Video games, traditionally, don’t have the best reputation for fair or equal representation.
Video games, traditionally, don’t have the best reputation for fair or equal representation. With a history full of stereotypes, macho and muscular white men who don’t give a damn, and overly sexualized and fetishized women whose entire justification for existing as a character is to cater to the assumed audience of heterosexual males, the video game industry has some parallels with just about every other form of media. However, we’ve seen quite an evolution over the past decade of gaming, and we’re seeing a more diverse range of characters and representation in our games. With that being said, we may still have some ways to go.
…character choices can reflect who we are as a player or who we wish we could be.
Having diverse, fleshed out characters in a linear narrative is great! The video game industry is unique in the sense that with many non-linear games the stories, and oftentimes the characters themselves, are malleable. As players, we often have the ability to form characters into who we want them to be, whether that’s through our in-game actions or aesthetic design. More often than not, these character choices can reflect who we are as a player or who we wish we could be.
There’s quite a lot of demand for this kind of representation, and open world games with character customization and player choice often tout those features as major selling points. Recently, Assassins Creed: Odyssey introduced more character customization than any previous entry in the series.
Assassins Creed: Odyssey is an open world action game that takes place in Ancient Greece and introduces the ability to choose whether you play as a male or female character. To take things a step further, as either sex, players are able to pursue romantic relationships and even sleep with a range of characters of either sex. This allows for the opportunity for players to play as a gay character and then pursue same-sex relationships.
As a first for the series, LGBTQ+ gamers had questions about how impactful this would be, and Ubisoft reassured us that your character and your choices matter. Narrative director, Melissa McCoubrey, states in an interview, “It was always important… to make sure that options were available for whoever wanted to pursue it.” And when asked about asexual options in the game she responded by stating that, “We’re not forcing you to do something you don’t want to do. It’s very much your choice.”
Fast forward to early January, 2019, and Ubisoft releases their first downloadable content for the game. Shortly after, some gamers expressed their concern regarding the way choices were handled in the game. The players were forced into a heterosexual romantic relationship in the game, thus negating the previous choices for queer and asexual characters.
It felt a bit like a slap in the face for many queer gamers, especially after the game was marketed as allowing for freedom of choice and orientation with characters. Naturally, the majority of gamers who enjoy the game were unaffected and many of which responded by wondering what the big deal was.
“... it is clear that we missed the mark.” - Ubisoft
Ubisoft, on the other hand, responded quickly by apologizing and stating “... it is clear that we missed the mark.” Shortly after their apology, they announced that they’ll be updating the DLC with changes in how that scene plays out.
Still, is the initial outrage justified?
Queer people have always had a difficult time finding representation across all forms of media, so when they hear about a popular mainstream franchises allowing for queer characters their ears will probably perk up. Imagine finally being able to play a game as a badass queer character and then suddenly find out that the writers decided that your character shouldn’t be queer anymore because that’s not how your story should be. It feels like even getting to that point has been an uphill battle, and then that progress was seemingly stripped away.
However, I must say that I commend Ubisoft for not only responding, but making changes to the DLC. While it’s still too early to judge the execution of these changes, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Just one week after the DLC debacle GLAAD (a pro-LGBTQA+ organization) nominated Assasins Creed Odyssey for a GLAAD Media Award. GLAAD understood what they were doing, and anticipated some backlash,stating, “Our decision to nominate Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is ultimately rooted in the understanding that progress can sometimes be messy.”
“Our decision to nominate Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is ultimately rooted in the understanding that progress can sometimes be messy.” -GLAAD
Overall, I feel as if this kind of thing is a sign of the times that we’re in. We seem to be in a transitional phase within the video game industry in which developers, publishers, and gamers are all trying to figure out how best to overcome these challenges. We all want to enjoy our games and we don’t want to feel like we can’t represent ourselves in choice-based games. On top of that, we also don’t want to be too pushy on developers and writers who want to explore specific narratives, regardless of what kinds of characters they want to write about.
It can sometimes be a fine and blurry line to tread, but the fact that we’re treading it together as an industry and as gamers is valuable. I think we need to continue to have these conversation within the gaming community and we need to continue to vocalize our concerns to developers and publishers. While missteps are inevitable, if we continue to listen to one another, hopefully we can create a much more inclusive and diverse selection for future gamers.
I think it’s safe to say that Ubisoft is more than willing to cooperate. I want to encourage more developers to not only provide diverse options, when applicable, to their games, but also to follow Ubisoft’s example and listen to minority groups’ concerns.
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Written by: Stephen Marro
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www.stevivor.com - Assassin’s Creed Odyssey gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, asexual relationships are possible
www.comicbook.com - Ubisoft Set To Make Changes To Controversial ‘Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’ DLC
www.polygon.com - Assassin’s Creed Odyssey nominated for GLAAD award, despite controversial DLC