Rainbow Six Siege by many accounts “won” E3, at least as far one can win a circus. For real, though, it’s quite a concept, and Ubisoft seems well on its way to making destructibility actually mean something in a game, something even more profound and important than, “Oooooo, now that pillar is made of 20 percent less pillar.” Siege’s E3 demo did leave a bit of a weird taste in some mouths, though, mainly because shoving around a lady in the team-based Hostage Mode like she’s the flag in capture the flag is kind of odd, even if you’re rescuing her. First the good news: there will be dude hostages too in the final game. But, when pressed to explain why the E3 demo only featured a woman, I was given a slightly troubling answer.
I spoke with technical artist Oliver Couture about the hostages in Siege’s hostage mode, and he said that, yes, there will absolutely be male hostages. As for the reason a woman hostage took center stage in the E3 demo, well, here’s the thing:
“I know some people asked about the hostage in the demo. I mean, when we did that design we felt a lot of empathy with the hostage. We wanted people to want to protect her. If the hostage gets killed a team loses the game, so we wanted players to care about the hostage so that’s the design we chose. But we’re also gonna have male hostages. That’s part of the plan.”
It’s great to hear that options will be there, but unfortunate that its most public presentation played off an ancient videogame trope (not to mention a larger, even more harmful societal stereotype) that women are only for protecting/rescuing, that we naturally care about them more than men in that capacity. And to be frank given the way many people are raised in this day and age, that might be true for some. But approaching a game demo this way is exploiting that trope instead of seeking to undermine it or otherwise move away from it.
I understand that Ubisoft had to show something for its demo, but the reasoning here leaves me feeling a little wary. It comes off the back of their games at this year’s E3 featuring poor representation and contradictory reasoning for it. I’m not super surprised given how this year’s E3 generally unfolded, but I am disappointed.
The hostage tech does sound legitimately interesting, though. Couture continued:
“We’re trying to define next-gen with the hostage. We call that a ‘living hostage.’ So she’ll react to explosions and things like that. It’s pretty cool. She’ll cough because of the dirt in the air, she covers herself when there’s shooting – those sorts of things. We want the player to be able to move her into different positions, for there to be fluid controls. It’s a balance between player comfort and reality.”
So they’re aiming to make it feel like you’re helping out a person, not just dragging around a creepily human-looking doll. I worry, though, that even the most uncanny-valley-bounding effort might plummet into the depths of bizarro world strangeness after 50 or 100 matches.
We’ll see. In the meantime, we’re at a familiar crossroads: Ubisoft has a fantastic looking game on its hands, but there are some archaic mentalities feeding into it. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad there will be both male and female hostages in the final game. I just wish that one of the few woman characters featured at Ubi’s conference wasn’t a victim of kidnapping. I can’t demand a company change what it’s doing, but I can hope very, very hard for better in the future.