Asassin’s Creed Odyssey (ACO) certainly deserves its applause for representation. It is still radical and thrilling when games developers decide to screw the backlash and just go ahead and allow romances and sexual relationships between characters of different genders. It still matters now.
Representation is hugely important. Studies have long confirmed that representation impacts how we see the world, our own self-esteem levels and how we interact with the world around us. In short, a lack of representation makes the world a more narrow and more hostile place.
However, there is one massive issue with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey that does impact its queer representation, and not in the way people might expect. There has been huge amounts of controversy over the DLC content where, players who chose to make Cassandra queer and only romance a woman ended up seeing Cassandra settle down with a man and baby. The implications are horrific: that queer women aren’t valid, and that women will eventually want to be with a man purely to have a child. It was badly executed but ACO‘s biggest sin came long before the DLC release.
The biggest downfall of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was without doubt the inclusion of ‘pay for XP’. Basically, ACO had upped its difficulty from previous instalments which on the easiest modes are accessible to almost anyone. Yet, ACO is an absolute nightmare to get through on its supposedly easiest level. This means that players who either don’t have the time or skill (and either is valid) are pressured into buying XP if they want to unlock the game and actually get on with it – including getting to see queer representation.
The game is without doubt thrilling, beautiful, engaging and diverse. That all falls away though if anybody has to play to get through the game. Microtransactions are terrible, but at least if they stick to aesthetics then it is not necessarily a core part of the game (although it still has its problems). New games are extremely expensive. I picked up ACO for £60 and on top of that, a few hours in I’m expected to pay for XP because Ubisoft set the difficulty too high?
There has rightfully lately been a backlash to developers who have been exploitative to their employees and/or audience. Take a look at how Rockstar were called out for their treatment of staff below the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 or for the mess that followed after Bethesda released Fallout 76 and the infamous not-canvas bags. Gamers pay through the nose as it is and for us to be expected to pay to unlock content we have already bought is ridiculous. Why does this matter for queer representation, though?
Queer people are more likely to live in poverty and face barriers which impact access to income – such as discrimination. Queer people are also at extremely high risk of mental health problems, including depression (which gaming can help manage) and at risk of experiencing financial abuse (meaning microtransactions may be particularly tempting to a vulnerable community).
We cannot celebrate queer content if we do not get to see it. Queer content shouldn’t be behind a paywall only certain gamers can access. If people bought the game, they should all have the opportunity to see it without extra costs. If it isn’t intersectional or accessible then it isn’t good queer representation. Maybe the scenes – DLC aside – are exactly the representation we need in gaming, but it’s too bad not everyone will get to experience them.