Quite often, when you boot up that new game in your Xbox or PlayStation or Wii, it all begins with character customization. The ones that don’t have customization have premade characters or single heroes that you play as they are, as the game designers meant them to be. In other words, there’s no “Make Him Sexy” option. Unless of course the main character is a heroine, as those tend to be created sexy by default. There’s no such button to sexualize the persona of your male hero, and if he isn’t created that way, you use your imagination or you’re just out of luck.
Or you write fanfiction, but that’s another story.
Anyway… when a guy (a straight guy, mind you) is playing a male character in-game, he doesn’t necessarily need the character to be sexy. I’m sure most men think it would be a nice bonus, but it isn’t required. As long as the game rocks and the hero slays, it’s a hit. That isn’t always true of female gamers, and a hero who doesn’t show sentiment and/or have a love interest often fails to resonate with women.
Take Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the character who is credited with drawing female gamers en masse into the Assassin’s Creed universe. First and foremost, Ezio has very strong emotions. We see those feelings in his youthful street brawling, in the pursuit of his first love, and in his reactions to the devastating losses he incurs. Ezio’s emotions are tempered by his strength, but he’s also charming, funny, crafty, sentimental, sarcastic, and, yes, a womanizer. He’s the James Bond of the Italian Renaissance, and we love him. Female gamers showed that love in a thousand different ways: in fanfiction, artwork, cosplay, online communities, and with cold, hard cash.
So why, when it came time for a new assassin to take the helm -or hood. Whatever- did they offer us someone as mundane as Connor Kenway? Connor has strong emotions, but they’re mostly negative. While his loyalty to his cause and his determination to protect his people from the Templars does him credit, because he shows few other emotions beyond those (annoyance and impatience don’t count), he’s about as fun to be around as a sack of wet cardboard.
While it feels like the gaming world is skewing toward more female-inclusive themes, I’m not sure it really is, because designers forget or ignore the fact that female gamers aren’t just different on the outside. For a male hero to garner more universal appeal to a female audience, he has to be complex. He must display more than two emotions and he has to be a man in full, not just muscle and good looks. That means love, that means humor, that means sensuality.
Connor Kenway is a lot of things, but no one could ever accuse him of being funny or sexy. One thing he does have going for him – his saving grace in my opinion – is his endearing gentleness toward weaker creatures or those in need. It gives me hope that we’ll see Connor evolve to a more full-fleshed personality in the AC renditions to come.