So recently feminist frequency released a gender breakdown of the games displayed at E3 2016 and you can only guess what they found, which in all honesty is not really that surprising. As someone who spent 25 years playing video games and 10 years writing about them, I can safely say the video game industry is male dominated there is no question about that. We can hypothesize why this may be the case until the cows come home. Be it cultural, psychological or whatever. But I am pretty sure the under representation of female heroines in video games is due to the fact that the vast majority of gamer’s are men.
Further, a significant lack of female leads in video games doesn’t mean the games industry hates women. It means the sales numbers for games with female heroines aren’t doing as well as their male counterparts. None of these companies create video games for charity. They are there to make money and push their bottom line up, and if they don’t they try something else. It is pure business nothing malicious intended from their side. But the honest truth of the matter is if video games with female heroines sold as much or better than video games with male heroes in them the industry would have created more of these or am I wrong?
Firstly: I think it is absolutely okay to have a target demographic in the entertainment industry, including target genders. Be it male or female. Not everything needs to appeal to both men and women or everyone for that matter. Secondly: The video game industry is much bigger than what gets shown at E3. Using games released at E3 as a barometer for gender equality and what is currently happening in the industry is rather silly. There are many video games that are non-violent, featuring female protagonists, and are targeted at women, but you’d never know about them. Why is it that we never know about them?
And why are these games getting ignored by the media at large? Well for one thing, as much as they want to deny it, the consumer for games journalism is vastly male as I mentioned earlier and they have absolutely no interest in reading about such games. And as we all know, controversy gets the clicks, and nowadays, there’s nothing that can spur controversy quite like suggesting that video games have a problem with women, no matter how untrue it actually is. And by focusing on only the negative instead of the positive aspects of the industry these journalists keeps the controversy and traffic coming to their websites.
I am willing to bet the ordinary, non-feminist gamer does not view the prevalence of male video game leads as being indicative of female roles being of less importance in the industry. However from the feminist perspective like Anita Sarkeesian the lack of women, in almost any context, is directly indicative of gender inequality. The issue with all this is that the feminist/social justice warriors assumes outright that someone is being oppressed at all times. And the ones being oppressed are ones who are not particularly prevalent in the current context regardless of whatever voluntary decisions that resulted in them not being seen in a particular medium or field in this case the video game industry.
And when games come out with only female protagonist I don’t see feminists singing songs of praise about those but they will even go out of the way to nit-pick on those as well. And developers are really caught between a rock and a hard place, when it comes to creating female heroines due to people like Anita Sarkeesian. You can’t showcase a woman being attacked, assaulted, or killed otherwise its promoting violence towards women. You can’t showcase a woman in a state of undress or else it becomes sexual objectification. You can’t showcase a woman being seemingly incompetent or psychologically unstable or else it’s perpetuating the stereotype that women are inferior.
Men can be portrayed in video games as cowards, weak, obtuse, murderers, manipulators, failures, and villains. But the moment a games developer casts a woman in that light they are going to take shit for it, no matter how well they have written her. If the game is good, people will buy it. And honestly, people who care about games don’t care about the main character’s gender. I know I don’t. Shouldn’t we be praising the amount of games that let you choose your gender, rather than finding another reason to knock the industry down? Rome wasn’t built in a day, games take a long time to develop. And a lot of newer games are letting you choose which gender you want to play which is a big step forward.
[Editorial Note] I only noticed after writing the article that all the games that I am excited for after their E3 reveal all have female lead characters. Who would have thought…