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Ubisoft Quebec’s narrative director prefers “juicy and real” female portrayals in games

Friday, 25th October 2013 17:09 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Ubisoft Quebec’s director of narrative design, Jill Murray, has said she prefers “juicy and real” when it comes to narrative involving female portrayals in games, and feels when writers are “trying” to portray them in a positive light, it comes across as disingenuous.

Speaking with GI International, Murray – who wrote Assassin’s Creed 3 Liberation – cited games such as Mass Effect, Gone Home, and Last of Us with doing narrative “right”.

“‘Trying to feature positive female characters’ is probably a mistake,” she said. “When you demand that characters be paragons of positivity, that’s when you get the feeling of “trying” and no one likes to play “trying.” Players want to connect with characters that offer something juicy and real.

“I’m less interested in the “kick-ass woman who can do it all,” than I am in the people whose flaws, interests, fears, and passions drive and pull them in conflicting directions. That includes the everywoman, the underachiever, the ordinary person moved to respond to tragedy, the woman who excels at one thing but the rest of her life is a mess, and so on. The messy stuff is what makes real people relatable and memorable, whether or not they’re good role models.

“For example, “Guevara” the English teacher who became a sniper in Syria after her children were killed in an air strike, or “Janice,” the con artist from my old neighborhood, who uses her puggle as an accessory to her petty crimes– I will never forget these women. I don’t want their lives, but I would wear a controller out playing them, to see how things work in their minds and their worlds.”

Murray’s latest project, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, ships next week.

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14 Comments

  1. Pitts

    If the character has an interesting life… that can easily be independent of gender. Both of her examples could work as great stories for male characters as well, and that’s awesome.

    I think, unless you’re specifically trying to engage a certain audience, creating gender agnostic stories can work out for the best.

    As long as you’re clever about it.

    #1 11 months ago
  2. bradk825

    She gets it.

    When studios opt to make a show of themselves, “we made a female character and she’s just super, look at us, we love social justice” they end up sucking. “Remember Me” is a perfect example. That guy thought he was the freaking saviour of the games industry and the game was shit.

    Characters need substance and problems, male or female, to be interesting.

    #2 11 months ago
  3. Javinator

    #2:HaHaHahahahahah….

    #3 11 months ago
  4. PEYJ

    While I agree with her point about fleshed out characters, I didn’t feel Aveline was such a person. In fact, she was more like the kick-ass type she is referring to. That could be due to the PSP-like scope of the game, though.

    #4 11 months ago
  5. YoungZer0

    @5: That’s Assassin’s Creed for you though. Not known for it’s deep characterization.

    #5 11 months ago
  6. DSB

    Everything depends on the game. There is such a thing as overdoing it. Something like Borderlands would drown if the writers tried to make it “deep”. The fact that it’s sketchy keeps it going.

    It’s the same with music. Sometimes it just gets better if it’s simple.

    But of course: In b4 someone tries to tell himself that the new Lara Croft isn’t a lot more compelling than the old one for the reasons mentioned above.

    #6 11 months ago
  7. Javinator

    DualCock4″

    #7 11 months ago
  8. TheWulf

    Or, you know, you could just look at positive examples of women in the real world and use that as your focus. In a non-misogynistic world view, there are plenty of examples to choose from, past and present.

    I just feel that women deserve at least some positive representations at this point. For the longest time, they’ve been slutty and roguish, whereas the men were clean as a whistle. You know, men in video games tend to be so good, which is my beef with the new Thief game.

    There’s this MEN ARE GOOD PEOPLE, GOODY TWO-SHOES, NICE-NICE vibe which… well, I hate. This is why I loved games like Saints Row IV and Mass Effect, which at least treated the genders equally. I honestly loved the good lady Shepard in Mass Effect.

    I managed to get a lady friend into Mass Effect because it was a decent portrayal. Often, I get desperate trying to dig out positive examples that don’t fall into the ‘slutty rogue’ or ‘femme fatale’ categories. You know, fap material for overly desperate and insecure straight, white cis-males.

    So, I sit there, and I’m all…

    Well, there’s Jade from Beyond Good & Evil, and… um… there’s Faith! Faith from Mirror’s Edge, yeah? Annnnd… hm. I know there are others! Oh, there’s Shepard from Mass Effect, isn’t there?

    And then I start running out, it’s just that there are so few examples of heroines and so many examples of perfect, pure heroes. I think it says something about contemporary culture that we have these sexless, good, purist males surrounded by slutty, roguish women. Just sit and think about what that implies about us for a while. Please, let it percolate.

    So, yeah. I just want to see things shaken up a bit.

    You know, Bishop in Neverwinter Nights 2 was a slutty rogue, and he was a guy. I loved him for it, I loved him so much for just breaking the mould and not being a psychopath or a purist.

    I want role reversal. I’m so tired of seeing one-dimensional, purist, goody two-shoes men with slutty, roguish women as their partners in adventure. But then, think about it, how much would the average, insecure gamer freak out if the next mainstream release was about a slutty, roguish male with a purist paladin lady as his entourage to adventure?

    And what if the male character were bisexual?

    We’ve come so far, but we’ve still centuries to go before the majority matures as much as the minority.

    #8 11 months ago
  9. TheWulf

    @3

    All I can say is that SolidSharkey loved Remember Me, and that he’s a better person than you. Perhaps you’re just too much of an arsehole to have appreciated what they were trying to do.

    Arseholery and gamer can all too often go hand in hand.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever actually spoken with anyone not of your own gender, but Remember Me was appreciated by some of them. It’s nice to see videogames move away from depicting women as slutty rogues just for your entertainment, as sad, pathetic, and desperate as that is.

    It also shows that you have no empathy, which further bolsters my opinion and view of gamers in general. I don’t know what it is about gaming that attracts so many low-functioning sociopaths who just couldn’t care what a very large group of people thinks or feels about something. You’re very self-involved, you can only see things through your own eyes.

    Whereas I actually talk to other people, varied people, and I have a wider world view thanks to it.

    So, yeah. Remember Me wasn’t shitty, but it takes a better kind of person than you to see its worth and to understand why it held at least some importance.

    #9 11 months ago
  10. TheWulf

    @1

    That’s definitely one of the most intelligent comments here, and it harks back to exactly why I like Commander Shepard so much.

    It’s similar to how gay is handled in games and how gamers react to it. With, for example, Arcade Gannon in New Vegas it wasn’t implicitly stated that he’s gay unless you actually go through a number of very specific dialogues to uncover it. What this means is that most gamers wholeheartedly believed that Gannon was straight.

    What this lead to was ridiculous levels of homophobia (yay sociopathy) from anyone who hadn’t had reason to seek out those lines to dialogue. I actually went through an edit war on the biggest Fallout wiki to try and get this included in the article. I provided them with quotes and even a video where Gannon reveals his sexuality, but it wasn’t good enough. There was so much gay hate present that I couldn’t get over it.

    And it just reminds me that whilst the rest of the world has moved on from misogyny, racism, homophobia, and so on, it seems to still be alive and well in most of the gamers I’ve encountered. If you want proof that what I’m saying is true, then look at the depressing state of affairs that is the Gone Home Steam forum.

    Intellectuality and Gamer are often mutually exclusive.

    As are Empathy and Gamer.

    So, whilst I appreciate what you’re saying, I feel that we do need a focus on showing women in a positive way just to break down these damned barriers of misogyny. See… TV, film, and music are always teaching people that misogyny, racism, homophobia, and so on are very bad things that only a proper nutcase would enjoy. Yet gaming isn’t yet teaching these lessons, and the mainstream is filled with cowards who barely ever touch upon it.

    I mean, could you imagine what would happen if the most important character in the next Elder Scrolls game was gay?

    I don’t know.

    There’s also this… bizarre under-current of hatred of women that I’ve seen with gamers. It’s fine to look at women, but if you want to emotionally interact with them then that’s totally gay. I’ve heard gamers say this a lot, and that they hate games which have believable women that they have to interact with on some emotional level. They don’t want a deep, three-dimensional character with believable motivations, they just want some slutty rogue. The mainstream provides.

    And this is where a lot of the animosity I have for the gamer subculture comes from. They’re not big thinkers. They allow themselves to become easily addicted to things without bothering to think of how this might affect their life, family, or close ones, they have attitudes which are plainly from the ’60s, and… well, yeah.

    Gaming is kind of a ghetto culture, sometimes.

    We have people who try to elevate it with things like Gone Home, but Gone Home received so much hatred and bile that it was buried under it and people were turned away from it without even trying it. You had others who bowed to peer pressure and hated on the game despite it not being in their Steam library.

    And this is how I see gamers. I don’t very often see very positive depictions of gamers.

    We need to educate the gaming masses, we really do.

    And no one can prove me wrong, because Gone Home. Just… read up on Gone Home. So much hate. Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.

    And here, Ubisoft is just playing up to those outdated, ’60s world values that gamers often engender because they’re being too cowardly here to do anything else. And parts of Ubisoft are definitely very cowardly — Assassin’s Creed, for example, is as homogeneous and unchallenging as you could get. It’s almost the poster child for a mainstream game.

    Oh well.

    But yes, for those I speak to and their feelings, I’d like to see things improve. I’d like less misogyny, less racism, less homophobia, less hatred of disabled people, or disfigured people, or even overweight people. And more empathy. There’s just not enough empathy out there.

    #10 11 months ago
  11. PEYJ

    @ TheWulf

    what the hell is wrong with you?

    #11 11 months ago
  12. DSB

    Whatever do you mean PEYJ? The man is obviously of sound mind. And he sure won’t mind telling you, it’s a lot sounder than yours.

    #12 11 months ago
  13. Inspectre

    @12

    Never seen one of those guys who got told that they were more special than the other kids?

    #13 11 months ago
  14. yeoung

    @TheWulf:

    Oni – Oni
    Farah – PoP Sands of Time
    Lilith – Borderlands
    Ayame – Tenchu
    Luca – Chrono Trigger
    Samus – Metroid
    Nariko – Heavenly Sword
    Ellie – TLoU
    Nilin – Remember Me

    Just to name a few interesting non-archetypal female characters. If you’re really reaching you can include the mute, though still interesting Portal chick and maybe Princess Peach. Sure she gets kidnapped a lot and does the whole damsel in distress thing, but she still goes go-karting and golfing with Bowser after it happens for the umpteenth time. That shows character.

    I think.

    #14 11 months ago

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