Dishonored Creators Responded To Criticism Of Game’s Women By Making Emily A Badarse

Dishonored Creators Responded To Criticism Of Game’s Women By Making Emily A Badarse
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In Dishonored 2, people panic when Emily Kaldwin enters a room. When she’s caught sneaking around the docks, NPCs yell out in terror. It’s a special feeling to play a fear-inducing woman in a game, and yesterday at E3, Arkane Studios’ co-creative director explained to Engadet that, if it wasn’t for criticism of Dishonored 1‘s women, gamers may have never experienced Kaldwin’s badarsery.


In an interview with Feminist Frequency founder and media critic Anita Sarkeesian for Engadget, Arkane Studios’ Harvey Smith said that Emily Kaldwin, Dishonored 2‘s playable co-protagonist who featured heavily in its marketing, was a direct response to complaints that Dishonored 1‘s women were bland or offensive.

In 2012, Feminist Frequency tweeted that while Dishonored 1 featured “many truly brilliant elements… sadly representation of women are not among them. #Disappointing.” Sarkeesian’s 2015 video “Women as Background Decoration” showed several clips from Dishonored 1 in which the player peeks up sex workers’ skirts, throws them against walls or murders them.

Yesterday at E3, Smith himself recalled that “Every woman in Dishonored 1 is either a servant, a prostitute, a witch, a queen or a little girl,” which he describes as “not an intentional choice”. So, Arkane Studios, in his words, “internally sat down” and made a “deliberate” decision to include more interesting roles for women. Kaldwin would help promote “more plausible balance in the [Dishonored 2] world”.

Discussing that decision to make Emily Kaldwin playable (and fearsome), Smith cited Feminist Frequency’s tweet, saying he’d “take it to my grave”.

Dishonored 2‘s newly-announced DLC “Death of the Outsider” will star Billie Lurk, another of its badarse women.


  • I think it’ll do equality and diversity much good if instead of, or in parallel of, the continual criticism laid against games which portray women as just “decorations”, we promote a more positive message by praising good games which showcase better portrayals of women.

    • I feel like there is plenty of that sort of appraisal happening, but as with most things, negative press tends to overshadow the positive.

      Props to the Dishonored team for responding to the criticism positively and working a solution that didn’t seem forced or at odds with their vision.

    • Yeah, it’s better to have creators actually want to put a good mixture of characters in the game rather than have them put characters in for fear of being berated and harassed if they don’t.

  • I agree that this is a good move for Dishonoured.

    However sometimes I feel that having women as window dressing helps sell the mood of a world. In Dishonoured’s case it explains why the Empress was killed (beyond simple reasons) in the first opening moments of the first game, as you explore the world of dishonoured you learn that women are not respected at all. It helps sell that feeling that this is a “mans” world and that the people you kill are real pos because your character respected the woman who was the empress.

    I do fear that going into the future of gaming that in an effort to have inclusion and diversity that developers will lose story telling techniques to make their words more believable and in some ways, historical in context.

    I am all for diversity and strong female characters. Don’t get me wrong.

  • Emily Kaldwin is a real cool character, sure. But we gotta have some negative depictions of women too. I’m not talking about having them as strippers and prostitutes, i’m talking about women who aren’t good people. The answer to this representation problem isn’t just putting “badarse” women in your games, it’s about creating female characters that feel real and nuanced.

    Don’t get me wrong, give me more female playable characters, make them cool as fuck. I just hope that we don’t swap one type of pandering (sexualised women for the sake of boys) for another (flawless women for the sake of girls).

    • Naughty Dog have been really good at this, naturally. I’m also reminded of The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3; probably one of the best female characters in games.

    • Do you feel like the developers went too far in that direction with Dishonored 2? I would argue that they created some really interesting and nuanced women in Delilah and Megan, particularly. Not good people, not flawless, but very intriguing.

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