Aveline de GrandPré : Liberating female characters from sexist clichés
I recently stumbled upon the trailer for the upcoming Assassin's Creed III : Liberation for the PlayStation Vita; and I love what I've seen. The video shows Aveline de GrandPré, a female assassin of African descent free of most harmful sexist tropes. Let's start with my personal, but small grievances here : it's taken 10 games and 4 main characters, and then only a spin-off on a handheld (whereas all the males debuted on the more powerful home consoles) to get a female lead for Assassin's Creed ; on the other hand, the Vita is brand-new, while the PS3 is nearing the end of its life, and the game is meant to showcase the console performances. The balance easily tips into positive.
The same goes for Aveline being part African-American; only part, mind you, and very fair-skinned then; but still, it is a main character shrugging off the all-encompassing Caucasian mold. This game takes place in New Orleans, a bit of a cliché for a black character, but in the late 1700's, there wouldn't many “free people of colour” outside of that city anyway. Predictably, with this setting, her “other half” is French. However, her mixed heritage makes sense not just for this game, but for the whole series: Desmond's lineage up to that point had been European; beyond that, France was instrumental in bringing down the historical Templars in the 1200's, it did settle that part of America, and it used that location to help the Americans in their War of Independence (the setting for Assassin's Creed III and its lead of Native American descent, Connor). As I have previously established, you have to be mindful of the character and setting you are building as a narrator..
Besides, she is first and foremost an assassin. No cleavage for the sake of titillation, no overtly feminine attitudes, no playing up her figure. Her clothing is traditional assassin's garb, not some “feminized” or “Africanized” version; remember Resident Evil 5 for a comparison with another female of African-American descent, forced into a leopard-patterned bikini and tribal tattoos... Aveline's only compromise is a hat instead of a hood, so that we can see her face better and actually identify her as female and part-African-American.
Similarly, her weapons are also very classic, with the iconic hidden blades the series is famous for, blades which she uses very ruthlessly in close contact. This is refreshing, when female characters are so often confined to roles as technical pacifist, healer, mage, ranged fighter, or any combination thereof. Even her blowpipe is simply meant as the city equivalent to Connor's bow. Oh, her non-assassin attire is briefly teased and of course it's a dress worn with a lot less attitude; but it's simply her disguise. At this point of the game development, Ubisoft is teasing a great female character by not reducing her to her race and gender; we'll have to wait for the final product to give the final verdict, but I'll definitely be following this one.