So in all the furor over horrible depictions of women in videogames, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation has quietly made a very important point, as Kotaku‘s Evan Narcisse notes in his article. That point is that the protagonist of the new AC game is not only female, she’s also African American: “The idea of Aveline intrigues me because she’s a black woman, one who happens in the leading role of a major video game.” He also points out that Aveline would “stand out” in 1786. Which she would have, although perhaps not as much as one might immediately suppose.
But, Narcisse says, “I like that. I’m glad Ubisoft are putting black people in their made-up past. Race, gender and historical circumstances aside, Aveline isn’t any more preposterous than Altair or Ezio.” And that’s one of the best attitudes that I’ve seen concerning a female game protagonist. She’s just as unlikely as any of the previous male protagonists, which is a statement of (more or less) equality.
And Narcisse hits upon another element of the game that strikes me as particularly important (and interesting, to someone who studies Shakespeare): cross-dressing. Shakespeare’s play’s have plenty of gender-bending heroines who can “get away” with behaving like men because 1. they’re dressed as men, and 2. they actually were played by men. Narcisse says,
I also wondered if Aveline’s wanton killing of her mostly male enemies could be explained away by her role-playing as a man. Her breeches and tricorner outfit could certainly imply that. Nope was the answer to that question. In fact, she’s also going to be walking New Orleans in ladies’ fashion of the time.
Which makes me want to play this game. I was not a fan of the first AC, probably because a bug kept me from being able to actually DO anything with it. But, as Narcisse concludes,
It’s easy to project my previously documented desires onto Aveline and the other black characters that might show up in Liberation. That’s because characters like Aveline are diamond-rare in video games. No matter how the finished Assassin’s Creed Liberation turns out, she’s already valuable.