Thursday, June 12, 2014

Women Are Hard To Animate. Thoughts on Representation of Women in Movies, Television and Games

That "women are hard to animate" comes from today's Funny Files.  The excuse for not having female characters in the next game of a series called Assassin's Creed is that to have them would have doubled the workload of the animators.

That's polite shorthand for meaning that the customers of the game are viewed as being mostly male, so having female characters just isn't cost-effective (well, except perhaps for the tit-value), but it's also a lot like the old "but then we need toilets for women" argument which was made when some colleges had to turn coed.

Others found that defense funny, too.  Still, there's something deeper I can dig for you in this quote:

“Assassin’s Creed: Unity,” which takes place during the French Revolution through the Napoleonic wars, is a four-player co-0p, explained by Amancio here. Players can customize their gear, but always see themselves as the main character, Arno Dorian.
“Because of that, the common denominator was Arno,” Amancio explained. “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 "deeper" has to do with the initial focus.  If the focus is on a guy called Arno Dorian and his adventures during Napoleonic wars, well, it IS a bit hard to put female heroes into the story. A realistic portrayal of women would be as a few sisters, wives and mothers, as victims of rape and other war violence and as prostitutes, right?  From the guy point of view (which we all can assume, I believe).  We don't know a whole lot about how women "played" war in history.  You could add something about trying to steal enough potatoes between the army lines to stay alive without getting caught, perhaps, to make the game more realistic.

That wasn't very clear.  My point is that these stories are picked from a certain angle, an angle of traditionally male heroism, and even when that is not the case most of us are lulled into believing that a handful of women in a large list of participants is a mixed gender setting in a movie or television series.  Just think of the Noah's Ark (which also consisted of all white characters).  Probably a fifty-fifty distribution of men and women in some movie reads as a chick flick to many viewers.

One reason for all this is that we tend to see women portray womanhood in their roles, not play roles of individuals who have different temperaments, characters and so on.  That's why having a handful of women in a movie looks like inclusion, even if they all play the role "women," because that role might be subconsciously compared to the number of dentists or gamblers or whatever in the same movie, never mind that most of the rest of that list are played by men.

A similar thinking applies to roles played by people of color (so women of color get a double dose here).  The only solution I can see is to increase the numbers of those groups closer to their actual population proportions.  Once a certain critical coalition size has been reached in jobs, say, women (or any other less represented group) stop being seen as representatives of their group and start being seen as individuals.  We are getting there but we are not there yet.