Charlotte Corday, left of centre, being taken to her execution in an 1889 painting by Arturo Michelena. Image: Public Domain
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Ubisoft drops playable female character from Assassin's Creed: Unity because "it's too much work"

The developer has dropped female playable characters from the game because apparently it was too difficult.

Oh, video games. What is it about you that makes you so terrible with women? No other art form is so consistently dismissive, disrespectful, and indeed hateful about women regardless of genre. This isn't because gaming is inherently a sexist thing – and anyone who says it is doesn't understand gaming - but probably because the people who make the games are, themselves, completely naive about or dismissive of the issue, or very much not designing and creating games with the issue of female representation on their minds at any point.

Which brings us to Ubisoft, and Assassin's Creed: Unity, which was announced at the annual E3 games expo in Los Angeles this week. For those who haven't played it, the Assassin's Creed series is stupid but fun – you play as a man reliving the memories of his assassin ancestors, who creep and stab their way through historical periods like the Crusades and the Renaissance as part of some poorly-written end-of-the-world conspiracy cult narrative. Unity is the seventh installment in the series, sequel to the sixth installment, the confusingly-named Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. That was set among pirates, and Unity's schtick is to take the game to the streets of Paris during the French Revolution.

All of which is to say that it's a game where you play as an assassin, and the physical appearance of your character isn't essential to the plot (except for, eg, not wearing neon clothing when sneaking around in the shadows of a palace). Yet this is what happened when Ubisoft's technical director, James Thereien, spoke to Videogamer.com about why there isn't an option to play as a female assassin:

It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it's a question of focus and production," Therien explained. "So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes [inaudible]. It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it's something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision... It's unfortunate, but it's a reality of game development."

And then Ubisoft's creative director, Alex Amancio, said this in an interview with Polygon:

It's double the animations, it's double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets," Amancio said. "Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work."

"Because of that, the common denominator was [main character] Arno," Amancio said. "It's not like we could cut our main character, so the only logical option, the only option we had, was to cut the female avatar."

That's right, ladies – you're officially considered an optional extra. This is an extraordinary thing that Ubisoft has managed, because the Assassin's Creed games are notorious for being bloated by mini-games and hidden extras, so much so that in an infamous reddit confession one of the developers who worked on Assassin's Creed III claimed that not only did most players and reviewers never unlock certain features hidden in the game, but that even he and his colleagues had no idea quite how many hidden features there were. Considering that there clearly were the resources to develop a high-definition recreation of 18th century Paris in-game, a complaint that adding an option to play as a woman would be too much extra work comes across as poor management at best.

And then there's Charlotte Corday, pictured above, the so-called Angel of Assassination - a nickname she earned after murdering Jean-Paul Marat, a Jacobin leader and one of the key figures of the revolution. She is, arguably, the most famous assassin of all from the time period that Unity depicts. 

We can accept that developing a female lead player for the game would have been a touch more difficult than the patch that a professional animator used to change the original Legend of Zelda so that the player played as the princess, saving Link, but come on. Female gamers shouldn't have to keep hoping that developers will deign to grace them with respect in a possible future patch, or - even worse - in some possible update that has to be paid for, with a playable female character included alongside other optional extras like costume changes.

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump