Ubisoft will replace two of Watch Dogs: Legion’s in-game podcasts in which British journalist Helen Lewis appears, after becoming “aware” of offensive remarks she’s made in the past about gender identity.
“We were made aware of controversial remarks from a journalist whose voice-over performance appears in two in-game podcasts in Watch Dogs: Legion,” a spokesperson for Ubisoft told Kotaku in an email. “Neither Ubisoft nor the game reflect this journalist’s viewpoints.”
The publisher went on:
“The development team worked with an external producer to select speaker profiles for these podcasts and were not aware of the controversy at the time of booking or recording. While the in-game podcasters are following a pre-approved script and are not speaking in their own name or with their own opinions, we understand this collaboration itself may be seen as offensive and we deeply regret any hurt this has caused. In response, we will be replacing these two podcast episodes in an upcoming update and will reinforce our background checks for partners in the future.”
Lewis, a London-based staff writer for The Atlantic, formerly of the New Statesman, appears in two episodes of Watch Dogs: Legion’s BuccanEar podcast that players can listen to while driving around England’s capital city or via the game’s collectibles menu. The character which Lewis voices, named simply “Helen,” discusses the creeping threat of facism in the game’s world and how it’s worked in the past as a political ideology.
While the game’s podcasts, including those featuring Lewis, have been lauded for their writing, including by Kotaku, Lewis’ involvement in them has been criticised on Twitter and the gaming forum ResetEra after people began to connect the voice in the game with the journalist behind statements and positions many regard as transphobic.
In 2017, Lewis published an op-ed for The Times called “A man can’t just say he has turned into a woman,” in which the writer was critical of new legislation being proposed in the UK to make transitioning easier. “What the government proposes is a radical rewriting of our understanding of identity: Now it’s a question of an internal essence — a soul, if you will,” Lewis wrote. “Being a woman or a man is now entirely in your head.”
Statements like this have led many to regard Lewis, a leftist feminist who claims to support trans rights, as a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). In an article for the New Statesman last year, Lewis likened TERF to a racial slur and argued that it’s used by some as a mask for a new wave of Gamergate-like misogyny toward women. She did not immediately reply to a request for comment for this article.
Lewis’ involvement in Watch Dogs: Legion is particularly notable since the game’s story revolves around a diverse and inclusive community of hackers fighting to liberate itself from an abusive police state. It also comes at a time when Ubisoft has been at the centre of a wave of allegations of misconduct and toxic working conditions which run counter to the company’s stated values of equality and inclusion.