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Why Evie Frye is the most important part of Assassin's Creed: Syndicate

Evie Syndicate.jpg

I’m not quite ready to review Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate but there’s been a consistent, obvious theme I think deserves praise: Its treatment of its female lead, Evie Frye. I’m aware that, as a man, I might have missed ways the game might actually do an awful job - but, for now, I’d like to highlight why I think the game succeeds.

This open world game focuses on twin assassin protagonists, Jacob and Evie, who can be swapped at almost any time - in a fake historical London. There are specific missions requiring the one or other, because of their individual personalities and goals (Evie is smarter, so she’s more likely to help a genius inventor fix his toys than the fistful of rogue that is Jacob). But, for most of the game, you can play entirely as Evie (or Jacob).

And the mostly neutral position the game takes - it doesn’t matter who does side-quests, collects items and so on - makes a massive impact.

Take one example.

In all the promos for the game, we saw underground fight clubs where large, topless, sweaty men bashed each other. Fight Clubs are activities you can take part in to get money and XP. In trailers, we saw only Jacob here and I genuinely expected the game to restrict Fight Club activities to Jacob. But that’s simply not true. Evie can fight too.

Here’s a clip of me doing just that.

The game doesn’t restrict the twins and doesn’t gate the activities by virtue of the protagonists’ gender. Ubisoft devs even designed a functional fighting outfit for Evie, as you can see.

Like the other outfits for Evie in the game, functionality is priority: there’s no jarring oversexualised tight or revealing clothing on her figure. (Sexualised characters are not a problem: their ubiquity is and the focus on only sexualising female characters is boring, if not unnecessarily hilarious.)

But there’s more. Here’s Evie taking out four large men, single-handedly.

 

Notice that the announcer praises her directly: it’s not a neutral praise, but specifically references her as “My lady”.

During the game itself, when enemies yell at Evie, they don’t belittle her character’s gender. They simply shout neutral insults such as “empty head” or, at worst, “girl” - but even enemies call her just “woman”. This might not mean a lot to some, but I’ve had so many friends who found this to be so important. As they told me, they don’t need a game to emulate the catcalls and harassment and gendered insults they receive daily in real life. Ubisoft decided, in this violent, gang-ridden London to make it such that these brutal killers are better at talking to women than many real life men who spot a woman in the street. 

Indeed, the gangs themselves feature women gangsters - who are often in leading positions as snipers and, even, gang-leaders. Men obey their orders and respond to women as they would any other person. Even among enemies, women are not belittled because of their gender; they're treated first as people, whether in terms of enemies or friends.

Again: this means big, brutish men who murder on sight are respectful of women. And when these same men see Evie, they target her for being an Assassin and make no mention of her gender, beyond labels like “girl” or “woman”.

Playing it as Evie, it was unremarkable that she was a woman - but she is still a remarkable woman. Yet, the fact her gender was unremarkable is what makes the game remarkable. This carries through for other characters too: A trans man, Ned Wynert, is never once interrogated about his gender and is simply referred to as Ned - by both Evie and Jacob.

Jacob, too, who at first looks like the most obvious silly bro lead, treats Evie with respect. At worst, he banters playfully with her, mocking her for her nerd interests. Evie responds in kind, however, with a sharp tongue. Jacob also asserts his love and respect for Evie and often is willing to follow her lead, because he knows she’s smarter. All this is done without belittling Jacob either: he’s not an oaf or unwise, but merely brash and ready to fight.

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Ubisoft decided to treat Evie like a person - indeed, the game itself refers to her as the better assassin. But it's remarkable that in a AAA title her gender is unremarkable. Everything from activities to outfits, to how even her enemies refer to her, shows massive progress in making a group so often excluded feel included. Games doing that tend to make me feel included too, because I don’t have to play rolling my eyes at sexist allusions or taunts or an atmosphere where women are targeted for their gender. I see that in reality, happening to so many people including those I love: we don’t need it in games.

I haven’t even mentioned Evie as a character: her fighting skills, intelligence, wit, quick laugh, humour and taste in men (very, very good taste). Yes: she's a lead character in a AAA murder game who laughs and smiles and makes others laugh. She’s also kind and gentle, but brutal and deadly. All this makes Evie Frye my favourite video game character.

And I’m so glad this is where we are.

Tauriq: Twitter / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

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