it really were still 1999.
argument in "Actual Marxism: Labor and Marx in Actual Sunlight
" contains spoilers for Actual Sunlight
, and so I will simply state that events in the game can be understood as "not necessarily intended" if understood from a Marxist perspective.
Beyond Easy Grouping
No less worthy of your attention despite my inability to group them nicely are the following:
, ludologist extraordinaire, investigates impostor syndrome in games and how when our subjective expectations for a game are not met, we are more incentivized to seek flaws in the game itself.
Despite being "complete hogwash" historically, Robert Rath
explains why the myth of Nazi advanced science continues to be perpetuated in popular media.
While E3 was full of advertisements and trailers
showing us the violence we could experience in-game, VGJUNK
takes a look back at game advertisements from the 16 and 32 bit era to find that, back then, advertisements focused on the violence games would enact on the player.
In "Reaction to a Woman's Friend Request in an FPS Game
" a group of scholars conduct a field experiment in which:
We found support for the hypothesis that, in general, women would gain more compliance with friend requests than men. We also found support for the hypothesis that women making positive utterances would gain more compliance with friend requests than women making negative utterances, whereas men making negative utterances would gain more compliance with friend requests than men making positive utterances.
takes us on a pensive and critical journey through what may or may nor be genital anatomy in Luxuria Superbia
Before You Go
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See you next week!