Nintendo and Ubisoft: in which the pot calls the kettle black [MANY IMAGES]

Ubisoft’s colossal E3 “open mouth insert foot” blunder about it being tooooo haaaaard to develop female characters was useful in that it started a lot of great conversations about the lack  of playable female characters in video games. However, one irritating trend that I’ve seen is that there are other game studios who have rushed to proclaim “well OUR games have female characters”, only the female characters in question are nothing more than sexy collections of ladyparts, improbable and/or outright impossible costumes, and shitty sexist stereotypes.

And you know what? That’s bullshit. Yeah Ubisoft fucked up, but at least their fuck-up was one of omission, which is better than the committed, ongoing sexism required to produce a lot of the frankly awful female characters that the major games studios continue to churn out like this, or this, or this. (And those are all just things I saw this morning while catching up on a weekend away from tumblr!)

The company that irritated me the most with these tactics, however, was Nintendo, since not only did they populate their games with shitty characters but people actually praised them for it!

Of course, it helped Nintendo that this year’s E3 was pretty abysmal for women. Almost none of the AAA game studios showcased games with playable female characters, and as Vlambeer developer Rami Ismail snarked there were more severed heads than female Playstation presenters at E3.

So when Nintendo showcased their upcoming games that actually featured some female characters, notably Hyrule Warriors and the next iteration of Super Smash Brothers, many people heralded it as a breath of fresh air – just because at least one studio wasn’t stupidly pretending women didn’t exist. The dearth of women was so great that the inclusion of female characters, any female characters was seen as a good thing.

And in light of the glaring omission of female characters by other studios, it didn’t take Nintendo long at all to start tooting it’s own horn. Look at our upcoming games that are full of strong female characters! Which would be great if it were true. Unfortunately, the female characters in question are only “strong female characters” in the Hark! A Vagrant! sense:

I will never skip an opportunity to link to Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant!. NEVER.

So pull up a chair, kids, and let’s talk about why Nintendo fails at women in both of these titles that supposedly contain such “strong female characters”.

Hyrule Warriors

Hyrule Warriors looks to be an interesting game, truth be told. Based on the sort of epic combats that are characteristic of the Dynasty Warriors series, it has you fighting battles on a grand scale. Further, the cast of characters seems pretty well divided with half of the 12 “main” characters being female[1]:

LEFT TO RIGHT: Lana, Zelda, Midna
LEFT TO RIGHT: Agitha, Shia, Impa
LEFT TO RIGHT: Valga, Zant, Link
LEFT TO RIGHT: Argorok, Wizzro

(Not pictured with the male characters – the obligatory Ganondorf.)

Now there are some positive things here. It’s nice that Zelda is a playable character and actually doesn’t get back-benched for this title. Also, it is nice that female characters account for half of the main characters. However, there are some serious issues that come up when you start looking in more depth at the character design.

For example, the range of designs of the female characters is incredibly constricted, with all of the 6 main female characters being either “pretty”, “cute”, or “sexy”. But when you look at the not-female characters, the range is so much wider! You have a slim youth, mysterious warriors, an inhuman monster, a horrific shade, and… whatever the hell Ganondorf is.

So in the Zelda universe there are super-attractive male characters and monstrous male characters and some things in between, but there is literally no such thing as an unattractive female character. Because even in a universe where single characters can defeat entire armies, it is unbelievable that heroic women might also be unattractive?

Also, it’s important to note that there are some suuuuuper problematic character designs going on here. Most notably, Shia.

So she’s got gravity-defying nippleless sphere-boobs, improbable costuming, decorative armor plating that protects nothing while vital bits of anatomy are exposed, pointy metal objects stabbing her directly in the boob… Christ. It would be easier to find things they didn’t get wrong. What the hell happened to Nintendo’s reputation as a “family-friendly” game publisher?

But wait, it gets worse! Shia’s entire backstory is that she was once a guardian of the Triforce until she fell in love with Link and her jealousy of Zelda made her get all evil and stuff.

Right. Because the only motivation that ever exists for female characters is a man. And the reason she’s dressed like that is because she’s evil, and what better way to show that than to have her dress provocatively? Because, you know, sexy wimmenz = evil.

/headdesk

Depressingly. Zelda honestly isn’t much better than the trainwreck that is Shia. Sure, her design looks cool at first blush, but let’s look at it in a bit more detail:

I mean, it’s better than Shia’s design? But that’s not saying a whole hell of a lot. But I guess this is what “strong female characters” look like these days. Hyrule Warriors development producer had this to say about Zelda’s new design:

“Regarding the look of Zelda herself, she is a ruler. So we want to make sure she is seen as a strong character in that she needs to look like a ruler, she needs to feel like a ruler,” Hayashi said. “So, [she has] what you might consider a stronger look for the character.”

…yeah. She looks real empowered there, what with her armor that prioritized sexiness over actual protection of vital anatomy. One might even say regal.

But the worst, THE WORST part of this awful Zelda design? Her attack involves her loincloth levitating upward while she pulls glowy energy out of her ladybits to form weapons.

Hrm. Nope, not strong enough. Merida, help me out here.

Super Smash Brothers

Sadly, as awful as Highrule Warriors does with regard to its female characters, it still does better than the upcoming Smash Brothers. Here’s what the roster looks like, as of the most recent update I was able to find:

A lot of familiar faces there, as well as some new ones, like the WiiFit Trainer. The problem is, when you start breaking it down by gender, things get depressing pretty quickly: (Pokemon not included because I’m not prepared to argue about the gender of pokemon.)

Yeah. Way to go at including female characters, Nintendo. You’re clearly doing a bang-up job there.

Now, granted, the characters featured in Smash Brothers are all iconic characters from a wide variety of different series. But many of these series (Metal Gear, Sonic, Star Fox) have female characters that aren’t being featured. And sure, those characters aren’t the “iconic” characters of the series, but that in itself makes a pretty damning indictment of gender representation.

But wait! It gets worse! You see, Samus’ Zero Suit is once again a thing in the new Smash Brothers title, which. Ugh. Other M was pretty much the worst thing ever to happen to Samus, what with how it took away her armor and made her whinily subordinate to a bunch of dudes. Why does that shit have to become the dominant portrayal of her? WHY?

And yet here’s Nintendo, doubling down on the awful. The Zero Suit’s rocket boots, which were frankly one of the only things going for it, are now stripper rocket heels.

STRIPPER. ROCKET. HEELS.

And look! They made the suit even more vacuum-sealed than before, as witness by how bizarrely separated and defined Samus’ (awful, spherical) breasts are. Also, given the level of definition on her belly-button, that thing must be tight enough to cause problems breathing. Unless this is some kind of future tech thing. Space age polymers ftw!

The anatomy on the Samus model is also pretty fucking terrible, although that might not be immediately apparent from the above screencap so here’s another:

Holy bendy snake torso with bonus chest-TARDIS, Batman!

So thanks, Nintendo, for making me totally not at all regret that I haven’t owned any Nintendo platforms since the Game Boy Advance. And how about next time you try to claim that you’re “better” than another studio at including female characters in your games, look at the quality of those characters before you go trying to earn feminism cookies.


[1] According to what I was able to find online.

Reasons Why It’s Too Hard to Include Playable Female Characters In Games

There have been some really great takes on just why Ubisoft’s proclamation that it was just a “reality of game development” that their newest title in the Assassin’s Creed series wouldn’t include playable female characters, many of which I covered in Friday’s link roundup.

However, some conversations on Google+ inspired me to do some silly drawings of some only-slightly-less-ludicrous reasons why it’s just too hard for studios to include playable female characters. A picture is worth 1000 words and all that:

It was nice to get a chance to return to my roots, as it were, by doing something silly for once (not to mention taking a bit of a break from Princess Charming); a lot of my posts recently have been rather serious, but sometimes it’s nice to just be silly.

Still, I think it’s worth using this post to make a serious point. Given that Ubisoft has already had female assassins in the series, including Aveline, a title character in her own AC game, it stretches my credulity beyond the breaking point for me to believe that it’s honestly that hard for Ubisoft to include a playable female assassin.

There are existing development assets already, including Aveline’s model and all of the motion-capture done for her animations. Would it really have been so hard to do some color-swapping of Aveline’s model and port her into the game? It certainly wouldn’t have been anything budget-breaking, given that this is a AAA title with a AAA budget. Frankly, female moon pixels and fire-breathing dragons are about as easy to believe.

Ubisoft would have done a lot better to own up to the truth: either they didn’t want to make a playable female character, or they just didn’t think of doing it. Instead, this gutless prevaricating has cost them a lot of goodwill. I’ve seen many long-time fans of the series who had appreciated the diversity of the series and its’ development team saying that they’re not going to put any more money into purchasing future AC games.

All in all, it would be hard to imagine a more bone-headed marketing ploy for a game that needs a large audience to recoup its astronomical development budget.


Self-Promotion Sidebar:

Do you link this post? Do you wish you could buy a print of these cartoons? Good news – you can! And honestly, who wouldn’t want to hang such beautiful satire on their walls? (Don’t answer that.)

 

Friday Freebie: the Ubisoft is full of shit edition

Well, this week is E3, that hallmark of entitlement and sexist bullshit, where the same old shit is paraded by industry insiders as “what to look forward to” in the next year of gaming.

In such an environment, it really takes some effort to distinguish yourself for bullshit sexism. Yet Ubisoft went the extra mile and claimed that the reason there were going to be no playable female assassins in their upcoming Assassin’s Creed title is because it would double the development cost and it was “a reality of game development”.

Uh huh. Because, as someone on my G+ pointed out, you can animate each individual feather on an eagle’s wing, but women? That shit is just too hard.

As you can expect, people have been having a field day with this. So I thought that I would devote an entire links post to the excellent responses that people have made to Ubisoft’s nonsensical assertion that they can’t include playable women because it’s just toooo haaaaaard.

This is one of the first takedowns I saw and does an excellent takedown of the problems with Ubisoft’s logic.

Is ‘we don’t have the resources’ an OK excuse for keeping female heroes out of games?

A stunning showcase of innovative character design: 40 male protagonists at E3 2014

There were more severed heads than women presenters at E3 2014 #yearofthebeheading

An NPR interview with Leigh Alexander and Aisha Taylor on E3 boy’s club nonsense

BioWare’s David Gaider on his personal tumblr, on why game companies need to do better

Over on tumblr, a great comic dramatizing the difficulty of animating female characters

Other game devs calling Ubisoft on their bullshit

Lastly, some super on-point tweets that pretty well summarize how I feel

This game IS NOT bullshit. It is awesome and you should fund it the end.

 

>Ubisoft makes games for girls that I want to KILL WITH FIRE

>[Edited to fix some minor formatting issues.]

The other day I stumbled across a link to the sort of game that makes me cringe – Imagine Fashion Party. According to Amazon, the key features are:

  • Express your individual creativity in workshops including hair, makeup, clothing and accessories
  • Use the Wii remote and nunchuck as scissors, hair brushes, makeup applicator and more
  • Make your models perform the right moves to show off your designs in front of fierce judges
  • Design in Creation mode, compete in the Reality Show, and challenge friends in mini-games
  • Roll out your collection in a photo shoot and catwalk show, and share it with your friends via wi-fi

/facepalm

But then I noticed that this trainwreck of a “game” was by Ubisoft! I was curious about what other “girl’s games” they might have in their lineup, so I did a little poking around and discovered that Imagine is actually its own line of video games with at least thirty-seven titles for the DS and Wii. (I think there may be a few that aren’t showing up on Amazon.)

Even with the duplicates, that’s still a pretty impressive number of titles. Most, though not all, games revolve around an occupation. Admittedly, a few of the titles are duplicates; there are three fashion designer titles, two rock star titles, two teacher titles, and two vet titles. But there’s still a pretty impressive list of careers represented, including things like… Fashion Designer. And Fashion Stylist. And Makeup Artist. And Salon Stylist. In fact, a large portion of the careers represented by Imagine titles are stereotypically feminine roles. And even the ones that aren’t are ridiculously infantalized or feminized.

For instance, instead of “Imagine Veterinarian”, there are two “Imagine Animal Doctor” titles. Do they think that girls are too stupid to understand words longer than 2 syllables? And what about “Resort Owner” and “Boutique Owner”? Are these the only types of businesses that little girls should aspire to own? Even the sports titles are for sports that are traditionally “acceptable” female sports like cheerleading, ice skating, and gymnastics.

Just for shits and giggles, I made a tally of represented careers counted by job categories that were totally made up by me. Duplicate careers are counted – which means that all three “Fashion Designer” titles were counted under Fashion, etc. I also color-coded the resulting chart to help illustrate my point. (“Medicine” is orange because it is a bit of a stereotype, but the titles are for doctors, not nurses – which is a more traditional stereotype.)

Look at that! Nine titles just for fashion! NINE! Almost a quarter of all of their titles are devoted to telling girls that they should find fashion fun and important! ARG! Out of all of the careers that might make interesting games that exist out there, Ubisoft couldn’t find careers that didn’t involve either being pretty or making things look pretty???Okay. So Ubisoft wants to market to girls who like girly things, you might be saying. And that might be reasonable. But then how does one explain the Imagine Babyz series of titles – Imagine Babyz, Imagine Party Babyz, and Imagine Babyz Fashion? That just takes the patronizing tone to a whole new level. “Not only are we going to try to sell you games about babies, but we’re also going to give it a cutesy misspelling since you girls should be worrying more about babies and looking pretty than spelling!”

/sigh

Even then – EVEN THEN – I might have been able to forgive them if I hadn’t gone looking for screen captures of Imagine games:

LEFT: Sweet 16 – a game about trying to become popular through throwing THE BEST PARTIES EVAR OMG! RIGHT: Makeup Artist – a screen capture from the Wii minigame in which you have to color inside the lip-shaped lines. Yawn.

This is from one of the many fashion design titles. I forget which.
From Champion Rider. Because all girls love horses, amirite?


Oh god. So. Many. Pastels. So. Much. Inane. Cuteness.

And all of this is just one series of “girls games” by just one company! There are dozens, if not hundreds of these shitty stereotype-ridden, steaming piles of failure out there – all marketed as “games for girls”. And judging by the comments and reviews on Amazon, there seem to be a fair amount of mothers who play these games with their daughters. Way to teach your daughters about female empowerment, ladies.The thing that makes it all so ridiculous for me is that Ubisoft is pretty famous for its hyper-violent adult titles like Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, to name a few:

So all of this “games for girls” bullshit is just another way in which the gaming establishment (read:men) is telling gaming women that “YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE”. And now I seriously want to buy as many copies as I can find of these horrendous games and set them on fire like the trash that they are.

Gah.