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 []

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