On Clothing-Changes in AC: Liberation and the Natural Woman-Spy

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minor spoilers for the movie Red 2 ahead:

I’ve been thinking about a common thing in media (I’m not sure I’d classify it as a trope, perhaps a plot pattern?) about (cis) women being natural spies due to extra feminine powers of perception that  (cis) men lack. It’s what’s caused me to be a tad uncomfortable with the fact that Aveline, who, as I understand, is the only playable (cis) female assassin, and also is the one who uses clothing to alter people’s perception of her, allowing her access more than what that society dictates she may.

It’s a clever trick, definitely, and certainly useful to someone who is regularly going into restricted places, as the assassin career would necessitate, but I found it strange that the other assassins do not also use it. According to what I’ve seen, the player cannot change clothes in this series until the third installation, which came out a year prior to Liberation, but the costumes did not actually affect gameplay. 

So, first things first: I’ve not actually played Assassin’s Creed. I meant to, a while back, but then Ubisoft said things and I was annoyed and decided to avoid the series unless necessary. I did fact-check as much as I could and have provided sources where applicable, but please tell me if I’m misinformed.

Now, back to the natural-woman-spy-thing.

What I’m referring to specifically is the fact that in a fair amount of media, the (cis) woman/women will have an advantage over her male costars in that she understands the inner-workings of society better than he/them. Or, in the case of a few spy/action movies, the wholly uninitiated and inexperienced (cis) woman will use the “feminine” wiles of good dress and body language to assist her costar (who is also frequently her partner) who happens to be the actually-trained spy or CIA agent or whatever sneaky-punchy action group that movie has him in. One example is Red 2, where a group of trained spies, plus Sarah, partner of the leader, are trying to get information from a man. The trained spies smash a bunch of his belongings, but it does nothing, until Sarah sort of flirts-ish with him, weeping about how very good he was and how she didn’t want him to be killed. A very fine piece of manipulation, that might make more sense coming from the other (cis) woman (since we already assumed the man was heterosexual) in the room; the one who was a trained spy.

But that’s emotional manipulation, not clothing awareness. The inept (cis) man who is incapable of dressing himself appropriately is a common enough trope that I don’t think needs explaining (please correct me if I’m wrong), and that’s  what I’m working with, here.

On the change from AC: III to Liberation,  it makes sense on the developmental level for mechanics to change as a game series develops, new techniques/programs/what-have-you are discovered/invented/whatever, and for little quirks to grow into full-fledged aspects of a game. AC: III came out a full year before Liberation. That’s a good amount of time for a development team to go “Hey, what if the outfit changing wasn’t just a customization thing for people to choose their favorite colors, but actually had an effect in the game?” and then make it work. Fallout: New Vegas did a similar thing, where should the Courier wore the uniform of a certain group, that group wouldn’t attack on sight. Not to mention, as far as commonly-used plot devices go, (cis) women being perceptive isn’t hugely problematic; it actually reflects the expectation of (American, at least, possibly other cultures as well) female-presenting individuals to be institutionally and intimately aware and conscientious of how clothes / makeup / body language all interplay in a groups’ perception of you.

But this clothing-as-spy-tool thing, I’m not certain it belongs in the sphere of weaponized femininity; on the technical it fits as that kind of social status being expressed through the decided “feminine” field of fashion is being turned into a weapon. To me, it reminds me a lot of Totally Spies, that cartoon way back when with the trio of teenage girls balancing spywork and highschool who used gadgets that were disguised as various “feminine” things- make up supplies or heart/flower stamped backpacks.

Not completely, as I don’t think Aveline ever wields a lipstick laser, but close-ish. I’m still not sure if it fits perfectly, it feels off to me, but it’s in a similar sphere.

But, on the notion of sex-locked skills, why can’t Connor, the (cis) male protagonist of AC: III, utilize this remarkably simple mode of sneaking? One possibility is that he came from a different culture (Native American, to be specific) and therefore might not have that same kind of intimate knowledge of class dress in the society he was working in throughout AC: III. Aveline grew up in her diagetic landscape; she likely would have been trained by her stepmother in the standard dress for people of their class and then learned the rest through living in that society. But Connor was also trained, by a Master Assassin, who probably should’ve given him a few pointers in blending in- assuming that he knew those “secrets” himself. Which it is possible that that Master Assassin didn’t know, though it seems really, really weird to me that he wouldn’t know how clothing and society worked, simply because one generally doesn’t grow up completely isolated from society and humans have  a tendency to be programmed by their childhood society into that stratification system: the Master Assassin, by virtue of living with other humans as a child, should have at least a basic understanding of acceptable clothing for different aspects of society. Not to mention the fact that to not explore other possible avenues or skills that may benefit one’s career seems like a bad choice for someone whose career is illegal (as far as I’m aware, assassination is not smiled upon) and is also involved in some sort of secret holy war.

So, to end the kind of jumpy-ramble, I’m curious as to the motivations on the clothing thing. I wonder if that mechanic will change further in the series as well, though I don’t think it’s enough to get over my reticence to play the game.

One thought on “On Clothing-Changes in AC: Liberation and the Natural Woman-Spy

  1. I’m glad you brought this up. But I think what better serves your argument, and the confusion of the mechanic, is why it wasn’t utilized after Liberation. I haven’t played the other Assassin’s Creed games either, but from my understanding of what was said in class, they drop the “useful change of clothing” mechanic after they first implement it in Liberation. So, why? Why never use it again? Unfortunately, I’m not answering your question, only adding to it.

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