Games with female leads don’t sell. That’s the mantra video game companies have developed to support their reasoning about why there aren’t more strong female characters in video games.
This is, of course, ignoring that fact that games with female leads receive half the marketing budgets as games starring their male counterparts. Or that fact that women, while being half of the audience for video game companies, make up only a tenth of the workforce. And what about the fact that series like “Portal,” “Tomb Raider” and “Metroid,” all games sporting powerful leading ladies, have become critically-acclaimed, international best-sellers.
So why then aren’t there more women in games?
That’s an answer that begins with an anecdote and ends with an assertion that I realize may sound sexist, but then, if you walked into any video game store and perused the shelves for thirty seconds, you’d get more than a little whiff of sexism as well.
Much like any other person who played video games as a kid, I flirted with the idea of becoming a game designer. That is, until I found that, much like with cooking, trigonometry and appreciating “Pulp Fiction,” I simply didn’t have the head for it.
After finding out what daily life is like for women in the game development industry, I don’t regret my decision to stick to journalism.
Googling the phrase “female video game developers” reveals a flood of horror stories from women in the industry. Common offenses range from sexual harassment and excessive hazing, to difficulty finding jobs because coding and computer design are not “women’s work” – because apparently we are still stuck in the 1950s.
Considering this, the answer to why there aren’t more strong female characters in video games is simple: men are designing games to be played by men.
Looking at the basic construction of many popular games reveals this. In just about any video game, from the original Mario to Grand Theft Auto V, the role of female characters is nearly always the same. There is a damsel, and she needs to be saved, because she is absolutely incapable of saving herself.
Even if female characters appear strong initially, the final boss battle begins with them being captured, and you, the brave pectoral-ed hero or the endearing but outmatched underdog, must defeat evil and set her free.
Though progress has been slow, the industry has been taking steps towards equal gender representation in video games. Titles like “The Last of Us” and “The Walking Dead” series have proved just how vehemently fans respond to rounded female characters. In recent years, games that allow for character customization have begun to offer the option to be female, so that women can finally kick ass as women.
However, a majority of these games have silent protagonists whose gender, or entire personality, has little influence on the plot. Titles featuring a male-dominated cast with flimsy female characters still dominate the market. Female developers still only make up a small portion of the industry. Their ideas go unheard, their games unplayed.
And we wonder why there aren’t more women in video games.
By Alyse Stanley
Technology and Gaming Editor