Ashley Johnson, who picked up a BAFTA for her role as Ellie in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, has spoken out about Ubisoft’s decision not to include playable women in this year’s Assassin’s Creed game.
Speaking in an interview with Videogamer.com, Johnson – as well her co-star Troy Baker – discussed the subject of gender diversity in the medium and why the felt it’s important to see more believable female characters in games.
“”I’m sort of coming at this as an actress but also as a female gamer,” said Johnson. “Assassin’s Creed: Unity is a great example of when I saw the gameplay and saw that [in] their multiplayer you do not have the option to play as a female. I was like, ‘Give me a fucking break! It’s 2014! How many video games do you have to make to realise maybe have an option to have a female be in there?’
“And maybe not just on PS Vita,” she continued. “I don’t know what the percentage is at this point but there are a lot of females that play video games and it would be nice to see stronger females in a game that are not just the damsel in distress, the love interest or she’s oversexualised. She doesn’t even necessarily have to be a badass. Just like a normal female character.”
Her concern isn’t just about the representation of women, however. She also thinks that men need be represented better. “On a broader spectrum, also male characters. Have a good story, have real characters and… I think the audience is changing so hopefully that’ll change a little bit more.”
Troy Baker – who played the voice of Joel in the PlayStation exclusive – then had this to say: “What I don’t want to see happen is have the obligatory female character in there because that’s what marketing says we need to have. I think that’s almost even more disrespectful than not having women in the game.
“But clearly there’s such a large demographic – I’m getting rid of the term ‘female gamer’ because you’re just a gamer, we don’t have to [identify] by gender – but there’s a large portion of gamers that are women that feel marginalised. They don’t feel like this game… it’s irrelevant to them. And that’s where games are going. It’s a very relevant way for them to immerse themselves in the story.”
Ubisoft was heavily criticized in the media last month following its appearance at this year’s E3, with many questioning the publisher’s claim that including playable women in the multiplayer cast of would have been too much work. In addition to the furore surrounding Assassin’s Creed: Unity, many found the promotional artwork for Far Cry 4 to be distasteful, claiming it had racist and homophobic undertones. Outside of the press, Insomniac Games made a not-too-subtle announcement that players will be able to play as a woman inthe multiplayer modes in the Xbox One-exclusive Sunset Overdrive. Insomniac released an image of a female avatar looking suspiciously similar to an Assassin from Ubisoft’s franchise.
Our own Shehzaan Abdulla, however, took issue with the controversy. Shaz felt that the uproar surrounding E3 ignored Ubisoft’s traditionally positive efforts to include diverse characters in its games, and that the press often highlights sexism while ignoring issues of race, sexuality and disability – making them guilty of hypocrisy. In his opinion piece titled “The Industry’s Problem With Ubisoft’s Diversity“, he had this to say: “You can’t cry foul over perceived sexism, while turning a blind eye to the lack of representation afforded to the LGBT community, or the disabled community, or ethnic minorities. That’s bullshit.”