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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey nominated for GLAAD award, despite controversial DLC

‘Progress can sometimes be messy,’ LGBTQ advocates write

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey - assassin Alexios in armor Ubisoft Quebec/Ubisoft
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has been nominated for the first-ever GLAAD Media Award for video games, one week after a controversial new story chapter unwound some players’ same-sex romance choices in the main game.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey required a 350-word sidebar from GLAAD explaining why the accolade was due, despite the “Shadow Heritage” DLC that launched a week ago and the blowback that quickly followed. GLAAD acknowledged that the nomination “will surely raise eyebrows.”

However, “our decision to nominate Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is ultimately rooted in the understanding that progress can sometimes be messy,” GLAAD’s Blair Durkee wrote. The nomination “should not be taken as an endorsement of the DLC.”

Last week saw the launch of “Shadow Heritage,” the second chapter of the Legacy of the First Blade premium expansion. In it, the player character — Alexios or Kassandra — becomes involved in an opposite-sex relationship and conceives a child, who is foreshadowed as the progenitor of the Assassins’ lineage.

This outcome can’t be changed — the characters still end up in the relationship even if they spurn the romantic overtures of the baby’s other parent. So it thwarts earlier choices players may have made for Alexios or Kassandra to get involved with same-sex romantic partners elsewhere in the story. Preceding the main game’s October launch, Ubisoft and its developers touted both the dual protagonists and the same-sex romances as first-ever features for the decade-old tentpole franchise.

Following fan backlash, Jonathan Dumont, the game’s creative director, apologized for how the story development was handled. Writers had intended to show that, even despite their sexual orientation, either character found it imperative to continue their bloodline in light of sacrifices made by their forebears.

“At worst, this sends the harmful message that sexual orientation can be changed at will and that LGBTQ people can choose to conform to heteronormative expectations in spite of their identities,” GLAAD said.

In the preceding week, GLAAD said it opened a dialogue with Ubisoft “in an effort to work together to improve aspects of this DLC and future content releases.” Yesterday, a Ubisoft community manager wrote that changes to the “Shadow Heritage” DLC’s scenes and dialogue would be forthcoming, in order “to better reflect the nature of the relationship for players selecting a non-romantic storyline.” In Dumont’s original apology, no such changes were mentioned.

“While undoubtedly marred by its DLC, the original game remains a major step forward for representation in games — one that was courageously undertaken and defended by Ubisoft initially,” said GLAAD. “If we want to encourage developers and publishers to continue to make these types of bold moves in the future, we must allow for growth, acknowledge that missteps do occur, and give proper credit where credit is due.”

In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s formal citation, Ubisoft Quebec is credited for presenting a “fluid and celebrated” sexuality that is true to the historical period of ancient Greece. The same-sex romance options are mentioned, as are the same-sex partners of some non-player characters. “There are specific references to historical LGBTQ figures, including Alcibiades and Sappho,” GLAAD writes. “LGBTQ inclusion is both prominently featured and effectively woven throughout the game.”

The four other nominees for Outstanding Video Game in the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards are:

  • The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset: This expansion to Bethesda Softworks’ four-year old MMO “introduced a questline in which the player helps a transgender woman reunite with her estranged twin sister. The story is a heartfelt tale of familial bonds, coming out, and acceptance.”
  • Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire: Also an expansion to ArenaNet’s MMO, in Path of Fire “players will encounter LGBTQ characters both major and minor, making LGBTQ identities feel like a natural and vital part of the world.”
  • Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire: Obsidian’s old-school RPG was credited for an “expansive cast of characters includ(ing) many with LGBTQ identities.” Same-sex romance options, and even the opportunity to influence NPCs in their party to pursue same-sex relationships, were also cited.
  • The Sims Mobile: Electronic Arts’ lifestyle franchise “has long been a beacon of representation through player agency, allowing LGBTQ players to express and sometimes discover their identities safely in a virtual environment,” GLAAD said. The Sims Mobile is nominated for “bringing this game to a much wider audience through mobile platforms is a significant step forward for LGBTQ representation.”

This is the first year of the Outstanding Video Game category in the GLAAD Media Awards, which will be held March 28 in Los Angeles.