In a previous post here titled Confessions Of A Gamer, a writer alluded to conversations about the role of women characters in video games. This has been a pretty hot topic for a couple years now as various statistics have emerged revealing that women are just as involved with the gaming industry as men. The question that follows is only natural: if women are playing games as frequently as men are, why must such a massive majority of video game characters still be men?
Before I get started, I’ll acknowledge that a huge majority of game characters—at least the protagonists—are still men. In part this is because many of the series that have been around for a while started out with male protagonists and are simply continuing in their ways. For example, Mario and Luigi have always been Nintendo standards, and at this point I’d even argue that the creation of female counterparts would almost be an insult in its own right—as in, Lady Mario would just come across as obvious pandering. But beyond established and classic characters, there remains some gender bias in the development of new games as well.
While it would be easy to gripe about this ongoing bias, it’s more constructive to point out that things are shifting in the right direction, even if it’s only happening gradually. There’s been a lot of talk lately about a perceived influx of female characters at the E3 gaming convention earlier this year, and The Mary Sue highlighted some of those characters. From a new Tomb Raider title, to “an awesome tiny girl Daredevil” named Rae who’s the lead in a new game called Beyond Eyes, there are a lot of prominent female characters to be excited about.
In some part, this whole narrative has become slightly overblown. In the interest of presenting both sides of the story, I feel obliged to point out an article in Medium that took a very in-depth look at E3 2015 compared to 2014. It argued that there actually was no influx of female leads, and that this is basically just a story the media has taken off with. That’s fair enough, but if there’s a perception that there were more women characters on display this year, it’s at least partially a result of those characters being emphasised more than in the past. This, too, is progress.
In fact, advertisements have played a significant role in the perceived improvement in gender equality in gaming. Perhaps the biggest story of the year in this line of discussion has been the addition of playable women’s teams to the next edition of EA Sports’ FIFA franchise. This move has been highlighted by the placement of U.S. star Alex Morgan on gaming covers. Somewhat similarly, even Street Fighter—a franchise that has long gotten by with a strong male bias—is placing its most prominent female character, Chun-Li, front and centre, as early promos for the game have shown battles between her and Ryu.
The idea of placing women characters on the covers of games is one that’s also taken hold in other areas of gaming, perhaps most notably in the busy online casino industry. Gala Casino’s game selection is effective in general in that it makes use of a number of popular characters, films, and television shows to provide settings and characters for its titles. And within that selection, there’s virtually no gender bias to be found. In addition to the inclusion of some popular heroes like Elektra and Mystique on its covers, there are plenty of titles based on female characters, such as a “Snow Queen,” a “Miss Red,” and an “Amazon Goddess.” There’s even a slot machine with a Marilyn Monroe theme.
A similar lack of bias can be found in mobile games, where many of the latest and most exciting releases can now be found. Plenty of games featuring whole collections of characters—such as DC and Marvel titles, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat mobile versions, etc.—have several female characters mixed in. However, there are also some prominent games with women characters leading the way. The clearest example is UsTwo’s Monument Valley game, often heralded as one of the best app games of all time, and it features a female lead.
None of this is meant to suggest that the problem has been solved, or that women have achieved equality in gaming. But there has clearly been a shift toward this end, and it’s reassuring that the shift has been most visible in advertisements and within online and mobile platforms that represent some of the newest and most frequently updated games. Developers and distributors have clearly taken notice of the need to introduce more female leads, and the gaming industry is getting better because of it.
Aimee King is a freelance writer and blogger on all things nerd currently living in New York City. She likes to cover comics, cosplay and anything that screams geek. Aimee spends her free time crafting new costumes in her Queens apartment and forcing her cat, Reggie, to do the same.