The Disturbing Representation of Women in the Rainbow Six: Siege E3 Demo

Editorial: Women are not objects.


Ubisoft exhibited a disturbing level of insensitivity during their press conference. Their debut of Rainbow Six: Siege should have been cause for celebration considering how that franchise has lain dormant since Patriots faded into obscurity years ago. But my lone takeaway from that six minute trailer was the disturbing message about women it imparted. In the competitive mode detailed for the first time, we saw two opposing factions vie for control of a solitary hostage. That doesn't seem that bad on the surface--people are held against their will, after all, and there must be captors and rescuers--but what stayed with me was the discouraging ideas being communicated: Women are powerless victims or glorified objects, as is too often the case in video games.

There is a chance that when Siege finally comes out there will be more hostage variants than just a lone woman. Maybe you'll be able to rescue a man as well, or a child, or even a dog. At this point, I have no idea what other options will be in the game. But it's important to note that Ubisoft didn't show any other hostages in their debut demonstration. It was their decision to have a woman presented as an object, something to be fought over--to be won--so that's the message that was hammered home. So I can only look at the reality of this demonstration and wonder why it's once again a woman placed in such a sad position.

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Women are frequently damsels in distress, mere pawns in contests between powerful men, for nearly as long as games have existed. Even before Princess Peach entered the scene, Mario was galloping along on his proverbial white horse to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong's wrath, so to see that belief continue three decades later shouldn't have caused me such distress. Tradition should not be an excuse for allowing such a situation to continue unfettered, though. Women are just as adept as men, and yet they're continually put in a subordinate role in which they don't have the power or the agency to affect their own destiny. They are more than prizes that must be rescued, and being cast as objects in so many games is damaging to society as a whole for normalizing such attitudes.

And don't think for a second that this woman was any more than an object. The match that was being showcased in Siege was a twist on capture the flag in which the reward in question was replaced with a living, breathing woman. This is not an acceptable switch. Women should not be the goal of a match, a thing that two teams are striving to possess. Just writing out exactly what transpired sounds so incredibly dirty and wrong. She is a woman, a person just like any other, and should be treated like an independent being capable of more than crying desperately and waiting to be saved.

It's a shame that this women does so little to help herself. She can only scream, cry, and go with whatever person is closest to her. It's a sad situation in which she isn't humanized at all, but is just a mindless trophy to be taken by whoever is the most powerful.

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If this situation was relegated to one game, it wouldn't be that big of a problem. But that's not the case at all. In recent releases such as Watch Dogs we've seen the death of women fuel the motivation for the male protagonist. Aiden is nothing more than a vessel for vengeance as he fights those who killed the women closest to him. We saw something similar in Murdered: Soul Suspect, where the main character's wife is killed, giving his personality more depth. Even in something as smart and well written as The Wolf Among Us we see women as the victim of violent crimes all the time. That women are so often placed in this role is a sickening trend because women are relegated as plot points, as props that only exist to push along a male character's storyline.

Women have been relegated to second-class citizens in games for so long that it's almost become an expected part of the experience. They are objects to be fought over, prizes to be won, plot points that only exist to serve a male character's needs, and are rarely fleshed out any more than necessary. As trailer after trailer rolled at E3--including Far Cry 4, Assassin's Creed Unity, Battlefield Hardline and many others--white male protagonists were placed front and center, while women were pushed to the background. The odd glimpse we saw into Lara Croft's troubled psyche in Rise of the Tomb Raider, where a woman was a developed character instead of a prop, was all too rare. Considering that this is the biggest gaming event in the world, and gives us a peak at what we'll be playing for the next two years, that's an incredibly sad situation. Rainbow Six: Siege could have generated goodwill by revitalizing a long-gone franchise. Instead it showcased the dirty underbelly of this amazing industry.

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