Are Women Too Hard To Animate? Female Combatants

#Tropes vs Women in Video GamesJuly 27, 2016

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Anita Sarkeesian

Executive Director and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Enthusiast

This episode examines the general lack of female representation among standard enemies as well as in the cooperative and competitive multiplayer options of many games, and the ways in which, when female enemies do exist, they are often sexualized and set apart by their gender from the male enemies who are presented as the norm. We then highlight a few examples of games that present female enemies as standard enemies who exist on more-or-less equal footing with their male counterparts.

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This episode examines the general lack of female representation among standard enemies as well as in the cooperative and competitive multiplayer options of many games, and the ways in which, when female enemies do exist, they are often sexualized and set apart by their gender from the male enemies who are presented as the norm. We then highlight a few examples of games that present female enemies as standard enemies who exist on more-or-less equal footing with their male counterparts.

Links & Resources

“Animating women should take ‘days,’ says Assassin’s Creed 3 animation director” – Polygon“Far Cry 4 devs were ‘inches away’ from women as playable characters” – Polygon

This is the fourth episode in season two of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. For more on the format changes accompanying season two, please see our announcement.

About the Series

The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects. This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

Games Referenced in this Episode

Assassin’s Creed Unity (2014)
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (2015)
FIFA International Soccer (1993)
FIFA 16 (2015)
Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (2008)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (2009)
Uncharted 4 (2016)
Saints Row: The Third (2011)
Wolfenstein (2009)
Hitman: Absolution (2012)
Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008)
BioShock Infinite (2013)

Transcript

At the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the game development company Ubisoft debuted a trailer showcasing the cooperative mode in their upcoming game Assassin’s Creed Unity. One thing viewers quickly noticed about the trailer was that all the assassins in it were male. When questioned about why female characters weren’t an option in this mode, the game’s creative director said that although there were originally plans to allow for female assassins, the development team couldn’t add them because it would require “double the animations, double the voices, and double the visual assets.” Meanwhile, a level designer on the game stated that including female assassins would have meant recreating 8000 animations on a new skeleton. These comments led to an explosion of controversy and criticism on Twitter, with many people using the sarcastic hashtag “women are too hard to animate.”

A number of experienced game developers joined the chorus of voices calling out the absurdity of Ubisoft’s claims. Animator Jonathan Cooper, who had previously worked on Assassin’s Creed III for Ubisoft, tweeted, “I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations.” And Manveer Heir of Bioware summed up what Ubisoft was actually saying: “We don’t really care to put the effort in to make a woman assassin.”

Ubisoft’s disregard for female character options didn’t stop with Unity. Also at E3 2014, the director of Far Cry 4 admitted to a similar issue with that game’s online co-op mode, saying, “We were inches away from having you be able to select a girl or a guy as your co-op buddy.” Again, the excuse for why this option wasn’t available was that it would just be too much work. And yet again, what they were really saying was that they just couldn’t be bothered to do the work it would have taken to provide that option. Though it’s worth pointing out that in the two years since this controversy, Ubisoft has made clear efforts to improve the representation of women in the core Assassin’s Creed games, with the most recent entry, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, giving the option to play as Evie Frye through much of the campaign.

Of course, Ubisoft weren’t and aren’t the only ones with this apathetic attitude toward female inclusion. In fact, not doing the necessary work to include women has long been the norm in the video game industry. The FIFA soccer game series, which had its first entry in 1993, took over 20 years before finally introducing female teams in FIFA 16.

CLIP: “I’m in the game.”

And it took ten years for Call of Duty to introduce female soldiers into its competitive multiplayer with 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts. The long-running Battlefield franchise, on the other hand, has still never allowed for playable female characters in its multiplayer modes.

There’s an important conversation to be had about the ways in which military shooters work to glorify violence, but as long as we’re going to have such games, it’s actually better when they include female combatants in them. Now you might be asking yourself, “Doesn’t having female enemies in a game perpetuate violence against women?” And that’s a good, fair question. When we refer to depictions of violence against women, we’re generally discussing situations in which women are being attacked or victimized specifically because they are women, reinforcing a perception of women as victims.

Such scenarios are very different from those in which women are presented as active participants. In the Street Fighter games, for instance, when Chun-Li and Ryu fight each other, this isn’t considered violence against women, because the two characters are presented as being on more or less equal footing, and because Chun-Li is an active participant who isn’t being targeted or attacked specifically because she’s a woman.

Similarly, the waves of male attackers players face in so many games are typically not passive victims. They are active participants in the conflict, and importantly, the violence against them isn’t gendered. Players fight with them because they’re on the opposing side, not specifically because they are men.

Unfortunately, when female combatants do appear in games, they are often presented in sexualized ways which inevitably lend the player’s attacks an air of gendered violence. In Saints Row The Third’s so-called “Whored Mode,” for instance, players must defeat waves of sexualized women, sometimes beating them to death with a large purple dildo.

In the 2009 game Wolfenstein, the Elite Guard are a special all-female enemy unit whose absurd uniforms sexualize not only the female characters themselves but also player’s acts of violence against them.

Similarly, in 2012’s Hitman Absolution, the Saints are a special unit of female assassins who wear latex fetish gear underneath nun’s habits. It’s a ludicrous design choice that is transparently intended to sexualize these enemies.

And in Metal Gear Solid 4, the Beauty & the Beast unit is an enemy group made up of five female soldiers that players fight over the course of the game. At a certain point during these encounters, each boss sheds her armor and appears as a woman in form-fitting attire.

CLIP: “It’s all so funny.”

If players then avoid the Beauty’s deadly embrace for several minutes without killing or neutralizing her, the game transports them to a white room where equipping the camera results in the character making sultry poses. Funny how that doesn’t happen with the male bosses in the game.

Whenever female combatants are dressed in sexualizing attire, it sets them noticeably apart from other enemy units. It’s intended to make the player’s encounters with them sexually titillating, and that’s particularly troubling considering that those encounters often involve fighting and killing those characters. Violence against female characters should never be presented as “sexy”.

The way for games to handle female combatants is not to present them as sexualized treats for the player. Rather, it’s to present them simply as combatants who happen to be women fighting alongside their male counterparts on equal footing.

For all of its many, many problems, one thing Bioshock Infinite did right was to include non-sexualized female officers on Columbia’s police force. And in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, both the player’s gang and the enemy gang have rank-and-file female members who fight alongside the men.

Despite the presence of female combatants in games like these, there is still a tendency for game studios to treat female representation as some kind of extravagant goal, rather than simply treating it as standard in the same way they handle male representation. The excuse that I hear most often for the absence of female combatants in games is that players wouldn’t believe it. But games, even ones that draw on historical locations or events like the Assassin’s Creed series, create their own worlds and set the tone for what we will or won’t believe. To participate in the worlds games create, we happily accept time travel, superpowers, ancient alien civilizations, the ability to carry infinite items, the idea that eating a hot dog can instantly heal your wounds, and a million other fictions. It’s certainly not too much to ask that these fictional worlds give us believable female combatants too.

The media we engage with has a powerful impact on our ideas of what’s believable and what’s not. Games like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate demonstrate that when the existence of female combatants is presented as straightforward, normal and believable, players have no problem believing it. And they shouldn’t, since, unlike those magical healing hot dogs I mentioned, female combatants actually exist