Assassin’s Creed 3 Multiplayer Trailer Makes Me Cringe

Last week, Ubisoft posted a trailer for the multiplayer mode of upcoming game Assassin’s Creed 3. Predictably, it features whites and Native Americans, both men and women, killing each other with rifles, hammers, daggers and the like. Standard procedure for a multiplayer.

But my coworker and I both agreed that there was something ‘off’ about the trailer. Something that made it hard to watch. At first I thought it was the violence, and then I told myself to get a grip, because violent combat is pretty par for the course in videogames, and I’ve certainly cheered my share of vicious takedowns in the first two Assassin’s Creed games. But I forced myself to watch the video again, and then I realized: it wasn’t the violence that makes the AC3 multiplayer trailer hard to watch. It’s the gender ratio of the violence.

Trigger warning for violence.

The trailer shows a lot of men killing men, and quite a bit of men killing women. Only twice was a female assassin shown killing a male: once, at 0:38, where the Native American female assassin shares the screen with a white male assassin; and at 2:49, the last assassination of the trailer, when a white woman nails a white man in the head with the butt of her rifle, then shoots him as he lies on the ground. The other women in the trailer are either shown non-lethally striking a man, being non-lethally struck or thrown by a man, or being killed by a man. The worst is at 1:16, when a man in an overcoat and top hat grabs a woman in a low-cut green dress who is backing away from him, and plunges a dagger in her stomach. Then, for some reason, we get an instant replay.

The other two examples are at 1:39 and 2:04, the former being a white man stabbing the same low-cut green dress character in the stomach again, the latter a young white man who looks like Tidus from Final Fantasy X using a special ability to invisibly get behind a Native American woman and grab her around the throat with a hook. Bear in mind no female assassins are used to display any of the character types or special moves.

Look, Assassin’s Creed. I get that killing is your thing. But as long as you’re going to all but forego historical accuracy, you could at least not spectacularize violence against women. And while we’re on historical accuracy, maybe you thought you were dodging a bullet by apparently not including African Americans in AC3. I suppose it remains to be seen what you do with American slavery. But if the trailer’s line about playable multiplayer maps including “the blood-soaked cotton found on the Virginian plantation” is any indication, you’re going to milk that for every drop of exploitative “coolness-factor” as well.

Here’s the trailer:

What do you think? Is this fair game for a franchise whose main conceit is, well, assassinations? Is anyone else unnerved by the portrayals? How does it compare to other controversial trailers we’ve seen this year, like Hitman 3: Absolution, and the Tomb Raider reboot?

9 thoughts on “Assassin’s Creed 3 Multiplayer Trailer Makes Me Cringe”

  1. I’ve harboured a dislike for the game even prior to the trailers because my ancestors are all drawn up as being the “bad guys”. My family, loyalists, had to flee the States because of… you know… the American rebels killing them. In my history classes at school it went over this quite well (along with any American movie depicting the events). The game is seemingly romanticizing a very brutal time in history.

    Since I have these feelings, it doesn’t surprise me that the trailer depicts the action in such ways. It’s just unfortunate that we have Native American representation – again in the manner that they’re involved in murder.

    I didn’t notice until after the fact that they never showed off female character abilities. Maybe they aren’t flashy enough for trailers?

    1. It’s less to do with British being bad guys and more to do with Templars being bad guys. The AC series has always placed the Templars in positions of power (a lot of high ranking US officials are Templars according to Lore IIRC) . Which makes sense for the British since they were approaching a downturn from their imperialistic expansion, the Templars would definitely be behind that in the AC ‘verse. There will probably be US soldiers that are templar related too. (like here when connor kills some US soldiers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcVyNS1jZro&feature=player_detailpage#t=127s )

      But yeah.. As far as romanticizing… that’s kinda what the AC series has been doing. The Crusades were -brutal-. Way more horrific than the American Revolution. And AC1 had you running around elegantly killing people all over the place.

  2. I think the author raises very valid points (though I don’t think it’s quite as bad as Hitman or Tomb Raider.) An additional concern I have is how much they seemed to “sex up” most of the female characters’ outfits. I haven’t really played much multiplayer in previous Assassin’s Creed games as I hate competitive multiplayer with a vengeance. I went back and looked at the outfits for previous games:
    http://assassinscreed.wikia.com/wiki/Animi_Avatars_%28Brotherhood%29
    http://assassinscreed.wikia.com/wiki/Assassin%27s_Creed:_Revelations_Multiplayer_characters

    While most are rather cleavage-y, there’s very little skin showing. Compare that with (at least one? I’m not sure if they have different summer/winter clothes) the green dressed and Native American characters.

    I’ve been cautiously optimistic about the game, especially after they brought in Mohican voice actors and a cultural consultant. I’m not going to lie; this trailer made me nervous for the single-player campaign.

    One final point: it looks as if they will have a main black character in the single player storyline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qmnb_OoZus I’m worried that they’ll get it right if they chose to address slavery through the experiences of that character.

    1. Hi Oliver! I agree that it isn’t as bad as Hitman and Tomb Raider–I just wanted to throw those titles out there as references to other examples of sexualized violence used in videogame advertising and storyline. And I too have been a bit worried about how the game will turn out. It’s funny–we don’t seem to mind so much when videogames (or any media) fiddle with history in the distant past, like the Middle Ages, but when it gets to premodern stuff suddenly it seems a bit too close to home to be comfortable. I guess WWII stuff is “okay” for videogames since we can use the Nazis as a clear-cut villain, where with the American Revolution, as other commenters have pointed out, there’s no way to completely demonize or heroicize any of the complicit parties.

  3. I already hold resentment because they said that women totally have no place as an assassin during this period of time, but here they are. kthx.

    Out of the three female assassins I can see in the trailer, only one doesn’t look sexualized (girl with the hat). One’s severely sexualized in the femme fatale sort of boring way (if I ever see another character like this, it will be too soon), and the Native American woman that’s wearing little even though it looks freezing outside, I guess because she’s a “savage” and they only wear loincloths? Maybe they did good research and she’s dressed historically accurate. For some reason, I’m not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, thanks to her up-skirt shot when she was brutally killed.

    Bought every Assassin’s Creed game up until now. Shame.

  4. The “claim victory over the land” voice-over coinciding with White characters killing Native American characters seems in particularly poor taste.

    I was curious, so I went and looked up the 16 character types:
    Bear – Native American, Male, somewhat sexualized costume
    Carpenter – White, Male
    Commander – White, Male
    Hessian – White, Male
    Huntsman – White, Male
    Independent – Shawnee, Female, highly sexualize costume
    Lady Maverick – White, Female, highly sexualized costume and animations
    Mountebank – White, Male
    Night Stalker – White, Male
    Pioneer – White, Female
    Preacher – White, Male
    Redcoat – White, Female
    Robber – White, Male, slightly sexualized costume
    Sharpshooter – White, Male
    Silent Shadow – Mohawk, Male
    Strong Man – Inuit, Male

    Two women appear to have professions, the Pioneer and the Redcoat, though the profession of both is invasion. One, the Lady Maverick, is defined by her gender, also notably the highly sexualized character and the only character portrayed as making a “come hither” gesture. I have no idea what “Independent” is supposed to evoke. Of the four two have names that mark them as weird and exceptional: it is very clear that the developers didn’t think these women belonged in the historical setting. The Redcoat is the most anachronistic: women were not employed by the British military in any capacity between the 1800 and 1884. There were women Pioneers, which may explain why she, with her profession and historical precedent, gets to wear the most clothing.

    The non-White men also don’t have professions, the Bear, the Silent Shadow and the Strong Man. One of them is also defined by his gender. I dread the channel talk that’s likely to come out of this game.

    White men, on the other hand, all get professions, though “Night Stalker” might be debatable. Two have their chests displayed and one of those two reads to me as effeminate. We haven’t seen any of them wink at the camera or make suggestive gestures.

    The whole thing feels pretty exploitative and celebratory of a really nasty period in US history where we did terrible things. I don’t think there could never be a game that explored that period in interesting ways, but I have little faith that this will be it.

    On the other hand, I’m always grateful for violent PvP games that let me play women. They are depressingly few and far between. Even if the developers seem to have struggled imagining women in their world, I am glad they put in the effort to do so.

  5. While I think that the gender placement in a multiplayer ad isn’t that important (there’s no real story relevance to anything.)

    What struck me wasn’t the violence, but the costumes of the people being stabbed. Stab a female assassin fully clothed like an assassin? cool. Stab a woman who looks like she’s lost on a roof and is showing way too much skin? Weird, kinda uncomfortable.

    They -really- need to rework those costume skins.

  6. I feel like I have a lot to say about this but overall I am so very, very uncomfortable with anything that has the potential to glorify white colonial history. I am also very uncomfortable about anything set in a period defined by colonialism that doesn’t give voice to a variety of POC.
    I am so very very tired of sexualising of female characters. How do they pull that off in such conservative times? Why does violence need to be so damn gendered? I just… I think I might go play Tetris. Someone tell me when there’s a game out that I’ll be proud to enjoy.

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