April has been spent in a state of COVID 19 lockdown. At the moment of writing this, late on a Saturday night, I've been locked down for 8 weeks after taking the decision to hide myself away from the world a week before our government decided that doing so was such a good idea that they'd tell us to do it. During that time, I've played a lot of games. News about up and coming games has been quite understandably thin on the ground though - with various conventions cancelled, and delivery dates beginning to slip everywhere. In fact, the highlight of the gaming news for April really has been the announcement of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla that dropped on the 30th.
I think it's fair to say that the only people surprised to see that the setting for the newest Assassin's Creed game is the vikings were the ones that hadn't been paying attention - the rumour mill has been suggesting this for some time. The trailer showed a male protagonist, while the reveal of a commemorative statue in one of the special editions of the game that's available for pre-order showed a female option... at which point a small number of extremely loud (and presumably male) gAmErZ found the need to object. I mean, of course they did. Heaven forbid they should complain about something that actually affects them.
The internet, for all its possibilities, is one of the most depressing inventions mankind has ever come up with. As supporting evidence for my statement, please allow me to present exhibit A - the online discourse surrounding a female protagonist in Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, and the prompt moving of goalposts to the claim that the argument is simply one in favour of "historical accuracy in video games." The existence of such an argument is enough to piss me off. The fact that we're arguing it again and again in an apparently neverending cycle of self-fulfilling stupidity somehow makes it worse.
It's a tale that's almost as old as time at this point, and one that's becoming utterly tiresome. A section of the internet immediately gets their collective knickers in a twist because they see a gender that isn't theirs acting in a capacity that doesn't fit their narrow worldview. They complain, usually loudly. Other people - generally better read and researched - step in to point out the error of their statements (in this case, pointing to all the DNA evidence indicating that yes, there actually were female viking warriors - and yes, those same female viking warriors would likely take enormous pleasure in beating the shit out of whining men who denied their very existence... although that's beside the point). They often bring supporting evidence with them - links to museums, and journals, and history books. You know, the thoughts and considerations of people that are experts in the field. The kind of people that have spent years or decades finding this stuff out and writing about it in a (failed) attempt to make all of us smarter. At this point, having made an assertion and then been presented with compelling evidence to the contrary, the sane person would either acknowledge their error and adjust their position, or at least go off and attempt to find evidence to support their original assertion. But no. For the gAmErZ, it makes far more sense to either move a goalpost or hurl abuse instead, right? Or both, even! It's far more fun to pretend that your argument has nothing to do with your own misogyny, and instead demonstrates your long-standing dedication to the importance of historical accuracy in your entertainment, right?
The argument is disingenuous at best. And yeah, I'm struggling to stay polite here.
Picture the scene: Yves Guillemot (the dude who runs the whole of Ubisoft) is sat with the head of Ubisoft Montreal, talking about how much they managed to teach the gamers of the world about Ancient Egypt with Assassin's Creed: Origins. All those players wandering around the pyramids, and experiencing the great library of Alexandria - they'll have had their eyes opened to an area of world history that they may have known absolutely nothing about prior to installing the game. That's a wonderful thing to have achieved. He's really pleased with the move that the studio has taken toward existing chiefly to educate, with entertainment taking a back seat. He asks openly which time period and civilisation the development team would like to teach the world about next - and they respond without hesitation: the Vikings! All those different gods, and all the conquest! All the tradition and the art. The adventure! There's so much there that the gamers of the world could be taught all about! Yves sits back in his chair and nods his head sagely. His colleague is right, of course. What the gamers of the world need now is to be taught all about the Vikings. And if a bit of cash could maybe be made from this philanthropic exercise the company had embarked upon, then so much the better.
Yes, I'm being facetious here. There's no way a conversation like that ever took place. It's far more likely that a chat was had about which time period and geographical location would best fit the next version of a game where a player stabs and murders his way around a huge map - and after a bit of back and forth the conclusion was reached that the Vikings should be looked at because their stabbing and murdering credentials are second to none. The fact they travelled between countries - meaning the developers could probably extend that map to include a couple of visually distinct countries - was probably also another tick in a box on a long list of desired features.
It should go without saying, but apparently it warrants repeating - these games don't exist to teach history. The Assassin's Creed series, while aiming to feel authentic in its world design, weapons, and environments, does not aim for actual accuracy. A lot of liberties are taken with real events and real people so that a coherent fictional narrative can be superimposed over the top of them. Vague knowledge of the events enhances the experience - the minute knowledge of them would lay all of those liberties bare. I've said it before on this blog, more times than I'd care to count, but apparently it still requires reiteration: development studios and publishers exist to make money. They may wrap other intentions and desires into work - but the bottom line always comes down to the cash. They're going to make more money by better representing the customers they serve - and that includes people with different genitals (and often different coloured skin, too) to the little boys that are armed to the teeth with keyboards, opinions, self-serving attitudes and little else. If a bit of historical accuracy needs to be discarded in order to achieve this financially driven goal, then I'll give you three guesses as to what's going to happen. You should only need one.
As if the financial argument isn't enough, there's the societal one as well - and the one that can be summed up as simply the 'anti-asshole argument.' All people can play videogames. Damn, I'd advocate that all people should play videogames - and all people should be represented by videogames. They're an incredible medium for experiencing life outside of your own little sphere - it's what they do best. They can help to build empathy and understanding. They can open your eyes to other perspectives and worldviews. If you see that as being a problem, well... the problem isn't with the choices developers are making. The problem is you. I'm sure I've said it on here before, but if not - here it is. Rights and representation are not a pie or a cake. Someone else getting a little bit more does not mean that you end up getting a little bit less. Just choose to play as the male character, if it bugs you that much - but don't shout your mouth off about other people having an option to play a GAME in a way that represents them in the same way your choice of character represents you. To do so just makes you sound like an asshole.
If historical accuracy is what these people really value, they shouldn't be criticising a game for failing to provide it - instead they should be seeking out other mediums that are known for valuing it far more highly. To paraphrase everyone's favourite fictional archaeologist, they're "digging in the wrong place". History books and documentaries exist - my suggestion to them is this: watch them, and read them. And maybe - just maybe, they'll start to understand just where the arguments they're making and sharing can ultimately end up. They don't even need to look that far back - a couple of chapters should give them an idea.
I'm looking forward to playing Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. As a girl. Just to spite these people.