Ubisoft’s Lack of Female Characters

For the past few days, I’ve been playing Ubisoft’s ‘Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD’. Having played this before (on PSVita rather than PS3), I knew exactly what to expect in terms of story and protagonist, with the latter actually swaying me to purchasing the updated version. This is the only ‘Assassin’s Creed’ title that has a female protagonist; Aveline de Grandpré, daughter of a wealthy merchant and a slave. She has the ability to change her persona – from slave, to Assassin, to Lady. She’s strong, able, intelligent, and beautiful – everything that a female protagonist should be. So why do games companies keep insisting on omitting female characters from video games?

Aveline de Grandpré

Aveline de Grandpré

Browsing through Twitter during the E3 conference, I stumbled upon an article which made me feel as though I personally should not be playing video games such as the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ franchise because of my gender. Shown below, Ubisoft’s technical director explains exactly why they have chosen not to include any playable female characters at all in their newest game, ‘Assassin’s Creed Unity’, which included leaving out any playable female multiplayer characters regardless of having them in previous games. In the article, women characters are called a “feature” – similar to an optional extra that has no merit to the game itself. Calling the matter “unfortunate”, James Therein has seemingly alienated almost half of the game’s potential audience, and what for? So that the game can be released earlier? So that they can focus on another game? It’s not a valid excuse to me, and I’m sure others will not accept it either.

Ubisoft's "Explanation"

Ubisoft’s “Explanation” (Click to Enlarge)

Continuing to look through the replies and comments on Twitter regarding this article, I found Naughty Dog’s Animator, Jonathan Cooper, to also be appalled at this response to Ubisoft’s biased view. He claims that, instead of doubling their work in order to create female characters, it would simply take a day or two – and who better to trust than the guy who is actually animating characters himself?

Bringing it back to Aveline, Jonathan Cooper backed up his statement with a fact that this strong, relateable, amazing female character shares most of her animation with a male character who was the protagonist in the next game in the franchise – Connor Kenway. He even went so far as to say that their newest male protagonist (Edward Kenway, from ‘Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag’) shares less animations with Connor than Aveline does.

It’s amazing how a high profile video game company such as Ubisoft can ignore the fact that there are millions of female game players who aren’t asking for much, but would like at least one female character to relate to whilst playing. I, personally, didn’t mind playing as a male protagonist, but enjoyed being able to choose a female during multiplayer sessions and seeing the different traits and strengths they had. An all-male video game is isolating genders and creating a society whereby it will continue to be known as a male pastime to even play video games.

Heading to Twitter one final time, I noticed that a new hashtag has been created in response to Ubisoft’s announcement; #WomenAreTooHardToAnimate, which shows both women and men ridiculing the idea of limited resources. I’ve included a few that I liked reading below.

I used to have faith that the video gaming industry would get better in their diversity, and some studios have definitely proven that right, but this new-found excuse for not creating a more gender-equal game has made me re-evaluate. Why is it so difficult to become more female-friendly? Women have learnt to accept that they don’t have as much choice in regards to characters than men (which shouldn’t need to happen), but including just ONE female playable character in Ubisoft’s newest game could have saved a lot of this unwanted publicity.

If you have time, I’d recommend searching through Twitter’s #WomenAreTooHardToAnimate hashtag and see the amount of support female gamers are gaining. I also found this petition, which it may/may not help to sign, but it’s worth a shot!

http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/ubisoft-discontent-at-lack-of-representation-in-ac-unity-protagonists

I’ll leave you with a selection of my favourites from the hashtag now 🙂

Michelle x

BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium 2014

The BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium is a conference that lasts for one day each year exclusively for women students in computer-related subjects, both undergraduate and postgraduate. It started back in 2008, and is named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s very first programmer. During this day, there are numerous talks by important women with computing careers, a Q&A panel session, a chance to talk to prospective employers and a networking session, along with a poster contest for those women students who have entered.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

This year, the colloquium was based at the University of Reading at the London Road campus on April 16th, and, after sending a 250-word abstract on a subject of my choosing, I was lucky enough to win a travel bursary there so that I could participate in the poster contest. I booked a hotel for three days and drove down there with my boyfriend – the journey took around two and a half hours from my home in Walsall with a total of 131 miles each way. My qualifying 250-word abstract was based on one aspect of my final year project topic, and was entitled “Sexualisation, Objectification & an Invisible Audience: Female Portrayal in the Video Game Community”.

My Abstract

My Qualifying Abstract (Click to Enlarge)

Regardless of the idea that this is a conference exclusively for women, men are allowed to book a place as +1s, but can’t enter the poster competition. This poster contest has prizes for each year of study – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Masters – which can range from £150 to £500, and each year also has their own sponsor. My poster was all sorted by the time I got to Reading, along with some small ‘hand-out’ style posters to back-up my research, and although I didn’t win the prize for best 3rd year, I feel that I’ve greatly improved my confidence along with being immensely proud of the way my poster turned out! I had many compliments on it, and even had a few people take photographs of it so that they could show other people. Here they are (click thumbnails to view larger images):

My Poster

My A1 Poster & A4 Posters (Click to Enlarge)

"Sexist Community" A4 Poster     "Sexist Industry" A4 Poster     "Questions to Consider" A4 Poster

As mentioned earlier, there were a number of talks from women who I found extremely inspiring, and their talks were very thought-provoking to say the least! These ladies, and their talks, were:

  • Anne-Marie Imafidon : STEMettes & Deutsche Bank – “How to lean in (when you’re not Sheryl Sandberg)”
  • Professor Rachel McCrindle : University of Reading – “Gamification for learning and rehabilitation”
  • Dr Jane Haslam : Senior Computer Vision Scientist, VICON Motion Systems Ltd – “Computer vision in industry”
  • Rebecca Little : Head of Strategic Alliances and Digital, ResourceiT Consulting Ltd – “Adventures in digital marketing”
  • Cate Huston : Software Engineer, Google – “Distractedly Intimate: Your Users on Mobile”

During these talks, I found myself thinking just how well these women have done in an industry that’s immensely male-dominated, and it has given me the inspiration and drive to go for any opportunity that arises, along with helping me to overcome any negative thoughts I once had about applying for jobs in the future. Each talk differed greatly from one to the next, and all were relevant to the day itself. I especially enjoyed Professor Rachel McCrindle’s talk on gamification, as it showed that video games can truly help to rehabilitate patients with head trauma and improve their motor skills. Cate Huston’s talk was true to life, and I found myself agreeing with many of the things she said. She had a great sense of humour and filled the presentation with cute pictures of kittens and hedgehogs, along with fun anecdotes about her life and her family, making it interesting but informative at the same time.

Cate Huston

Cate Huston keeping our full attention – I wonder why..

Throughout the day, we had lunch and tea breaks, whereby, along with the food and drink, we could also talk to potential employers about possible job openings, what they do as a company, and where we could fit into their industry. These companies were:

  • CA Technologies
  • UTC Aerospace Systems
  • VMware
  • EMC

I managed to talk to all of these companies, and they all seemed very enthusiastic about hiring graduates, regardless of whether they are specifically skilled within the sector they wish to hire in. I will definitely be looking into these companies after I graduate in July, as they all interested me in different ways. Along with talking to these companies, we were also given a goody bag which included sweets, pens, notepads, the printed abstract book, and an awesome wind-up Android. Walking around the room, we were able to pick up more goodies that were laid out on different tables, and I managed to get bracelets, a beach ball, a foldable tote bag, badges, stickers, crayons, and much, much more!

Poster Contest

Poster Contest

At the end of the day, there was a Q&A panel session, whereby questions could be asked to any of five participants; Anne-Marie Imafidon and Cate Huston who have been mentioned previously, Hannah Dee who organised the whole event, Sarah Lamb who started Girl Geek Dinners, and Sarah Burnett who is the deputy chair of BCSWomen. The panel session was extremely informative and numerous interesting questions were asked, all of which were answered appropriately and to the best of their abilities.

Finally, the people who were left made their way to the social bar for free drinks on CA Technologies’ bar tab, and, being a non-alcohol drinker, I only had half a pint of Pepsi. Four of us sat in a booth and talked, while people around us networked and spoke to each other too – it was like everyone had known each other forever!

I’d definitely recommend entering the abstract/poster contest if you’re a woman studying a computing-related subject at University as:

  1. You will meet some amazing people.
  2. You may impress a potential employer.
  3. You will get your travel expenses paid for, along with food and drinks.
  4. You might win a prize!
  5. It’s an experience that will look great on your CV, and will give you a great deal of confidence.

Reading was a beautiful place, but the location of the colloquium changes every year with 2015’s being in Edinburgh. Here’s a lovely picture of Reading on the way back home:

Reading

Goodbye Reading!

Huge thanks to all of the sponsors, and especially to Hannah Dee and Amanda Clare for organising the whole thing. It was a great success!

Go for it girls, you won’t regret it! 🙂

Michelle x