As a female gamer growing up in the 90s, I can still remember how it felt the first time Professor Oak asked me whether I was a boy or a girl. Before then, “boy” had been more or less the mandatory default in most games I’d encountered, and I welcomed the opportunity to play as a character who shared my gender identity. That pixelated ponytail sticking out of my character’s baseball cap meant so much to me.
Over the years, inclusion has gotten ever-so-slightly better in many games and franchises, which has allowed a greater spectrum of gamers to feel represented in the games we play. For some games, like the Assassin’s Creed series, expanding the options for playable character gender has also expanded the fan base. However, Assassin’s Creed: Mirage will not feature any playable female characters, leaving some of the game’s female fans disappointed.
Female Fans Fear Assassin’s Creed: Mirage Left Them Out of the Equation
Things have come a long way since my childhood days of gaming, even amongst franchises that once felt entirely driven by male characters. Case in point, several of the more recent Assassin’s Creed games have featured playable female protagonists or, in the case of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, given players the option to select the protagonist’s gender at the start of the game.
But the latest offering in the franchise, Assasin’s Creed: Mirage, does away with this flexibility, opting for a male-only protagonist once again. For a game that touts itself as a “back to basics” return for the franchise, it’s a bit worrying that this apparently includes a trip back to the days when male characters were the default protagonists.
When Games Have A Single Protagonist, It’s Often a Man
Of course, when games are heavily story-driven, it makes sense that developers may opt for a single playable protagonist. If that person is central to the story, it’s not so easy to swap them out for someone else based on player preferences.
However, the fact of the matter is that many major games that center their stories on a single playable protagonist choose a male one, as studies on the genders of video game protagonists have shown time and time again. Much like my early gaming days, this can make non-male gamers wonder why they can’t find themselves anywhere but on the sidelines, or worse, hidden away in a castle waiting to be saved.
When Assassin’s Creed: Mirage details began to emerge online, female gamers took to Reddit to mourn the apparent lack of any female playable options compared with what the franchise has offered in past installments. Clearly, women have been playing Assassin’s Creed, and some part of that interest has been due to the increased inclusion of female main characters in the franchise.
Back to Basics… But Who For?
The choice to walk back this option comes alongside rhetoric about this game being a return to classic Assassin’s Creed gameplay. This begs the question of who exactly a return to basics is intended to cater to and whether the franchise has considered leaving space for newer fans as it tries to recapture the spirit of what made older installments so popular.
Many fans of the franchise readily admit that the plot has gotten a bit lost over the years and that a return to a more story-driven and streamlined approach has overall been met with enthusiasm. Hopefully, it makes for an enjoyable gaming experience for fans who prefer not to get quite so deep into the RPG elements of more recent installments.
And yet, as someone still a little mad about a childhood where every game forced me to be a guy, I can’t help but wonder whether paring back on women in the storyline was actually necessary. Was the return to a single, male playable main character an intentional attempt to bring back the things that fans loved most, born from the assumption of a fanbase that’s imagined as mostly or entirely made up of men?