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Dishonored 2’s Emily is Stylish, But Not Sexualized

Bethesda published a new blog post this week with more intel about Emily Kaldwin, the co-protagonist of steampunk action-adventure stealth RPG Dishonored 2.

The game takes place 15 years after the end of Dishonored, and Corvo Attano–the lead in Dishonored and co-protagonist in Dishonored 2–is now the Royal Spymaster as well as the Royal Protector. The former bodyguard for Empress Jasmine is also Emily’s father (and this time, his character is voiced).

The story begins and ends in Dunwall, but most of it takes place in the new Mediterranean-themed setting of Karnaca, the jewel of the South in the Empire of the Isles.

25-year-old Emily (voiced by actress Erica Luttrell) was born and raised in Dunwall–”a product of the city’s UK-inspired culture”–but she’s led a protected life, especially since her mother the Empress was assassinated in the first game. Emily’s had the best tutors and the best clothes, and she’s also had Corvo to train her in martial arts, which is a big help when she loses everything at the beginning of Dishonored 2 and is forced to go on the run.

“This is also Emily’s first exposure to the way the rest of the world lives,” explains Arkane’s Co-creative Director Harvey Smith. “[Emily and Corvo] both have their own perspectives, and that was something important for us to get right.”

Turns out Emily is a pretty good ruler, according to Smith’s interview with Game Informer. You can play as either Emily or Corvo as you try to get Emily back on the throne. Their powers are different, and many of Emily’s powers are focused on subduing the will of others, including:

  • Far Reach, which lets Emily pull items (and eventually enemies) closer
  • Mesmerize, which lets her lull enemies into not noticing her so she can avoid combat
  • Domino, which links enemies together so they share the same fate, i.e. if one dies, they all die
  • Shadow Walk, which allows Emily to creeps up as a crawling shadow
  • Doppelganger, which creates a clone of Emily for distracting guards or setting up terrible chain reactions in conjunction with Domino

“When we approach a character like Emily, we need to know her history, her attitude, even her hobbies,” Smith said. “But at a meta level as a game developer, we need to know what her pillars are. And so for Emily we arrived at: Dunwall, Empress, Assassin.”

Emily’s privileged upbringing is reflected in her clothes and her weapons. In contrast to Corvo’s more rugged and utilitarian clothes, “Emily doesn’t wear rags,” said Smith. “She wears an asymmetrical-cut jacket with gold embroidery befitting someone who grew up in a palace. She has taste and she has the finest tailors working for her. When she’s carrying a pistol or a crossbow, they need to look like they were made by the finest craftsmen in the Empire of the Isles.”

Video game assassins in general tend towards a more stylish look than other characters, as you can see in everything from Hitman’s Agent 47 to the Assassin’s Creed protagonists to Thane in Mass Effect 2 and 3, but there are plenty of male assassins whose attire doesn’t stand out. Female video game characters of all types, however (not just assassins), are pretty much required to be “stylish” in some way because of the excessive focus in Western culture on how women dress.

So while it’s not at all surprising or unusual that Emily kills her enemies while wearing a killer outfit, it is unusual that she’s not overtly sexualized. Not only is she fully clothed, in fact, but what she’s wearing is actually somewhat functional.

The first Dishonored explored gender roles fairly well, so it’s not too surprising that Arkane would bring this same sensibility to the sequel. It’s just unusual in the broader landscape of video games. Only a handful of RPGs have revolved around 20-something women without overtly sexualizing them, and they’ve all been released in the last few years: the new Tomb Raider series, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, The Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst and The Walking Dead: Michonne.

Fortunately, we can add Dishonored 2 to the list when it releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on November 11th, 2016.

Sarah Warn is the Editor-in-Chief of remeshed.com and an avid player of console and PC games of all kinds. She was previously the founder and EIC of AfterEllen.com, and online editorial director for MTV Networks. Follow Sarah on Twitter.
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Sarah Warn is the Editor-in-Chief of remeshed.com and an avid player of console and PC games of all kinds. She was previously the founder and EIC of AfterEllen.com, and online editorial director for MTV Networks. Follow Sarah on Twitter.

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