It was a simple enough question, I thought. "If you had been able to work with a playable woman character in Far Cry 4, what would you have done? It sounds like you were in the planning phases of it, at least." The response from the game's narrative director? Total silence.
I didn't do my Ubisoft booth tour until the final day of E3, and the effect on the place after a week of controversy surrounding the lack of playable women in Assassin's Creed Unity was... pronounced.
It was an awkward moment as Far Cry 4 narrative director Mark Thompson and a Ubisoft PR rep nervously glanced back and forth, first at each other, then at me. Thunderous beats from a live Just-Dance-a-long to "What Does The Fox Say" just outside our interview room echoed for what felt like forever. Shadows in the dimly lit space bounced every so slightly. A small air conditioning unit belched out chilly wind. "If you could maybe ask about something else..." the PR rep eventually motioned apologetically.
Thompson looked like he wanted to say something, but he bit down on his tongue. His eyes darted down to the floor in a manner that reminded me of Wile E. Coyote stepping off a cliff and standing in mid-air for a moment, only to plummet like a cartoon anvil the second he realizes there's no ground beneath his feet.
"What I can say is... no, no, I shouldn't," Thompson finally blurted before laughing to lighten the mood.
It wasn't the first time this sort of thing had happened that day, and I definitely didn't blame Thompson or the PR guy. They'd both been extremely enthusiastic and helpful otherwise, but it was clear that their hands were tied. Mandate from on high and all that.
I got my first moment of awkward silence while talking to an Assassin's Creed Unity producer, but that didn't entirely shock me. Ubisoft had already issued an official statement on the matter, after all. It failed in many ways to address the actual reasons people were/are upset, but still: Ubi said their bit, drew their line in the sand.
What got me was that women in general seemed to be a taboo subject. Even when I asked about the woman hostage in Rainbow Six Siege's hostage mode (wherein teams compete to rescue or capture a hostage, as seen here)—whether there would be male hostages as well, etc—my interviewee nearly got cut off by PR.
It's one thing for big publishers to clam up online, but it's another to see it happen in person. To be speaking face-to-face with a clearly passionate, interested, interesting developer only to have them go sheet-white and pin-drop silent without warning. It's like a computer suddenly locking up on you, only its face is decidedly human.
Back to Far Cry. Before my question ground the interview to a halt, we had a very frank discussion about what went wrong with the big Far Cry 4 box art fiasco. Thompson agreed that people probably needed more context, and without it they jumped to conclusions and assumed the worst. It was, however, out of his hands. There are countless moving parts in big budget game development.
When our moment of silence ended, I pointed out that this is kind of a similar situation. Once again, Ubisoft has released a small statement while failing to really address the main issue (that it seems like women weren't really a priority here; that it seems like Ubi never really tried), and that's it. Once again, people are assuming the worst while Ubisoft elects to sidestep an issue rather than engage it head-on.
"Yeah, we definitely think about that," said the PR rep.
I really hope they do.
TMI is a branch of Kotaku dedicated to telling you everything about my adventures in the gaming industry (and sometimes other offbeat and/or uncomfortable subjects). It's an experiment in disclosure, storytelling, interviewing, and more. The gaming industry is weird. People are weird. I am weird. You are weird. Why hide that? Let's explore it.