'Persona 5' developer's excuse for excluding a playable female character is embarrassing

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Hey, guess what: Another game developer just gave an awful excuse for not including a playable female protagonist in its game. This time around, it's Persona 5 director Katsura Hashino, who spoke about his studio's new high school drama/costume-based demon-hunting role-playing game in an interview with Waypoint.

The excuse? The amount of work it would take was "not worth it."

Persona 5 director's statement on excluding playable female characters is awful

Here's Hashino's full statement on the subject:

Every time the development on a new Persona game starts, this subject always comes up at the very beginning. When thinking about how much work goes into accomplishing such a feat, it's a huge amount. Honestly, to put that option into the game, we'd have to cut out other things to compensate for the workload, and every time that's the situation we'll basically say, 'it's not worth it'.

With the way that [Persona 3's] world worked, it was okay for the protagonist to be female. With Persona 4, though, we needed the character to come from a big city to a small country town to be the driving force of the story, and it seemed more natural for a male character to fulfill that role. There are story aspects to this decision, as well.

In theory, the assertion that the gender of the game's main character is a conscious, case-by-case choice that's intended to enhance the themes of the story is intriguing — but it doesn't hold up here. Persona 5 is a game that depends on players being able to make choices that feel personal to them as an individual, helping shape parts of the narrative that unfold over its nearly 100-hour playtime. 

Atlus made some questionable decisions that limits those choices within the parameters it deems appropriate. Not only are you limited to playing as a man, but you can only pursue romances with female characters. Gay players need not apply, apparently.

Furthermore, the idea that Persona's story is somehow intrinsically linked to the player's gender in the first place is suspect. As Waypoint's Sayem Ahmed wrote:

This [choice to exclude a playable female character] seems bizarre to me. In a fantastical situation where people are turned into coffins and the local school transforms into a twisted tower of deadly enemies, being a girl is fine, so long as she's a native of the location in question in [Persona 3.] But when another Japanese town is plagued by a reality altering fog, and people keep falling into televisions? You need a dude who's new to the area to take care of that [in Persona 4.]

Inclusivity is not an extra feature — it should be part of the game's design from the start

Hashino's reasoning seems more like thinly veiled unwillingness to bake inclusion into the game's design from the outset. He views inclusivity as some kind of extra thing that would be nice to do if there's time — but if not, just scrap it.

By treating the inclusion of anyone other than straight males as some kind of bonus content, Hashino is making clear who he thinks his audience is and catering almost exclusively to them at the expense of everyone else. 

Interestingly enough, Assassin's Creed developer Ubisoft tried to use the same excuse in response to a lack of playable female characters in Assassin's Creed Unity in 2014 and was dragged so hard that its sequel, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, featured a woman as one of its two main characters. Apparently, Atlus didn't get the memo.

So, yeah, this certainly isn't the first time a game developer has given a lame excuse for disallowing players to play as anyone but a straight male, and it almost definitely won't be the last.

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