2015: The Year of the Female Renaissance
One year ago, we were told #womenaretoohardtoanimate.
Two years ago, we were told "a lot of it was the engine."
Three years ago, we were told "it's going to happen at some point."
This year, our voices were heard.
After controversy after controversy involving women and feminism last year, the tables have turned this year with the three biggest annual franchises in video gaming history taking a stand with a side so misrepresented time and time again.
In April, the reveal of the latest installment in the Call of Duty franchise, Black Ops III, was pretty much what was expected: more futuristic, more weapons, and more zombies. But most important among the announcements was the first playable female lead in franchise history. It was a pleasant surprise from a franchise so entrenched in macho warfare, but it was only the beginning.
Fast-forward to May, and the newest Assassin's Creed game was revealed to be in Victorian London with new gadgets, new mechanics, and new characters, one of whom was more revolutionary than the others: Evie Frye, the first playable female protagonist in the main line of the franchise. After completely obliterating any sense of gender equality progression last year by stripping female characters from the co-operative mode because of the "reality of production", Assassin's Creed Syndicate has helped redeem the franchise amongst its female audience by providing the much-needed option of assassinating like only women can.
Last but hopefully not the least, FIFA 16 was revealed last week with a dozen women's national teams coinciding with the Women's World Cup happening this week. Apart from it being a marketing stunt, the call for women in the most popular sports game in the world has been loud and clear ever since the first petition on Change.org three years ago, so the inclusion of women in FIFA has been a long time coming. With the women's game getting more popular by the day, it's only right that women are represented in a game many females play so passionately every single day.
Hence, this year, we'll be able to gun down whole armies as a female soldier, assassinate British luminaries as a female assassin, and score mind-bending goals as a female footballer. Does that mean 2015 is the year of the female? Not quite. After a year when women were silenced left and right by lame threats and outright demeaning remarks, it seems like the three biggest annual gaming franchises are trying to make it up to female gamers by providing equal representation in-game, and they should be applauded for their efforts. However, the more we know, the less rosy it seems.
Yes, we'll able to play as women in FIFA 16, but we can only play as 12 different national teams against each other; no campaign, no career, and no Ultimate Team modes. Likewise in Assassin's Creed Syndicate, yes, we'll able to play as a female assassin, but to what extent is unclear, while the main focus of promotion so far is on the other protagonist, Evie's twin brother, Jacob Frye. Call of Duty: Black Ops III seems to have a much better prospect at representing gender equality, with a "gender neutral" story that doesn't make any changes to the overall script, but even that is hard to conclude from the cover art alone.
On the cover of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, the women are left to the side. On the cover of Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the female characters are nowhere to be seen. On both covers, a male sits in center stage. What does this say about how women are represented in these video games? "Sure, we'll let players play as a female character, but we can't place a female on the cover, let alone as the central character." You can look at them a thousand other ways, but one way is clear as day: women are not central to the game.
So while women are having a renaissance of sorts this year as playable characters in three major franchises, they are still underrepresented in one way or another. Taking the first step is always a good thing, but to achieve what was supposed to be achieved a long time ago, someone needs to take the step that everyone else is afraid to take: show that women matter. After all, what's the worst that could happen?