I'm not for a second going to pretend I know anything about being a woman. However, I do know that when I play games I like to be 'me', or as near to it as possible, and as far as gender goes I am amply catered for. Girls? Not so much.
If 'not being able to play as a girl' doesn't seem like a big deal, let's try a nice gender neutral example of playing in the wrong body: I instantly regretted picking Khajiit in Oblivion. The night vision seemed like a really useful power to have but those ears and tail constantly reminded me I wasn't in the game - I was just remote controlling a body on the end of the pad. That big stupid furry face was like a fence between me and the game. Some like the escapism of being other people entirely, but for myself I like it to be me represented. If I'm experiencing emotion, fear or exhilaration I want to do so directly and not via a proxy. Anything that reminds me of that separation can break the moment.
Okay, how about a slightly more contentious role reversal: when I played Tomb Raider, a rare example of a female only character option, I often felt a disconnect when I registered Lara on screen. Not because I didn't think she was up to the task but simply because I'd have an amazing, dirt-throwing, back peddling battle (I loved the combat in that game) then glance down to see someone I couldn't possibly be, a reminder that they did it all, not me. I just pushed some buttons and watched. Strangely, while I have no problem pretending to be a spy or a spaceman, imagining I'm a different sex is a leap too far. I guess girls have had to get used to it.
Thinking about the Assassin's Creed news this morning made me realise that if I was a girl almost every game would be like this. Every experience would be conveyed through an unrelatable avatar. I get that in Unity you always appear as the lead, Arno, and only your co-op friends appear differently but the fact Ubi tried to include girls, then decided it was too hard speaks volumes of a gender's representation in gaming. Would anyone have suggested scrapping a skin tone to save time or money? (Yes, I'm aware it's an entirely different thing logistically, I'm just trying to highlight how it would be perceived if someone had casually said a race was too much work to include.) At a level of representation it's simply about the ability to 'be' the character portrayed. Something that's not been an option for a large proportion of gamers over the years and something the Unity news suggests won't be changing anytime soon.
[Update] I'm just going to leave this tweet here. It's a response to the original story from Jonathan Cooper, an animator at Naughty Dog and former animation director on Assassin's Creed 3, lead on Mass Effect 1, 2 "& more".
In my educated opinion, I would estimate this to be a day or two's work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations
Jonathan Cooper (@GameAnim) June 11, 2014