Diversity in AAA titles

Hello reader : it's been a while.

Backstory : E3 is upon us, and the count of severed heads still beats that of female characters (because that's a metric now, apparently). Many are irked by this, and thanks to fumbling a PR saving throw, Ubisoft has made itself a sausage-shaped lightning rod in this storm of diversity denial, or something.
Assassin's Creed Unity coop mode will not have female avatars, which certainly is not as good as having them, but the real problem is Alex Amancio (creative director @ Ubisoft) inadvertently turned a missing bullet point into a scandal when he said the game sorta-kinda-almost did, yet doesn't, because it was "too much work", which some immediately translated into "not worth the trouble", to be taken as proof positive that female characters (hence players, too) are discriminated against.
If that wasn't enough to fuel the fury, the Far Cry team (also Ubisoft) then offered a free refill.

Diversity in videogames is a hot-button issue and the discussion is now reaching into the usual proclamations about WEIRD being the scourge of the universe (which should be the new Godwin, btw). The people is Kony2012-levels of angry and I kinda grok the outrage, yet I'm not totally on board, either, hence the poast. 
Let me mansplain why Assassin's Creed is the wrong kind of game to pick for affirmative action.

As a pale-skinned, blue-eyed, penis-having, reasonably affluent and educated cis-gendered straight-ish bastard, I still get frustrated by the lack of diversity in blockbuster RPG/adventure games, not just over avatars, but also plot, characterization, etc.
On the other hand, when I pick up a title that centers on ninja-ing through (admittedly gorgeous) scenery with not much more story to it than 'go there, kill that, don't get caught', I don't set my expectations higher than what reads on the tin – if that — and I don't care to identify with the avatar : it's a vehicle with about as much humanity to it as my keyboard.

Complaining about the lack of depth or diversity of what is essentially an over-polished hack'n'slash game seems as misguided to me as faulting a Monster Trucks show for falling short on character development and long story arcs.

I swear, I'd be all over that if it had playable female characters…

With that said, the default-to-white-straight-male thing gets on my nerves, too, and I wish there were more titles where the protagonist was anything else.
Don't count me as one of yours just yet, though, because I really mean that…

I do wish there were more games where we get to play really diverse characters, like a goblin or a spider, whose mission is to kill invading 'heroes' in order to protect our family and grow our stash of gold, or fill the boots of the cleanup crew who's to rebuild NYC every time the Avengers fuck up the city real good with their overkill tactics. I wish there were more games where you had to juggle accountability to your peers, or boss, or kids, while fighting the ebil du jour, and so on.

In short, I hate that most AAA games are unimaginative clichés crapfests, and I feel sorry that so many among the riled-up defenders of minorities rights seem to merely aspire for opportunities to better identify with the seriously lacking protagonists of seriously stupid games - it's like complaining that nobody makes truck nuts for girls.

… anymore.

As things stand now, it seems to me engaging the females-in-games issue in their established product lines is, if not a lost cause, at least an uphill battle for game studios : whatever ridiculously overblown female archetype they pick for a main character, they'll take flak (often deserved) for sexism, when they can safely dial the muscular grizzled warrior to eleven without a peep of complaint from their regular  audience.
The solution is to build deeper, less braindead games, and yes, I'd advocate being proactive in bringing more diversity in the teams that make games to make more diverse games, but I'm not of the opinion that merely slapping female textures and voicework* on the avatar in 13 year old male fantasy-fulfilling games will magically make them female-friendly.
…and if GearBox decides to build embarrassing stereotypical female-fantasy AAA titles, more power to them : I'll despise those with the same level of scorn I have for Duke Nukem Forevah.

Now, give me a good story, with engaging characters, and then I'll get seriously pissy if it all revolves around yet-another white male fantasy.


*[It's actually much more work than that, too, as Amancio apparently failed to get across. Adding a credible protagonist of different gender to a 3D full motion game is about as much work as adding another humanoid alien species.]

1 comment:

AcD said...

This just in : according to some, adding female chars to ACU would have been a breeze, so maybe Ubisoft really are dicks on this one.
It doesn't detract from my original points that character gender doesn't matter much when it's mere eyecandy and doesn't affect the story or gameplay either way, and that diversity is worth fighting for on more than cosmetic issues.