Ubisoft’s upcoming open-world Star Wars game, Star Wars Outlaws, has been one of the most anticipated titles of Summer Game Fest 2023. Garnering attention with its Grand Theft Auto-esque gameplay and alluring droid, the game has also sparked controversy due to its female protagonist, Kay Vess, a woman of color.
The reveal of Star Wars Outlaws during the Ubisoft Showcase elicited mixed reactions. While many celebrated the game’s ambitious concept, some gamers took issue with its leading character, Kay Vess, portrayed by Venezuelan-born actor Humberly González. These players, many linked to the controversial Gamergate movement, expressed their disappointment in not having the option to switch to a male character, despite the game’s open-world Star Wars nature. Some criticized the absence of lightsabers and male characters, rejecting the game’s fresh approach to the Star Wars universe.
Kay Vess’s character, however, represents a broader issue within gaming and the Star Wars universe. Despite the existence of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, a new game featuring a male protagonist, the role of Kay Vess is crucial as it addresses the longstanding underrepresentation of women in Star Wars games.
Women in Star Wars Games
The Star Wars franchise has a checkered past when it comes to representation in its games. The franchise has faced backlash in the past, especially around the character Rey in the sequel trilogy, which still reverberates in gamer culture. Apart from a few exceptions, such as Battlefront II, Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith, and Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, most Star Wars games either predominantly feature male characters or offer a choice between male and female characters. The ability to choose often quiets those with misogynistic viewpoints.
Kay Vess, the rogue and rebel, is an embodiment of many beloved Star Wars characters and is the perfect lead for an open-world game. The controversy surrounding her doesn’t lie in her character traits but solely in her gender.
Representation in Gaming Industry
The backlash against a female-led game is not surprising given the scarcity of female protagonists in modern gaming. Only two Game of The Year winners at Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards have featured female protagonists, and they shared the spotlight with male characters. Most AAA games led by women, such as the Horizon series, Lara Croft, or Metroid Prime Remastered’s Samus, have faced criticism or required character reworks to gain acceptance.
Ubisoft itself has had historical issues with centering female protagonists, as well as serious allegations of sexual misconduct among its executives. It once abandoned female protagonists in Assassin’s Creed Unity, citing the additional work needed for animations and voices. Furthermore, the company has been reported to diminish the roles of female characters during production, as seen in the Assassin’s Creed series.
A Hopeful Future
Despite the controversies, the character of Kay Vess in Star Wars Outlaws is a breath of fresh air, both within the Star Wars franchise and Ubisoft’s portfolio. As a woman of color leading the narrative, her character stands against a backdrop of historical underrepresentation and could mark a turning point for the gaming studio notoriously known for sidelining female characters. This progress comes with the hope of greater things to come from both Ubisoft and Star Wars.
Star Wars Outlaws is expected to be released sometime in 2024, and despite the controversies, many gamers eagerly anticipate itslaunch. The game will undoubtedly bring a new perspective to the Star Wars universe while addressing crucial issues in representation within the gaming industry. As we wait for its arrival, the conversation around Kay Vess and Star Wars Outlaws underscores the ongoing struggle for gender equity in gaming and the need for diverse, inclusive narratives in this ever-evolving art form.