Back in June 2014, I settled with my laptop in my dorm at Central Washington University and watched the new Assassin’s Creed: Unity trailer. It seemed promising at the start—wide shot of a rioting Paris, Lorde playing in the background. The history nerd in me was getting super excited. Assassins in revolutionary France! That is, until the camera focused in on the four assassins appearing out of the smoke. The four guy assassins. I threw a pillow at my window. No, really. I picked up my fuzzy lime green pillow and slammed it at the window just past the end of my bed. I felt like something or someone had failed me. I was used to getting at least one lady character to play as in a multiplayer game. It just stung to see my gender completely erased from a franchise I enjoyed so much.
One particularly snippy Facebook post and a cup of coffee later, I still had a bitter feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was so bothered by this lack of representation that I had to do something about it, and I couldn’t just blow off steam with more Facebook posts and rants with my friends. I had to do something productive. But what?
I had been planning on creating a Lolita style cosplay of Ezio’s Brotherhood costume. My Lolita Link cosplay had been such a success before that I thought riding along that wave with another video game design was a great idea. Now, it felt hollow, but it also felt like the perfect opportunity. Instead of creating a hyperfeminine fashion piece based on Ezio’s aesthetic, I switched to a completely new concept: what if Ezio was a woman? It was a great thought experiment that I immediately wanted to dig into. How would her life have been different? What would she have worn? How would her relationships change?
I set to work writing a research outline and very quickly realized that this project was going to be much bigger than I had originally intended. So big, that I could possibly present it at my school’s Symposium for University Research and Creative Expression. (Or, you know, SOURCE for short.) I was also going to need a lot of extra help and guidance to find my answers. Outline completed, I went to the professors at my school whom I knew would have the answers I needed.
The first one I reached out to was Ruthi Erdman, senior lecturer in the English department, humanities lecturer for the Douglas Honors College, and full-time faculty member of the Women’s and Gender Studies program. She does A LOT of cool work. The history classes I took with her from the Honors College were some of the most incredible classes I had ever taken, and it wasn’t uncommon for some of my fellow students and I to spend an extra hour or so after class with her discussing more about what we learned. I caught her in her office with my outline, and she immediately started suggesting books I should read, people I should look up, and other questions I could ask. She was exactly the type of history gold mine with the knowledge I needed to get my project started.
The other professor I reached out to was M. Catherine McMillen, costume shop manager and makeup and wigs technology lecturer. She’s a firecracker of a teacher who prefers to be called Cat and can probably do just about anything related to the costuming and makeup world. In short, she’s amazing, and I desperately needed her for my costume research. Luckily, she loved the idea and started pointing me in some directions I could look into as well.
With my advisors on board, I went to work sharpening my plans. My finalized research proposal was comprised of the three sections I will be splitting this series into: Pop Culture, History, and Costume. All of this research was synthesized to answer one last question: how can all of the historical and costume research be applied to Ezio and his world in order to redesign him as a woman?
I officially started my research process in late September 2014 with a deadline of April 3, 2015. It would take me three months of research and three months of costume construction to finally finish my project so that I could present it at the Western Regional Honors Conference at the University of Nevada Reno on April 11, 2015 as well as SOURCE 2015. I put all my heart and soul into bringing the character I called Ezia to life. As Cat told me in an impromptu stairwell meeting, “There is more of you in this project than I have seen in anything else you have done.”
I want so badly to see more women role models in the stories we tell. Not just in the games we play, but in the history we learn. If there is anything I learned in this past year, it’s that there are so many amazing women in so many awe-inspiring stories we don’t tell. I hope this series brings my love and passion for these incredible stories to you and that you feel inspired to research, create, and share your own.
Up next in this series! Pop culture and Ubisoft: who is Ezio and what is it like to be a woman in an Assassin’s Creed game?
P.S. I will be wearing the Ezia costume I made at Geek Girl Con in Seattle this October! I wasn’t able to submit a panel form on time to bring my presentation to the con, but I would still love to talk with anyone interested in my work there.