Bethesda had an announcement for Dishonored 2 during their briefing at E3 2015. There was already a decent amount of hype for this game, so it’s no surprise that people were still thrilled to see this. What was surprising is that the lead assassin was a woman. In the wake of poor excuses from developers like Ubisoft for not having a woman lead, Bethesda jumped in feet first and decided to go with a lady.
What was even more surprising, though, is after showing off the woman assassin, they then said that gamers would get to choose between this character (Emily Kaldwin) and a man, Corvo. Dishonored 2 is hardly the only game to allow for a man or woman as the protagonist, but it is one of the only ones that has this choice and decided to highlight the lady protagonist. Ubisoft almost completely failed to mention that Assassin’s Creed would feature a woman as the lead this time. The short Mass Effect teaser was, of course, focused on the man too, and even Bethesda later went back to the standard character who is a man after briefly showing you could be a woman in Fallout 4.
The argument could be made that since the woman is the new character in Dishonored 2, it made sense to highlight her. However, it wouldn’t have been a misstep to show off that Corvo was coming back, then add the new assassin as an afterthought. To me as a viewer, it felt like a deliberate choice—that Arkane Studios was saying, “We’ve heard the complaints that women have and we are at least trying to do something about that.” They sat down, planned out their presentation, and decided not only to highlight that you could play as woman, but basically barely mentioned that you could also play as a man.
This is the complete reversal from how many games are presented at E3 when you get to choose the gender of your lead. Also, since Bethesda kicked off E3 this year, it felt like a gauntlet being thrown (of sorts). They led with saying that they knew women gamers were important and challenged other developers to acknowledge the same.
Some did indeed pick up the challenge and ran with it. Sony showed not just one, but many women protagonists, and later showings of Assassin’s Creed focused on a lady assassin. Microsoft also made sure that games like Rise of the Tomb Raider were a key feature. Ubisoft, though, still seemed to fail. They brought a lot in the way of presenters who are women and included a few more at various points. Assassin’s Creed was still focused on the protagonist who is a man, and in fact, if you weren’t paying close enough attention, it was easy to completely miss them saying that there was a choice between playing as a man and a woman in the game.
While Bethesda jumped forward and declared that there was not only a playable woman, but it was important for them to highlight that, Ubisoft seemed to want to hide from the fact that a few short years ago they said that making a lady assassin just wouldn’t work. I can understand not wanting to acknowledge the problem, but the problem was acknowledged for them. Ubisoft can no longer ignore the big mistake they made with past Assassin’s Creed games. Bethesda and Arkane Studios made sure of it. They hit—and they hit hard. They highlighted women and made this choice very boldly and did not seem to hesitate on it at all.
E3 is never perfect. Missteps happen and representation still needs work. That being said, moments like these prove that at least some people seem to care about what certain groups are saying. Will Dishonored 2 be perfect in representation of women in games? It’s unlikely. However, taking the steps in the right direction is something to note, as many developers refused to even start for so long.
Not only that, but Bethesda’s decision to highlight that in their brief was a show of support for the women who make up such a big chunk of gamers and game developers. Other developers and publishers will need to take note.