When we first learned about Evie Frye through Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s marketing, I was a little wary. She’s stealthy, where her brother Jacob is aggressive. She’s level-headed, where Jacob is impetuous.
It was something I had seen a million times before. A trend where women can be included, but only because they’re perfect at what they do. Male characters get to make impulsive mistakes and learn from them, but a woman in the same position must be flaw-free or else she doesn’t deserve it. A lot of the time this is closely tied to a trope called “Trinity Syndrome,” named for Trinity in The Matrix. In Trinity we see a woman who is incredible skilled and strong, but she’s not The One–Neo is. Sure, that’s his destiny.
But Evie doesn’t have Trinity Syndrome, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate shows us how to properly contextualize traits that might seem sexist in less thought-out contexts.
Equal and Opposite
Evie and Jacob are set up as foils for each other. As twins, they’ve been compared to each other their whole lives.
From the beginning of the game, Evie is better dressed than Jacob. She wears a tailored Assassin outfit complete with fancy cape, while Jacob wears the world’s most threadbare jacket and a crappy hat. Yeah, no quilted leather jackets yet. The only thing that makes it an Assassin outfit is the hood.
I don’t think it’s possible to talk about these outfit choices without acknowledging that yes, woman characters are rarely allowed to be slobbish. Fashion is often treated as an inherent part of a woman, especially one who is supposed to be heroic. She has to look good while she does it.
That being said, Syndicate contextualizes this through the twins’ upbringing, and in the story Evie’s fashion has nothing to do with her being a woman. We learn that Evie was close to their Assassin father and devoted a lot of time to learning from him about the Creed. Jacob, on the other hand, spent a lot of time fighting and gambling. It’s no wonder then that Evie dresses more traditionally, but also that she is far more interested in the Assassin Brotherhood than Jacob is. Why shouldn’t she be? She understands it in a way that Jacob doesn’t.
It also contextualizes the differences between their skills. Evie is more stealthy because she’s had more rigorous Assassin training. And Jacob sounds like an elephant when he jumps off a roof because he was brawling in the streets.
The mechanical difference between their skills comes into effect as you level them up. Evie has three exclusive skills available in the “Stealth” skill tree. She can become better with throwing knives than Jacob, and eventually she can turn invisible when she sits still. Jacob’s exclusive skills are more eclectic. He’s better with a gun and melee kills, and he has an additional skill that lets him take less damage in melee fights.
So far this all makes sense based on their history. But it’s possible to perfectly contextualize something and still have it come off as degrading of women because of the way they’re treated by the narrative. So here’s the kicker, here’s what Assassin’s Creed Syndicate does so right: Evie is never degraded for her stealth specialization. Or her more academic interests.
None of Evie’s skills are “less-than,” and her stealth specialization doesn’t mean she crumbles in a melee fight. This is where I feel a lot of media fails in its portrayal of women with skills that we traditionally see as female-coded. Over and over again we see representations where female-coded skills are valuable…up to a point. Usually that’s the point where a man needs to swoop in and get violent.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate never falls into that trap. Evie is never incapable, and she’s never degraded or incapacitated by the narrative.
Evie’s personality is another area in which Syndicate lets her be a character rather than a token.
Like I said before, Evie is more tactical than Jacob. She’s less impulsive, she’s studious, she’s methodical. But she’s not a shrew. In fact, she’s not dour at all. She’s funny.
Evie and Jacob tell jokes and rib each other, and get on each others’ nerves in a way that anyone with siblings will recognize. And even though much of the time she opposes Jacob and his mayhem, the narrative again doesn’t disrespect her for it.
She’s not the fun-killer getting in his way–she’s a sibling who doesn’t understand his priorities.
And that’s where the real, interesting tension between Evie and Jacob lies. He doesn’t understand how important the Brotherhood is to her and why she wants to protect it. And she doesn’t understand why he has such a chip on his shoulder. Their conflicts don’t revolve around their genders. Nor is gender ever used as an insult when they bicker.
Thinking Things Through
In conversations about how to design female characters, we hit walls over and over again about what we can’t do. As a woman and a writer, I experience this too. I worry about how a woman will be received if she looks a certain way, or behaves a certain way. Because of the lack of female characters, we get fiercely protective–and fiercely judgmental–of the few that there are.
But Evie Frye is a great example of how you can construct a well thought-out woman who is flawed, and who has traits that are often prescribed to female characters who are then sidelined by the narrative. Syndicate pulls this off because Evie doesn’t get left on the sidelines. Instead she feels respected, and as much an integral part of the story as her twin brother.