A great sample of the shameless male privilege in gaming

Assassin's Creed cover. A man in a white hooded coat among a blue-tinted unfocused crowd of people. The hidden blade is extending from his wrist.

Browsing the Assassin’s Creed fora, I happened upon this thread and my eyes almost fell out of their sockets because I was rolling them so much. Just check out the first post:

So… I’m not being sexist…. but why does everyone want a female main character? IMO, she would be way too vulnerable and hard to relate to. (What I am saying is,almost the whole market to the AC games are males, and the only ones who would relate would be women) This is mainly the reason why I don’t think Ubi would make a female character, because the game wouldn’t sell well… But what is you guys’ opinion?

Now you know that any comment starting with “I’m not sexist but,” is going to be cringe-worthy and this guy doesn’t disappoint. In the same breath he uses to claim that he’s not a sexist, he declares women “too vulnerable” to be assassins. But anyway, picking on this poor kids’ cootie-hating is easy. What really peeved me was the shameless privilege display in your face: You should make the protagonist male because I can’t relate to non-male characters. He then of course proceeds to explain that this isn’t about him (oh no). What he’s really thinking if Ubisoft’s bottom line. Yes, he’s that concerned with the wellbeing of a gaming company that he’s willing to use his male privilege for them.

But then again, what difference does it make that a teenage boy1 wields his privilege like a weapon? Par for the course isn’t it? Well yes, and that’s the problem. That it’s so common that people let it slide, which of course ends up with one thread full of people agreeing with the OP that female assassins make no sense/are not a good business decision.

While this just looks like some privileged douchebags whining on the fora, it does draw attention to the wider effect of male privilege, how it affects everything around us and how males react when they perceive their privilege being taken away. In this case, we see how the male privilege is implicitly acknowledged as the normal state of things (“Males are the predominant audience”, “I’m used to always being able to identify with the main character”). This perspective is so widely accepted, that even female responders have internalized its effects.

Who says everyone? :O I’m a female, I’m all for female assassin’s in games, the sisterhood and all that, but I wouldn’t want a female main character. Why? Because it would be oversexed – like Lara Croft, Bloodrayne… Just walking and talking and assassinating bog boobs on long legs. No, thanks. I focus better if there a male on screen

But we also see how male privilege defends itself. It’s not like there has been an official announcement on the subject (none that I’ve heard of at least) but even the rumours of a possible female lead to a series which already has established that such female assassins exist, is enough to make males pre-emptively request that no such thing happen. In other words, a direct reaction to the reduction of privilege which is of course based on the existing privilege (eg gamers are predominantly males and they wouldn’t identify). In another thread, people were explicitly threatening to boycott the game, if the lead was a female. And that’s pretty reactionary, no matter which way you look at it.

Personally, I love the way that Ubisoft has included females in the single player cast (even if they’re predominantly prostitutes – read too much Frank Miller perhaps?) and in the multi-player (even if there’s one female for every 3 males) and I think they should expand on this trend, not retract from it. I’d also love see homosexuals represented (male or female) and even people from different “races”, even if that would require a change in setting. They had a chance in Assassin’s Creed 1 which was set in an area with historically a lot of PoC (in fact, iirc the original Assassins of old were not Caucasians) but of course they opted for the handsome white boy looks to allow all those white teenage boys to identify better.

But there’s no reason why Assassin’s Creed cannot explore other cultural histories. In fact, the way the sci-fi tech setting is set up (people reliving memories from their ancestor’s DNA), it has a unique opportunity to explore so many diverse issues. Imagine an reliving the memories of an Black African Assassin in Egypt (Don’t object, The Legend of the Burning Sands pulled it off brilliantly) and then his progeny starting off as Slaves in a USA plantation. How about  a Female Lesbian assassin is Tsarist Russia during their Socialist revolution. From my perspective it would be an extremely cool setup to have her be an Anarchist (The Assassins as a group have some interesting anarchistic tendencies) during those times, exploring her sexuality in a the very traditional setting of Czarist Russia and later on fighting against the brutality of the Czar only to be overcome by the Templar Bolsheviks. It fits like a Glove. Or how about Japanese Assassins, who were named Ninja in that culture2.

Seriously, given how easily one can use the setting of Assassin’s Creed, there’s so many aspects, cultures and subjects to explore than it’s a damn shame to stick to the classic handsome white boy recipe. A damn shame, especially given how many females are already playing the game, by the crumbs of inclusion thrown their way. Personally, I hope that Ubisoft and other companies out there are smart enough to ignore the privilege whine of teenage boys and be bold enough to switch genders, sexual orientations and races.

  1. I want to believe that he’s a teenage boy to maintain my faith in humanity. If this is an adult, he deserves a serious slap upside the head []
  2. Historically, the order of the Assassins preceded Ninjas by a few centuries []

12 thoughts on “A great sample of the shameless male privilege in gaming

  1. My girlfriend feels weird playing male characters. While us guys have plenty of games with male mains, there aren’t nearly enough with female mains to satisfy that kind of female gamer.

    I remember browsing GameSpot’s fora a few times and seeing this “I don’t want to play as a female character because I can’t identify with her” stuff. Personally, I don’t have this problem — not even in first-person games like L4D 1/2 — and I really don’t get it. Ironically, it seems strange to me when I know a guy is playing a female character or a girl is playing a male character, especially if my girlfriend is playing as a guy. But the point is… nothing like that ever makes me not want to play.

    “I don’t want to play Eternal Darkness because the main character is female and I can’t identify with her.” *rolls eyes*

    Then, contrary to the people you mention who take advantage of their privilege to keep things unbalanced, some guys actually prefer to play as females, such as my best friend. Female characters are often more agile by design, which fits his play style.

    1. Every time I hear the whine of "I don't want female leads because I can't identify" I seriously need to stop myself from flaming the privilege blind idiot.

      I enjoy playing male and female leads. I played ME2 with a female Shepard because the looks and voice were cooler. I'm pretty turned off by the whole "Space Marine" trope at the moment so unless the game allows me to play a more varied male character, I tend to go for females. I don't find it weird at all.

  2. I hope you've been following the posts on AC over at Bad Reputation.

    Now if you will excuse me, I'm going to go play some Mass Effect 2, as a totally awesome female Shepard (who is striking up quite the relationship with Kelly). Ubisoft could learn a thing or two from EA.

    1. Haha brilliant. No I hadn't seen them but I did expect that others would have reached the same conclusions as I did 🙂

    2. Apropos ME2. I was planning on bringing it as an example for Ubisoft on how it can be made more inclusive but I somehow forgot about it 🙂

  3. There are many examples of female leads (Mirror's Edge, Metroid etc), but there is one all time classic that this kid needs to think about: Lara Croft

  4. Careful, your eyes can get stuck if you roll them too much. Since moving to New Zealand, I've heard a surprising number of "I'm not racist, but…" If you need to say that as a disclaimer, don't bother finishing your idiotic sentence. I don't think it's something inherent to NZ, I've just never been outside of my hippie havens (Berkeley, CA and Yellow Springs, OH) for so long before.

    There are millions of books and movies with male lead characters that females enjoy. Saying that you don't want to play a female lead because you won't identify with her underlines YOUR problem: You can't identify with females. If you can't identify with them, I frankly don't think you're qualified to have a relationship with any of them, friendship or otherwise.

  5. "How about a Female Lesbian assassin is Tsarist Russia during their Socialist revolution. From my perspective it would be an extremely cool setup to have her be an Anarchist (The Assassins as a group have some interesting anarchistic tendencies) during those times, exploring her sexuality in a the very traditional setting of Czarist Russia and later on fighting against the brutality of the Czar only to be overcome by the Templar Bolsheviks. It fits like a Glove."

    I would *love* to play this game. And I'm a white Anglo-Saxon American middle-class heterosexual male from a Christian family. I don't know where this demand for "relatable" video game protagonists comes from. I don't *want* to roleplay myself (and, until Harmonix launches its Notepad Hero franchise, I probably can't anyway.)

  6. Yes, but come one. She was female not because she was badass but because she had huge tits and was basically there for boys to fap to. That's as bad as having no female characters at all.

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