I’m not as heated as Ubisoft as a lot of my peers are about the controversy of non-playable women in the upcoming Unity. It’s no question that we should always be striving for more diversity in gaming, particularly larger companies such as Ubisoft that are extremely successful and have the means to make it happen. However, if it were any other company and any other franchise, I would be way more pissed than I am, in fact I would be furious. But the reason I personally don’t give a lot of vocal criticism to Ubisoft is mainly because the Assassin’s Creed franchise is by far the most diverse video game series in modern gaming in the West.
Of the seven major games in the series that have been released on consoles (Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Assassin’s Creed III, and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation since it has been remastered onto consoles), there are six different playable assassins if you include Desmond. Of those six, three of the protagonists are people of color, including one woman of color - Altair, Connor, and Aveline. (In a wonderful DLC for Black Flag, you also play Adewalé, a Trinidadian Assassin). Not only are they people of color, they are POC that are rarely ever featured in games let alone playable. How many times do you see a Middle Eastern character in a video game that you weren’t trying to kill in a Call of Duty game? When do you ever get to explore the intricacies of balancing being a mixed raced person in a world that is just beginning to use race as a tool for oppression? No other Western franchise has explored as many characters with such varied backgrounds as Assassin’s Creed.
I understand the vitriol; I’m a woman of color and I thrive on being able to play women, but I personally think a lot of the anger we feel towards Assassin’s Creed is because we expect more diversity from this franchise than with others. My bar is certainly always higher for Ubisoft Montreal and Assassin’s Creed; I’ve come to expect different worlds with different stories, so it is disappointing when we don’t get what we’ve expected. But, AC is not one of the great offenders in the larger picture of the lack of representation or misrepresentation in gaming. It has contributed a stellar collection of diverse characters, stories, and worlds to the canon of gaming. So why do I personally want to be spending time being angry at a franchise that has actually portrayed a lot of diversity when I could be channeling my discourse onto franchises that really just don’t get it to actually have playable women or POC or WOC. Call of Duty and Halo for example have been around for much longer and have more games, each of those franchises taking place in different periods of history according to their lore. CoD takes its own brand of liberties with history - plus, the next game takes place in the future but the protagonist is going to be another generic white guy? Come on. These are franchises that I’m more upset about - ones that are well-established, profitable, and therefore have the freedom to take “risks” by not having 95% of their characters we play be white guys, yet they just don’t. AC from the start has always kept diversity on their radar throughout the franchise and tailors their stories to the diversity, not the other way around. I’m more disappointed at AC than anything else, but I don’t feel justified at being upset at Ubisoft Montreal at any level that I should be at CoD, Halo, Tom Clancy, or others.
So does that mean I don’t think people should be upset at Ubisoft? Not necessarily. It sucks that such a major franchise will not have playable women in upcoming games, particularly since there are not a lot of women in general in the lore of the series. Plus their reasoning for why there aren’t playable women was pretty shitty. However, though most video game franchises leave me exasperated and angry with a lack of diversity, I’ll just leave off of my own anger at Assassin’s Creed and just say “I’ll expect more from you soon.”