The 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the famed and fabulous “E3,” met last weekend. Amidst the festivities and frivolities, controversy emerged. The issue in question was the continuing deafness of some major game companies to the fact that women play video games and want to be included in questions of game design, gameplay, and the broader gaming community.
At the conference Ubisoft, a giant in the game industry, was showcasing its upcoming sequel to the blockbuster franchise “Assassin’s Creed.” When asked about the possibility of having a female versions of the character for multi-player games, the developers responded by basically saying it was too much work to have women characters in the game. Apparently not content with infuriating the community just one time, Ubisoft doubled-down. In a separate interview with Alexa Ray Corriea of Polygon, developers for the “Far Cry” series indicated that they wanted to make a female lead an option in that game, but, again, it was going to be just too much work. (No, seriously, they thought it would take too much time to animate women characters.)
As you might imagine, this got them in no small amount of trouble. Indeed, the blowback was so intense that developers and PR types decided to just stop talking when interviewers asked about the issue. Ubisoft tried to raise the defense that their games already contained strong female characters and a diverse cast. Fair enough. Yet this reply undercuts the very defense they offered in the first place: that women characters would require too much work. If they’ve already figured out the magic recipe to make female character models, how much extra work is it to make one more?
This is not to say that video games (or any media for that matter) need to be total paragons of virtue and diversity. Yet, the fact remains that, despite the reality of female gamers, video games companies too often act as though their only target demographic is 15-year old boys. Some companies are trying to improve the scene, that is true. But that’s not enough. This video, compiled by Rebellious Pixels, highlights the face of gaming at E3 this year:
In the past, we at TJP have discussed how video games can be artistry, and how they can cause us to reflect on the human experience. They can be good ol’-fashioned fun. Or, as was noted in these pages at the start of E3, they can help us explore and discover a spirituality of hope. This great potential makes it all the more frustrating, then, when developers decide to follow the easier and well-trod path of catering uncritically to the quick-and-easy. What is needed is more developers willing to do the right thing, even if it takes more time. Maybe this will not be the easiest task for them. But, then again, what is right and what is easy do not always coincide.