Female hostage shown in Rainbow Six Siege E3 demo to engender empathy

Tuesday, 24 June 2014 14:41 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Ubisoft has said Rainbow Six Siege players will not only be rescuing female hostages but males as well in the game. However, in order to evoke empathy from viewers of the E3 2014 demo, the firm showed a rescue scene involving a woman.

Speaking with RPS, technical artist Oliver Couture said a few people had about the demo and while he didn’t mention specifics, I’m assuming he was asked why Ubisoft chose the ‘woman in need of rescue’ trope instead of showing a male NPC being liberated from his tormentors.

“I know some people asked about the hostage in the demo. I mean, when we did that design we felt a lot of empathy with the hostage,” he told the site. “We wanted people to want to protect her. If the hostage gets killed a team loses the game, so we wanted players to care about the hostage so that’s the design we chose.

“But we’re also gonna have male hostages. That’s part of the plan.”

Considering it was just a game demo, the viewer is unaware of the entire story behind the hostage scene taking place at the home. There is probably a valid reason why a woman was being held hostage instead of a male.

If you watch the demo above, you will hear that the ‘kids room’ is being boarded up. Are the kids behind the door? Are they at their grandmother’s house? Is the woman in the demo divorced? If not, where is the husband? Is he in a position of power? Did the terrorists storm the house and take her hostage as a negotiation tool and plan on making demands of said husband?

We don’t know any of this, and considering how women are portrayed in games (or lacking entirely) is a hot topic right now, it’s not surprising Couture was asked why Ubisoft showed a woman being taken hostage instead of a male. I don’t see an issue in this case, personally. Maybe it would have been better if the demo showed children being held hostage instead. Usually they are a better bargaining chip anyway.

But who knows how that would have played out for Ubisoft. There’s an old trope in movies: viewers do not want to see children in danger/get hurt/die. On occasion when films showed children getting harmed, the audience was shocked. In the Stephen King novel Cujo, the little boy Tad dies of dehydration while trapped in his mother’s car by a rabid St. Bernard. The film version was very different in this respect, and ended with the little boy living. Had this not been changed, movie goers in 1983 would have been outraged. Granted, it happens in movies and television shows quite a bit now, which means times have changed considerably. A horrible death is horrible in any medium, no matter your age or gender.

Mini-rant aside, Ubisoft relied on educing empathy by showing a scared woman. Would the result have been different if a male hostage was used instead? Did people who viewed the demo even feel empathy at all for the hostage in the first place? I know I didn’t. It was a gameplay mechanic and with this mechanic, if the hostage dies, the team loses.

However, Ubisoft has taken the hostage mechanic a bit further, because it wants players to care about the hostage no matter the sex of the victim. In order to herd this, the NPCs will have a ‘personality’.

“We’re trying to define next-gen with the hostage,” said Couture. “We call that a ‘living hostage.’ So she’ll react to explosions and things like that. It’s pretty cool. She’ll cough because of the dirt in the air, she covers herself when there’s shooting – those sorts of things.

“We want the player to be able to move her into different positions, for there to be fluid controls. It’s a balance between player comfort and reality.”

So there you have it. All hostages in general will be frightened, in shock, and flinchy. Whether the player will feel any sort of connection with these hostages, other than the fact they lose if the victim dies, will depend on the player itself regardless of the hostage’s gender.

Rainbow Six Siege is slated for a 2015 release on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.