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The Designerís Notebook: We Donít Need the Haters (and I Can Prove It)
by Ernest Adams on 08/23/13 08:00:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The topic of institutionalized misogyny in game culture is finally getting the attention it deserves, and the situation is grim. Once again we embarrassed ourselves at the Electronic Entertainment Expo with a parade of booth babes and an Xbox One launch that featured a rape joke and not a single female protagonist among its launch titles. Try pointing this out to many industry executives and you’ll get a collective shrug. Try pointing it out in online gamer spaces and you get howls of outrage and a torrent of vile abuse from a small number of very angry men. The attacks get worse if the person who points it out happens to be a woman: death threats, threats of sexual violence, character assassination and cyberstalking are commonplace. Jennifer Hepler, a writer at BioWare, recently received explicit death threats... not to her but to her children, a new low.

The haters are simply infuriated at the suggestion that games might be improved by making them more appealing to women, and they’re warning us that they’ll do something about it. Apart from the abuse and threats, they say that they’ll stop buying games if the industry changes anything to make them more popular with women, and we’ll lose a lot of money. I decided to find out if we need to take this seriously, not just by arguing hypothetically, but by looking at some real numbers.

What Changes Are We Talking About?

So who is asking for a change, and what exactly are they asking for? I’m going to call them “progressive gamers,” for want of a better term; they’re both men and women. With respect to gender in games (the treatment of racial minorities or under-represented sexualities is a separate, but related issue), their requests are simple and few:

 

  1. More opportunities to play female protagonists in AAA titles.

  2. More female characters—especially protagonists—who are not hypersexualized and whose clothing is appropriate for their activity.

  3. More female characters portrayed as strong and competent people rather than victims, trophies, or sex objects.

Now let’s take a look at what they’re not asking for.

 

  1. They’re not proposing to turn Duke Nukem female.

  2. They’re not proposing to ban or censor Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball.

  3. They’re not proposing to kill off Princess Peach. (Well, most of them aren’t. There might be a radical wing that is.)

  4. They’re not proposing that games should suddenly all be about traditional female role activities such as cooking and sewing. It shouldn’t even be necessary to say this, but there are a few dimwits around who seem to believe it.

In other words, progressive gamers are not trying to force designers to do anything. They’re asking for new games that they would find more enjoyable than the existing ones. It’s simple consumer activism, requesting products that better meet their wishes.

The players who oppose this, on the other hand—I’ll call them “reactionary gamers” because they want to keep things they way they are—are exclusively male. They say that they’ll boycott the game industry if it accedes to the requests of the progressive gamers. I’m both a progressive gamer and a game developer, so I have an interest in seeing more female-friendly games, but I also have an interest in making money, so I need to know if this threat amounts to anything.

Is There Really a Problem?

Before I get into that, though, we’d better see if there really is a problem in the first place. Some people claim that there are plenty of female protagonists already, so there’s no need to do anything about it. But is this true?

MobyGames is one of the largest databases of video games in the world. At the moment that I’m typing this, it contains records for 73,719 games. The data are entered by the community (with moderation from the site’s editors), and the site also includes the ability to add games to user-created groups of various sorts—effectively, a sort of tagging. The Protagonist: Female group documents games that only have female protagonists. Unfortunately, there is no group documenting games that only have male protagonists, so we’ll have to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations.

Let’s assume, very generously, that 90% of the games in MobyGames are gender-neutral. They either have no protagonist at all (e.g. Tetris), allow the player to choose between a female and male protagonist (Mass Effect), or allow the player to build a character from the ground up, including choosing its sex (Skyrim). I’m sure that’s an overestimate, but I’m giving the reactionaries the benefit of the doubt.

That leaves 7,372 games that have either a male-only (Max Payne) or a female-only (Mirror’s Edge) protagonist. Now, the number of games in the Protagonist: Female group at MobyGames stands at 1,327, which runs from the 1980 Apple II game KidVenture #1: Little Red Riding Hood to the 2013 version of Tomb Raider. In other words, only 18% of the total number of games with fixed protagonists have female ones. That looks like a problem.

Pie chart of video game protagonists by gender

 

But the data comes from the player community, so it’s possible that the players haven’t put all the games with only female protagonists into the group. Let’s again be very generous and assume that the players have just documented half of them. This would mean that there are, in reality, 2,654 games with fixed female protagonists, or 36% of the total. 64% have fixed male protagonists. Still not good.

 

Pie chart of video game protagonists by gender

 

At this point someone is bound to argue that video games are aimed at men and so this imbalance is appropriate. But that’s not true; video games are not aimed exclusively at men and never have been from the very beginning: girls and women have played games from Pong onward. The game industry is not Playboy, despite occasionally resembling it. In any case, we know from the latest Electronic Software Association “Essential Facts” data sheet that the ratio of male to female players is 55% to 45%, not 64% to 36%.

In fact, I’m sure the discrepancy between the proportion of games with female avatars and the proportion of female players is much worse than that. I have bent over backwards to slant the numbers in favor of the “there’s no problem” viewpoint. So it’s pretty obvious that over the entire history of the game industry, games that offer a female protagonist are under-represented

What about the current state of affairs? Again using data from MobyGames, in 2012, the industry made 1,749 games. Ruling out 90% of them as gender-neutral as I did before, that leaves 175 games with fixed-sex protagonists. The number of 2012 games listed in the Protagonist: Female group is 17, or 10%. Doubling this to account for any female-only protagonist games that got missed, we have 34 games or 19.5%.

 

Pie chart of video game protagonists by gender

 

In other words, the discrepancy between the proportion of female players and the proportion of fixed female protagonists is greater now than it has been over the whole history of the industry. If anything, we’re going backwards—from 36% over all to 19.5% in 2012. Yes, there’s a problem.

Aren’t the Gender-Neutral Games Enough?

The reactionaries will also undoubtedly argue that there are lots of games that are gender-neutral, and women can just play those. (This is that 90% group that I hypothesized.) There are plenty of RPGs in which you create your own character, male or female; isn’t that enough? Or Bejeweled. No protagonist at all in puzzle games, so no problem, right?

No, and here’s why. Interactive storytelling is hard enough to do well when the player can influence the plot (which is why many games still tell linear stories), but it’s extremely hard to do well when the designer knows nothing about the protagonist, including its sex. This is why adventure games, in which story is paramount, almost always have a predefined protagonist. The stories in games with a predefined protagonist (such as the Silent Hill series) are generally better than those in games with generic avatar. Telling female players that they have to be content with gender-neutral games consigns them to a second-class status in which they don’t get the best stories.

The Arguments Against Doing Anything

The next question is whether we should do anything about the problem. If you visit YouTube or the gamer message boards frequented by reactionary players, you encounter, again and again, the same set of arguments for not building any new games that the progressive players might like. I’ll summarize them here:

 

  • Dismissive: They’re only games; they’re not important, so it doesn’t matter if there aren’t many women or their portrayal of women is unrealistic.

  • Male chauvinist: Feminazis are pushing their way into the game industry with their political correctness, and they’re going to ruin games and (male) gaming culture.

  • Ignorant: Asking for female protagonists in games is a violation of game designers’ freedom of speech.

  • Misogynist: “Wherever there are happy men there will always be a woman there to ruin it.” That’s about the mildest quote I could find.

  • Financial: Male players don’t like to play female characters, and they like to see the women in games eroticized. The game industry will lose a lot of money if it stops catering to those men.

We can write off the first four arguments pretty quickly:

 

  • Dismissive: If the content of games doesn’t matter, why are you objecting to some new ones?

  • Male chauvinist: This is identical to the argument that people used to use to keep Jews out of the country club, and it deserves the same response. If gaming culture will be “ruined” by making it a little less hostile to female players, then what you value in gaming culture—bigotry and exclusionis not worth preserving. Let the ruination commence.

  • Ignorant: Asking for female protagonists in games is an exercise of freedom of speech. Consumer activism is not censorship.

  • Misogynist: Please join a monastery where you can lead a completely happy, woman-free life.

That leaves us with the financial argument, which is the only one that deserves serious attention. Let’s assume for a moment that the game industry is ruled entirely by money, and that profits are our sole consideration. Does the game industry stand to lose a lot of money by alienating men who don’t want games to have strong female protagonists?

How Important is the Hardcore Market?

To start with, the games that the reactionary gamers say that they’ll stop buying are avatar-based action games, RPGs, and shooters. They aren’t talking about aerial-perspective strategy games or Farmville. I know this, because if you point out that the casual free-to-play sector is making money hand over fist with very few hypersexualized female characters in it, they’ll say that those aren’t “real games” and their players aren’t “real gamers,” so they don’t count. However, to the game industry, every dollar counts. A dollar is a dollar regardless of what kind of game it was spent on.

The web site VGChartz.com documents global retail sales figures for the entire game industry since its beginning. They aren’t perfectly accurate, but they’re a good way of establishing the relative values of different titles. When sorted by lifetime global unit sales, the first fifteen games on the list are all casual or gender-neutral games and don’t contain anything that would discourage female players (a few might complain about the damsel-in-distress motif of Super Mario Bros., but it’s hardly Scarlet Blade). The top 15 includes such titles as Tetris and Wii Fit. The first hardcore game on the list, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, is at #16, and the next one after that is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City at #23. Five of the Call of Duty games are all clustered between #30 and 35. Or to look at in relative terms, Nintendogs has sold twice as many units as Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Black Ops has reached the end of its shelf life, so it’s unlikely to improve on that.

It seems pretty clear that if hardcore male-protagonist-only games were to disappear entirely—which they won’t—it might be painful to particular companies, but it would not be a financial disaster for the game industry as a whole. And the VGChartz data doesn’t even include all the Facebook games, electronically-distributed games, and mobile games, the vast majority of which are not hardcore. Hardcore games are an even smaller segment of the market than the data suggest.

Why do hardcore games seem so much more important than they really are? Because they are hyped, and get press coverage, entirely out of proportion to their overall financial significance. The midnight releases, the wall-to-wall coverage in magazines, and all the rest of the PR machine serve to create an illusion that hardcore games are the industry. Those games are expensive to buy, and publishers have to spend a lot to persuade people to purchase them.

Farmville and Angry Birds, on the other hand, don’t need a massive PR machine. They use a more effective and far, far cheaper way of attracting gamers: social networking. Social networking is largely invisible because it’s person-to-person rather than broadcast, and there is no need for midnight releases of a free-to-play game. 

But of course, hardcore games aren’t going to go away, nor do the progressive gamers want them to. In fact, what progressive gamers want is more hardcore games, just with more appealing female characters. This is an opportunity to grow the hardcore market, and bring new players into it.

“Male Players Won’t Play as Female Characters”

This claim is central to the reactionary players’ argument. They say that not only the reactionaries themselves, but men in general, will abandon video gaming if presented with female avatars.

This is obviously false, as Lara Croft proved long, long ago. All the way back in 2000, Eidos estimated that as many as 25% of the players of Tomb Raider might be women—in other words, they figured at least 75% of their players were male! Now, Lara was designed to appeal to the male gaze, and there’s not very much that’s conventionally feminine about her—she’s doesn’t put men off by being sweet and demure. But that’s just the point: she’s a female character in a heroic role, which is exactly what the progressive players are asking for. She’s nobody’s trophy or victim.

Nor do female avatars have to have Lara’s physical proportions to be popular with men. We have only a handful of examples, but they include Samus Aran, Chell from the Portal series, Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII and American McGee’s Alice. None of these women are simply sex objects or outrageously dressed, so the claim that men won’t play as women unless the women are eroticized is pretty clearly false.

 

Screen shot of Chell from Portal
Male gamers, we're told, won't play as female characters.

Male Players by the Numbers

Recently, Marcis Liepa of the University of Gotland conducted a study of 91 male gamers over the age of 18 that addressed exactly this issue. He asked them, given the choice, whether they would play with male or female avatars and how often. He found that only 10% of men would play solely with male avatars. 46% play as a female character at least half the time, and 5% choose female characters all the time. This clearly refutes the assertion that male players don’t like to play as female characters.

Liepa also asked specifically about the progressives’ proposal: what male players’ reactions would be to the game industry producing more games with heroic female protagonists. 71% said it would be “good” or “very good.” The remainder had no opinion, and—here’s the kicker—not a single respondent said it would be “bad” or “very bad.”

Now, Liepa’s participants were all Swedish males, and the majority of them were young. It can certainly be argued that they don’t represent a complete sample of male gamers worldwide, or even in the West. It’s also possible that some of them said what they thought the interviewer wanted to hear rather their own true opinions. However, the reactionary gamers are not at all shy about sharing their feelings on this subject, so I have to assume that if there had been any in Liepa’s sample, they would have spoken up. Furthermore, none of Liepa’s 10% who only choose male avatars said that it would be bad if the industry produces more games with female protagonists. There’s no shortage of games that meet their preferences, as I showed above.

Conclusion

By this point it should be clear that if the reactionary players leave in a huff, it won’t do us any real harm. Like all extremists, they wildly overestimate the number of people who agree with them, and the sales that they represent are too small a fraction of the overall numbers to worry about. They are noisy and obnoxious, but financially irrelevant. We don’t need the haters.

The only companies in the industry that are at risk are ones whose business depends on selling games to these clowns. It’s kind of stupid to alienate a large audience in order to serve a small one, and as our markets continue to grow, they will end up in a strange, pathetic little niche like strip poker games.

I haven’t even addressed the upside of making more games with heroic female protagonists: more sales to women. This one is difficult to predict, but I’m pretty confident that the number of women who would buy the new games that the progressives want would be greater than the number of reactionaries who would refuse to buy them.

Our biggest problem isn’t the haters at all; it’s conservative game industry executives who believe—on the basis of precious little evidence—that AAA games with female protagonists don’t sell. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you don’t give them any marketing because you don’t expect them to sell, they certainly won’t. Furthermore, it’s illogical to blame poor sales of games with female protagonists on the protagonist alone, while blaming poor sales of games with male protagonists on everything but that. I don’t have time to go into it now, but David Gaider developed this point at length in his brilliant 2013 GDC talk “Sex In Video Games,” which you can see here. Well-made games sell well regardless, as the better Tomb Raiders have shown.

If you want to make a game with a female protagonist and you need some inspiration, I’ve started a Facebook page called Heroic Women to Inspire Game Designers. I also have a categorized collection of the same women on Pinterest. Every time I hear of a particularly brave or adventurous woman (or group of women), I add her to the page with a link to her story on Wikipedia. You don’t need a Facebook or Pinterest account to view the content.


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Comments


Katy Smith
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Bookmarked! Thanks for the awesome article, Ernest! You eloquently summarized what I've been trying to put into words for years.

Jeanne Burch
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Ditto! Plus I'm going to make my (99.9% male) gaming students read it :)

Sjors Jansen
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I feel these numbers should also be offset to the number of male and female developers that created those games.
It would probably paint a more understanding picture. I'm assuming this based on the places I've worked and the last couple of jams I've been to. Maybe 10% of the people in those places were female at most?

Are we expecting males to portray females and take that really seriously?
I'm not saying it's ridiculous, but we can only get to a certain point with that I think.

I do agree with one of the sentiments that got deleted on gamasutra recently, that it would be great if more women started making games. (Though that comment was put in a: less talk, more work context.)

As an industry made up of males we could always try compensating by collectively shaving beards and letting our hair grow out..
Also, the male/female thing may not be that black & white: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJihi5rB_Ek

Jonathan Adams
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There is nothing inherent that keeps men from writing female characters well. For men who have spent much of their lives living very separately from women (in the activity sense, not the physical sense), they may have to do some research and actually talk to some women and spend time with them to pull it off, but chances are that people who have sequestered themselves from that much experience struggle to write good male characters as well, and the exercise will improve the entirety of their writing.

Women do often have a different experience with life, just as people in different countries or different skin tones do, but they're still just human beings, and not some mysterious other that cannot be understood, identified with, and given proper treatment in art.

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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A good writer should be able to write more than one type of experience. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask male game writers to write from non-white, male experiences.

I understand the viewpoint "they only write what they know" is used often, especially in regards to why there's so many white male protagonists in games, but I believe that we should always be striving to do better and pushing ourselves beyond just what we know.

Also, when you said:
" Are we expecting males to portray females and take that really seriously?"
Why shouldn't we be expecting males to portray females and take it seriously? There are surely many female writers out there that portray non-female experiences in a serious manner.

Katy Smith
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Your comment reminded me of this comment George RR martin made on writing women characters.
http://weknowmemes.com/2013/07/george-r-r-martin-on-writing-women
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Curtiss Murphy
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Expecting something really deep, I found the quote, "You know? I've always considered women to be people" to be ... comical.

Sjors Jansen
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@Katy In regards to GoT, I always felt like Sansa and Arya got their ages mixed up :) It's good stuff nonetheless.

Sjors Jansen
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@Elisabeth I'm not saying a person shouldn't write about what he or she isn't. Videogames are usually about what you are not. And sure it can be taken seriously.
I'm not talking black & white am I? What I mean is for example that a four year old will probably not be broken out of a fantasy because the writer did a bad job and messed up a detail. But different people get kicked out of the immersion by different things and I think it's relatively hard to get that right.
I guess that has more to do with suspension of disbelief.

But if you really want to make a game that seriously deals with or focuses on a certain (male or female) perspective. I think you better get someone from that perspective to take a good hard look at it.

Sure we can be making games where the perspectives would be pretty much interchangeable. And in general that will be just fine, there are plenty of themes, issues, quirks, emotions and things that resonate with most people. I'm not saying I can write better or something, or that games are up to that point where it really comes into play already. But I do have a lot of respect for the issue and I do take it seriously. Or at least I try.

So I definitely stand by my statement that the best way to approach a perspective is to get people from that perspective, and an effective counterperspective as well.

(But still, I wrote some dialog for a couple of 6-10 year old girls a while back, being a childless man in his thirties. And I can't do that without smirking about the idea. Now, I'm a crap writer, sure, but how serious would you take something like that if you start to think about it is what I wonder.)

Also if all male developers just start writing females it's going to end up bland or bad or whatever. It just opens everything up to more criticisms. It's a situation that potentially will never be good enough.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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"So I definitely stand by my statement that the best way to approach a perspective is to get people from that perspective, and an effective counterperspective as well."

They don't seem to have trouble writing for pro football players, space marines, alien crab things, wizards from the days of lore, or modern day soldiers in a non-specific war... are any of those seriously closer to the average game writer's daily experience than a female protagonist?

Sjors Jansen
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@Kaitlyn No, but how many space marines, alien crab things, wizards fom the days of lore do you see playing games? (I left out a couple because you have a point, I guess the male soldier experience is somewhat explored in videogames? Football.. I don't know, I'd need to see a powerful pro kun sort of game first.)

Edit: Even the soldier experience is glorified. That becomes clear even in behind the scenes stuff. So I'm not sure. I think even there we're not really getting the experience. It's probably a lot more boring and frustrating. So once again, how serious do you want to take it? I really find it hard to say the creator's perspective doesn't matter as long as he or she is good enough.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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I'm not sure how the player comes into this.... unless you are trying to say that female gamers would riot if male developers got it "wrong"?

The point I was trying to make was that writing from a female experience can't possibly be as far from the male developer's experience as the crazy examples listed above (which they seem to have no problem doing convincingly and profitably).

Sjors Jansen
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@Kaitlyn I think the bar hangs relatively low. Which is probably where we diverge?

No, I don't mean riot, the players are probably always part of the creation process, like you have an audience in mind somewhere in the back of your head (or very prominently). But there have been plenty of negative reactions and more extreme counter reactions lately on the gender subject right? Regarding race as well. The igda was thinking about setting up support groups for developers against player hate? And look at the title of this article. People have pretty strong opinions and obviously care for games.
(And I hope players and developers alike will always be critical of games.)

Regarding your point. I think writing a detailed female person is harder than one of those crazy examples. We probably could get away with the crazy examples better because the games weren't that detailed yet.
So as we start to create more specific and fleshed out experiences and characters, I think the crazy examples will seem more and more absurd compared to a regular jane or joe.

To me the most convincing games were those where most of the perspective was up to the player, like nes metroid. Or the old rpgs where characters were just a couple of pixels. Journey might be another example.
Deus Ex for instance, though I love the game, I can't take the characters seriously. They had me me rolling over the floor in the first NY scene. And Gears of war or those bro games I can't really play because of how always present it is.

So I think that, the more serious you treat the subject matter, the stronger the criticisms will become. And that, as you go further and further, as games go past movies there will be more and more tiny details that knock players out of their experience.

Alien needed Sigourney Weaver to pull it off I think.
And that's what I'm suggesting games need as well.

But sure, maybe I'm wrong. I tend to wonder why people wrote certain lines for certain characters on a pretty regular basis.

Tom Abernathy
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With respect, it's not generally the writers who are the problem. Most of the game writers I know would love to write more female (and other underrepresented groups) protagonists. (And I know an awful lot of game writers.)

In my experience, the resistance to non-male (white, straight) protagonists comes from several groups: executives who are loathe to support any choice that carries any perceived risk at all; marketing people who have the same concern; and hardcore designers. The first two groups have in common that their job security is directly tied to the sales of the products they make or market. The third is the most pernicious, and represents an even greater threat to the well-being of the industry.

As I tried to express in my GDC/Gotland talk, our market has grown and evolved enormously over the last six or seven years, as Ernest documents admirably. But the group of people making the games has changed very little. Sjors is correct when he surmises the percentage of women at most game companies to be in the range of 10% and many of those are in HR. Game makers are still, at this late date, largely straight white men who happily self-identify as hardcore gamers. There's nothing wrong with being any or all of those things, of course -- they probably all apply to me -- but, like all creative people, they tend to create games that first appeal to themselves and their own sensibilities. As a consequence, the choices made in most games have a stultifying sameness that reflects the homogeneity of the people making those choices, often without their being conscious of it. (Which I think explains why so many of them get hurt and then angry when they're accused of being too limited in their choices: many don't think of themselves as sexist or racist or homophobic people, and like any of us they can be a bit oblivious to the way their unconscious biases impact their choices and thus the players. Being called any of those things stings, but it especially stings when you think of yourself as an evolved person.)

Anyway, my point is, this is only one way (albeit a very important one) in which our industry needs to evolve, and fast, if we don't want our market to leave us behind entirely. The situation is far more dangerous than I think most in the industry realize.

Fantastic article, Ernest! Thank you!

Sjors Jansen
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@Tom You're right, the writers definitely aren't the biggest problem, somehow the focus got turned to that, sorry.

It's more like 90% of men compensating for the huge lack of women in the industry is probably going to be weird. And I wouldn't be surprised if there's a disconnect somewhere along the way. It's only what I think, I don't intend to fight over predictions.

Also if the reason to change our subject matter is money, then I think the results will be reasonably bland, lowest common denominator stuff like we have seen with wii casual cash-ins. And in my opinion, yes that frame of mind could also start eating away at an experience like nes metroid.

Liken it to hollywood and filmhouse.
The argument in this article if I understood it correctly is: change and you will make more money, 'nuff said.

But in actuality "the change" comes from the indies, who are not near the sales figures where big industry corps will take note of it and pursue it themselves.
Unless you look at stuff like star citizen (indie) with last time I looked had 14m$ in funding. But that's not change right?

Sure market expansion and all that, we had a big round of that with the wii, how was that for quality experiences in general? (not at all saying the wii did not have great games)

So in conclusion, because I probably have hassled gamasutra enough with my opinions, I think the argument doesn't hold up in two ways.

1) If 90% of creators is male, how far are you willing to take their female perspectives serious?

2) Money is not a good reason for change. We could always turn some more countries into capitalist democracies to expand the market instead. Oh wait. I meant enslave scandinavians for cheap labor. erm.

I totally think there should be more change, but I also fear a potential (wii and mobile) casual flood of crap leading to a big fat crash. So be wary of why your are changing.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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"Also if the reason to change our subject matter is money, then I think the results will be reasonably bland, lowest common denominator stuff like we have seen with wii casual cash-ins"

I dissagree with this whole heartedly and here is why: Saints Row.

I doubt anyone will EVER claim that SR is a bland, lowest common denominator cash-in (just look at their weapon selection), yet it is widely regarded as one of the most inclusive series in modern gaming (if not ever).

You can be male, female, skinny, fat, gay, straight, white, black, BLUE!

SR is a great example of a game being designed with the idea of "this is for core gamers who like X" not "this is for *men* who like X". SR is most assuredly NOT a "girl game" yet it is one of the very few titles this year that the majority of my girl friends have been looking forward to.

Making a game inclusive does not mean you have to restrict your vision, it means you need to expand it.

Jacek Wesolowski
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That's a great aticle! I agree that the best way to make female protagonists appear more often in games is to make sure there are more female game creators (particularly in lead design and similar positions). However, I also believe a male developer is perfectly capable of creating a credible female protagonist, essentially because all the primary traits of humans, such as extraversion, tendency for risk-taking, or agreeableness, are gender-neutral. In other words, a (fe)male protagonist is essentially a human who happens to be (fe)male.

I think the question "would you play as a female character" requires some extra care, because it can be understood in various ways, depending on the context.

Personally, I always pick males in games that allow me to define my own character, because I tend to identify with my avatars a lot. I do the same with characters in non-interactive media, which is why I couldn't watch Donald Duck cartoons as a kid, and I can't watch "Big Bang Theory" as an adult. In both cases, the characters I identify with suffer from a lot of humiliation, and it makes me cringe. Playing a female character who's supposed to be, well, myself, feels dissonant, for lack of a better word.

I know a lot of people who don't identify with their avatars in this way, and they tend to pick whatever character feels most "cool" to them, regardless of gender.

At the same time, I have absolutely no problem with playing as female characters in games that define their protagonists specifically. In fact, I don't have any problem at all with playing as someone like Jade from "Beyond Good in Evil" or Faith from "Mirror's Edge", because I like them. At the same time, I have a huge problem with playing as someone like Marcus Fenix from "Gears of War" or Duke Nukem, because I can't stand them.

Val Reznitskaya
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"In other words, a (fe)male protagonist is essentially a human who happens to be (fe)male."

I think this is something a lot of people tend to forget whenever the "female developers" topic comes up. Men and women have their differences, but those differences are often negligible compared to differences in, say, class or upbringing. Of course keeping the gender differences in mind is important in good writing, but dwelling on them is what leads to PMS-joke mechanics. When working on a game that doesn't explicitly address gender issues, it's important to remember that we're all people first and foremost.

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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"I agree that the best way to make female protagonists appear more often in games is to make sure there are more female game creators"

I make this argument all the time, but why is it up to the women to make more female protagonists happen? Having women/minorities in game development isn't some magical thing that'll cause more equal representation. I think men should strive to create more diverse experiences as well (and some already are!).

Ernest Adams
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Ragnar TÝrnquist is very good at creating believable and well-rounded female characters who aren't just macho females like Lara Croft. So is Joss Whedon. Men can do it if they take the trouble.

When I play a female avatar I think of it as acting. I don't identify with her as *me,* but as a character whom I am portraying, which is fun in a different way. I could never do it on the stage, but the video game offers me a persona that looks right.

Michael Joseph
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We see similar responses from members within various groups whenever there is a perception that an outside group is trying to encroach on their privileges, rights, power, advantages, etc.

Every available argument will be used and very little reason will be applied. They're not looking to have a reasoned discussion.

The irony is that these folks enjoy the fruits of labor of many many people who hold polar opposite views. But "That's ok!" because in their mind, those other people are just worker drones who work for people that are like them and who will keep those workers conforming to the status quo. To an extent they are right... but less so every year hopefully.

Mike Higbee
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The same could be said when taking extreme examples such as this article which seem to represent the list of Dismissive, Male Chauvinist etc given up above. No one ever seems to actually pay attention to the well researched or spoken points, it's always the most vocal and ignorant who get the attention and a broad label is given, like above, "trolls", "haters", etc.
Legitimate complaints and comments that may support some of these bullet points often fall to the wayside for the sake of sensationalism or extremes.
No one is interested in the middle ground or actual discussion just dismissing anything that opposes their own viewpoint similar to how the US political system has degenerated into conservatives vs liberals with no room for moderates or independents.

Doug Cox
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This can be a debate that can last forever, but the fact is, the designers create what they want to create. If you start forcing rules on how games are created (like who gets to be the main character) then you'll find yourself with a lot of lackluster games because the designers heart isn't in the game creation.

I'm an upcoming indie developer and I understand this completely, which is why most of my games are going to have male & female main characters to play the game with. Sometimes, certain game designs require the main character to be either male or female depending on the gameplay mechanics. Just like Ernest said, "characters who aren't just macho females like Lara Croft", which means if your game has a lot of physical interaction (fighting, climbing, etc.) and you don't want a macho female, then you'll have to completely re-design the game to fit the non-macho character or just use a macho male/female.

Ernest Adams
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Doug Cox -- there's no issue of "force." As I said in the article, the progressive gamers are simply ASKING for some games they would like.

It's fine to have rootin'-tootin'-shootin' women like Lara. We need more of them than we have, certainly. But it would also be good to have richer women who can shoot AND do some other interesting things as well. Lara's problem is that they only give her one thing to do, so that's the only side of her you ever see.

benn rice
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that's not a problem. that's the kind of game they wanted to make.

Wylie Garvin
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"This can be a debate that can last forever, but the fact is, the designers create what they want to create."


Sometimes that is true, but sometimes it is not (particularly on the AAA side). The designers can be overridden by producers, executives at the publisher, etc. Sometimes the producer will make the "safe" choice so they don't have difficulty getting it past the publisher. Or the designer will make the "safe" choice so they don't get overridden by their producer. In effect, developers sometimes self-censor rather than struggle against the status quo. And that is very unfortunate, because the status quo is rather toxic. It is stale and limiting.

It is like television casting in the 60's. Games need to undergo the same maturation process that television casting went through in the 80's and particularly the 90's -- nowadays, lots of TV shows cast female characters in leading roles and portray them realistically (or at least, somewhat more realistically than games usually portray women). Television also got better about casting various ethnicities in roles when appropriate, and IMO that diversity helped to make shows both more believable and more interesting. Story-driven games can benefit from diverse casting in the same ways television did. Bioware and Bethesda are two examples of developers who already try to do this, and I think their games are better for it.

Larissa Krasnov
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Thanks for the awesome article!

I wonder if you could clarify one minor point, though. I've found that the "ESA says 45% of players are female" statistic doesn't really work much to convince people that women are worth catering to, because it's not clear what the platforms/games being counted are. I've had several people tell me "Well of COURSE if you include Facebook and iPhone games you'll get 45%, but on PC/consoles it's still overwhelmingly male, so those games don't need to cater to them."

Are there any harder statistics showing that, specifically on the "core" platforms, female playership is on the rise? I'm sure it is, but I can't find the numbers.

Ernest Adams
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I can't provide the data you're looking for, but those people's viewpoint is foolish -- the point of view of someone who wants to maintain the status quo, not someone who wants to grow a business.

First, as I said in the article, we don't CARE where the money comes from. A dollar is a dollar.

Second, any game developer who prefers a small market to a larger one is an idiot, unless they're just incompetent to serve the larger market. Women players want hardcore games they will enjoy. The people who know how to sell to them will make a fortune. Those who don't will end up in a niche. Choose.

Finally: buying and driving cars used to be thought of as a man's business. It took the auto industry 60 years to clue in that women do it too. Once that happened, the cars got a lot more user-friendly. Cup holders are an obvious idea -- why didn't we get them until the 1980s? Let's hope the game industry isn't as dumb as the car industry was.

Curtiss Murphy
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Of course, the biggest argument that women are big business is ... THE SIMS! After all, it is the most successful franchise in our industry. $$$$$$$$

Harry Fields
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In Germany, most cars don't have cup-holders.... just saying.

Roger Tober
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It's not in book fiction at all. We read female or male protagonist stories all the time and don't have any problem with it. Games, however, only really fit in a small subsection of general fiction because games have to provide something for the player to do. We don't see any of this in point and click adventure games because puzzles work well with either a male or female protagonist. Fights, on the other hand, don't work well with a female protagonist unless we give them some sort of super power or make the game unrealistic. Until we decide to play different mechanics in games, it's not going to change much. Women aren't attracted to fighting games as a general group, so making the game attractive to them is pretty senseless and the ones complaining about it are not average women gamers who are playing the Sims, Sudoku, Point and Click adventures, etc.

Christian Kulenkampff
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Thoughts like this are the reason why most games are more like cheap dime novels when it comes to their cultural value. As long as a game gets its sequel it remains in the cultural knowledge, but as soon as this stops the memories will vanish. Same thing is probably true for many other products of pop culture. Don't think so simple, human beings are far more complex and I am sure we can come up with ideas that will blow the minds of hundreds of generations.

Amir Barak
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Wow, that's like, so very wrong...

" Fights, on the other hand, don't work well with a female protagonist unless we give them some sort of super power or make the game unrealistic. "

That's just... *argh*... I dunno how many fights (melee or gun-based) you've been to but you're just wrong. Really, really, really wrong. Also, every f***ing game is unrealistic when it comes to fighting 'cause you're not good at it in real life, really... *sigh*

"Until we decide to play different mechanics in games, it's not going to change much."
it isn't mechanics it's that most games are just rubbish at narrative and story and everything that pretty much requires a brain to enjoy (yeah, CoD, MoH, blah blah blah, they suck and you can take whatever you want from there).

"Women aren't attracted to fighting games as a general group,"
unless you have numbers to prove this claim you're talking outta your ass.

"so making the game attractive to them is pretty senseless and the ones complaining about it are not average women gamers who are playing the Sims, Sudoku, Point and Click adventures, etc"
Ok, let's stop this. Really, let's just stop pretending that we want to include women in game-dev and game-playing in order to make games attractive to more women and let's talk about the real issue here. Having a wider base of developers would hopefully create games that (unlike modern shooters and I dunno, f2p games) should repel idiots.

Ernest Adams
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Put a coin in your left hand. Put a bank note in your right hand. Look at them both. Which do you prefer: less money or more money?

There are women who want to play hardcore games that they will enjoy more than the ones we have now. They are asking us to make them. Do you want their money, or don't you?

Roger Tober
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If they were asking us to make them, a higher percentage would be playing them now. They aren't. Most women don't like playing hard core games. Women have higher communication skills. They like games that are more about communication, relationships, etc. Men are stupid and like slapping people around, at least a higher percentage of men like those things. We can't just add some women protagonists to male based games. That's just too shallow.

Jacek Wesolowski
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Here's a fun fact. I am six inches taller than my better half, however she's the one who cares for fitness and practices martial arts. She could beat the crap out of me anytime. She could also do so in style, because she happens to be profficient with sabre (I mean actual weapon, not fluorescent tube).

Neither of us enjoys fighting games.

Randall Stevens
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@Jacek
A fit woman with training can beat a man with none. Does that mean anything?

My friend runs marathons, and my mile time has never beaten her time. I have never once thought that this means that women and men will compete with each other in track events in the olympics. We don't have mixed gender mma either. Combat is almost completely male dominated (though I wouldn't have had a problem serving alongside a woman) and elite combat units are entirely male. Genders aren't physically even, which I think is the point Roger was trying to make. It's a poor point, since we don't just make games about fist fights, and I know enough respect anyone with training behind a rifle, regardless of gender.

Christian Kulenkampff
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(beside that the idea, games have to be about combat, is depressing)
Yes, fighting can be done in many ways. In our culture the male dominated ways are just more popular. Games usually feature fantasy worlds. There are trillions of ways to engage in combat. In many scenarios everybody has to fight for survival anyway, the gender is simply irrelevant. Also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dahomey_Amazons

Jacek Wesolowski
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Randall - It means you can use training and fitness rather than superpowers to make up for your smaller frame. Hence you can have a female protagonist who's just properly trained. It's a much smaller stretch of imagination than the idea that you can get hit from a firearm and continue fighting (also, last time I checked, every single character in Street Fighter used superpowers).

You don't have mixed gender sports competitions because in sports only the best result counts, which means only the upper limit of your ability matters. The entire culture of professional sportsmanship revolves around hitting that limit exactly at the time of competition. No human being can stay near the limit for more than a few days, even after having trained for years. That's why the people you are likely to encounter in any kind of actual violent situation are not sportsmen. Basing your entire notion of physical fitness on the top several hundred most fit people in the world is cherrypicking.

The notion that women can't fight is why there are few women in militaries, which is why people think women can't fight. That's circular thinking. The reality is that even among the men in militaries there are significant differences in height, weight, ability to run for long distances, shoof stuff from a distance etc. Smaller people are chosen for certain combat roles that rely on endurance rather than strength.

You can think of one's fitness as a point on a bell curve. The peak of the curve is where most people are - their fitness is average. There are very few people who are very fit, and very few who are very unfit (although that side of the curve is going to be taller, because people become less fit when they get sick). Now if you draw a separate bell curve for men and women, then the men's curve is going to be a little to the right. Now draw a vertical line: that's the threshold one needs to pass in order to be considered "a fighter". If you draw the line very far on the right, only a few men are going to pass it. The more you move the line to the left, the more men pass, but also very quickly you're going to start to see women who also meet the criterion. The more you move the line to the left, the more even the proportion will be. There is a point where the gender no longer matters.

Roger Tober
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There are always exceptions, but marketing goes for numbers. Find out the percentage of women that play the Sims compared to Halo.

Christian Kulenkampff
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>> but marketing goes for numbers
What do you think about phenomenons like Farmville, Candy Crush or Puzzle & Dragons? I think especially battle-hardened decision makers in the industry are as biased as you and they are just slowly realizing huge untapped customer segments. A healthy diversity is what will allow cultural value and huge solid revenues in the long run.

Ernest Adams
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Mr. Tober, did you actually READ the article? The women aren't playing the shooters we have now because they don't like them. They want NEW shooters. Do you have some problem with the game industry selling those products to them?

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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@Roger Tober
Wow... way to make base assumptions about both genders.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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I can counter your entire argument with two words

Saints Row.

SR is, unabashfully dedicated to it's core (one only needs to look at the... err... "creative" weapon selection), yet is CONSTANTLY cited as one of the most inclusive series of the current generation, if not ever. Not only can you be female, you can be short, tall, fat, freakishly skinny, BLUE, gay, straight, I could keep going but you get the idea.

Even given its... "creative" weapon selection, it's one of the few games that my female friends have been absolutely raving about. It's not a "girl game", it's a game that doesn't turn away a girl player. THAT is the key difference.

Do you want to say "nah, keep your money, I'm good with what I got." or "sure, put your $60 on the pile and enjoy!"?

Roger Tober
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"Wow... way to make base assumptions about both genders."

Assumptions are all right if based on statistics, at least kind of. 70 percent of casual gamers are women. That's not assumption, that's fact.

I don't know the hard core numbers, but I'm pretty sure it's about reversed.

Roger Tober
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"Mr. Tober, did you actually READ the article?"

I skimmed it because I'm a guy. It's kind of like clicking through cut scenes. I'm 90 percent sure it had something to do with women gamers, though. I also have a short memory and it was a while ago. As I said below, 70 percent of casual gamers are women. I can't find statistics on hard core, but it's obviously reversed. So yeah, a handful want some female avatars. It's just so superfluous.

Katy Smith
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"I skimmed it because I'm a guy. "

You realize it was an article targeted at male game developers, right?

Johan Wendin
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You didn't skim it because you are a guy. You skimmed it because you are lazy.

David Marcum
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You reap what you sow.

Sjors Jansen
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Hi Ernest,

I wanted to criticize some of the things that you said about money:
"we don't CARE where the money comes from. A dollar is a dollar.
Second, any game developer who prefers a small market to a larger one is an idiot."
"Put a coin in your left hand. Put a bank note in your right hand. Look at them both. Which do you prefer: less money or more money?"

I'm probably taking these out of context, but it's kind of hard to judge since you state some of it so drastically.

I believe there is a point where money no longer really matters, that enough is enough and that this is different for everybody. So the coin, banknote thing won't hold up in the case of niches, where one will often find exactly the diversity we'd like to see right?

Also I wish we would care more about where the money came from. You probably know John Blow's criticism on mini transactions and player exploitation, that's what I mean. It's not just money, there are people behind it. They may be stupid but that doesn't mean it's ok to exploit them. All I'm saying is ethics do play a part so we should care.

So while I think the games industry could do with more diversity, money does seem to detract from all the other reasons why that would be good.

It's kind of sad to see it come down to women and money :)
http://ukresistance.co.uk/crashed-people.gif

RJ McManus
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Although there should definitely be a certain proportion of games that do actively appeal to female audiences, I think that it's equally (if not more) important for games in general to stop trying so hard to appeal to the male gender. I would personally rather see the majority of games be gender-neutral than have them be half male-oriented and half female-oriented. After all, the most male-oriented games tend to be unintentional parodies of exaggerated masculinity, and I'd expect an equivalent result of a game that tries really hard to appeal to women.

Curtiss Murphy
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^ This. I understand the OP's point, I just prefer the industry shift more towards gender-neutral experiences. In the same way that I prefer a well written drama my wife and I can BOTH enjoy.

Val Reznitskaya
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I thought this WAS his point. Having a female protagonist and making a game that appeals exclusively to women is not the same thing.

RJ McManus
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No, they're absolutely not, as most gamers should be able to empathize with protagonists of either gender. However, there are other ways in which games can and do appeal to one of the genders, such as their handling of characters other than the protagonist. I think that for most games such gender-specific appeal is entirely unnecessary either way, and that we'd generally be better off designing games with both genders in mind (something that most games fail to do as the OP pointed out) rather than resigning games to the "separate but equal" philosophy.

Diego Floor
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This is something that bothers me a little. But looking at the numbes actually confort me. There should be a difference in male to female protagonists, after all there is a larger number of male gamers and game designers. It is expected to be proportional, not equal.

Ernest Adams
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The proportions are wrong, as the numbers show. In 2012 we had 45% female gamers, but only 10% documented female protagonists. This needs to be fixed.

Dane MacMahon
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Good article. I usually choose to play female in RPGs and such, just to balance things out. I am always overjoyed when a well written female character is used in games. As long as we can continue to use sexualized females when it makes sense the inclusion is something I am 100% on board with.

I always thought there was a large percentage of men who disliked playing as a woman, though. It's good to see this is a smaller issue than I thought. Ignore the loud minority indeed. That's something developers need to do in a lot of areas, in my opinion.

David Serrano
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Ernest,

While I agree games should have more female protagonists, I can't help but wonder if the introduction of more female protagonists alone will more or less amount to window dressing? Meaning, what is the root cause of the female appeal and accessibility problem? The lack of female protagonists? Or gameplay and narratives based on male adolescent power fantasies designed to induce fiero? Its probably a combination, but I think the latter is the more serious problem.

As you said, addressing this wouldn't mean making games about traditional female role activities such as cooking and sewing. But it would require placing far more emphasis on gameplay and narratives designed to induce the emotions of amusement, contentment, and wonderment instead of fiero, excitement and curiosity (see the results of Chris Bateman's Player Typology in Theory and Practice study: http://onlyagame.typepad.com/Player%20Typology.digra2011.pdf ) I honestly believe shifting the development focus in this way would make different types of core games more appealing to a larger percentage of the existing audience, not only to female players.

Dane MacMahon
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There's a LOT more to it than more female protagonists. Also you have to keep in mind the percentages do not exactly apply across the board in all genres.

Still, presenting "normal" females as protagonists and realistic companions can only help, not hurt.

Ernest Adams
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I agree that female protagonists aren't the only issue. But they're the most clear-cut one with the highest visibility. Let's see some posters with women on them, and not in "here's my butt" poses.

Salim Muhammad
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I'm convinced all this can be changed, except one thing. I think women will always be hypersexualized, unfortunately. Gaming is part of our larger culture, in which women are hypersexulized. This can only change one our cultures changes. I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Ernest Adams
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They won't always be hypersexualized if we choose for them not to be. We're the game developers. We can decide. And if we make the new games that I'm talking about, they won't be. It's up to us.

Here's Claire Redfield. She's wearing something ridiculous, but apart from that, she looks pretty normal.

http://www.pcgameshardware.com/screenshots/original/2008/01/1998_
Claire-Redfield.jpg

Harry Fields
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So I had to take this discussion home to my wife, who is not a core gamer one bit. She grew up loving SMB, even learned how to do the "infinite lives" koopa on the stairs trick (Which I think is hella' skilled for a casual gamer). Now, she mostly plays games like Coin-Dozer or the Bust-a-move clones on her Kindle, with a soft spot for Skylanders.

At dinner, I asked her if she ever considered the possibility of a career in games growing up... if she ever had curiosity regarding how they made Mario respond to her inputs.... how the wizard behind the curtain operated so to speak. Her answer is a firm "no". I asked her to elaborate, if she could... why, and her answer was that she was simply content watching what was happening on the screen. She didn't care about the numbers behind the scene, she just knew and liked that when she pressed "A", mario would jump, and the like.

So, while definitely not speaking for all women, that exchange did provide an information point or two for the reasons women don't go to game development in droves (at least to me).

I then inquired whether she would feel awkward in a class of 280 men and 3 women (as my CS 102 lecture class was populated many a moon ago). She said no, not at all...

So if there is an institutional dissuasion of women in gaming, it may be something more than societal norms.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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most of the discouragement I had in a carrier in tech was from grade 3 to the end of highschool. "Are you sure you are in the right class?" "Do you really need advanced calc? You shouldn't take the slot of a student who really needs it." "You know this is *advanced* physics, right?" (keep in mind, this was from the teachers).

Once I got to uni I was treated like a kind of goddess, everyone was SO happy to see a girl in 3rd year java.

Ask most women that question, and you will get a very similar answer... ask a young girl that question (before they get into the kinds of classes I mentioned) and you will find a very different world.

Ernest Adams
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This article is not about female developers. It is about money. Would you like more money or less money?

Mike Higbee
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This also begs to ask would you like funding for your game from a publisher or not, as a lot of these decisions seemingly come from board rooms and marketeers, not the designers.
All the anecdotes and requests seemingly don't mean a thing to these companies bottom line and analysts.
As it stands there is no real evidence to support reworking the "hardcore" market to be more inclusive as previous titles that did, while some being critical successes and gaining cult followings, often met with poor sales in comparison to the tried and true demographic. In some cases it was due to lack of marketing, but certainly not all.
Now when these failures occur it always seems to fall on any excuse besides that the market you're speaking about just may not actually be there.

Pallav Nawani
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This has nothing to do with the current discussion, but...

@Harry
Really, 283 people together in a _single_ lecture?

@Kaitlyn:
Which country do you live in?

Harry Fields
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Yep, really... auditorium movie theatre style presentation, mind you this was 96, but the class roster was 283 students. Labs were broken down into different time slots for groups of ~30. What can I say, the professor was busy getting grants from Intel for his theoretical work on Neural Nets and crap. I think he did this lecture and one 400-level (which was smaller, of course). In 96, it was the tech bubble pre-pop... Computer Science was so en vogue. Would be interesting to see how the curriculum has changed since then. We were learning on Solaris/Sparcs. I loved those machines. That could be the nostalgia though. Anyway, back to the topic :P

Kaitlyn Kaid
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I grew up in rural Canada, moved to a city as soon as I could.

Ernest Adams
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There's no need to "rework" anything. We just need to make some new games that appeal to a new and larger market. If we lose the haters and gain some women, I'd call that a win/win.

Luke Gravitt
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I have a few issues with this article. First, I just find the reasoning of "45% of gamers are women means 45% of games need to feature women" is flimsy at best. What percentage of gamers are gay? Do we need to have a proper ratio for that? Why do we need this perfect division?

Second, this quote from the article seems blatantly untrue: "Telling female players that they have to be content with gender-neutral games consigns them to a second-class status in which they donít get the best stories." Just because a game is gender-neutral, it is second-class? Also, this statement implies that females only play games with female protagonists... how come males get to play as both genders, but not females?

Ernest Adams
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If a game has gender-neutral storytelling, the quality of the storytelling is second class.

Only 10% of the games made in 2012 had female-only protagonists. We may not need a perfect division, but we sure as hell need to do better than THAT. Also, it's not only women players who want them. *I* can't find many good female protagonists to play either.

RJ McManus
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"If a game has gender-neutral storytelling, the quality of the storytelling is second class."

Really? How often are gender-specific issues actually relevant to video game narrative? They are not addressed in many games, and most of the games that do "address" them in any capacity simply pander to male sexuality in an extraneous manner.

As such, I fail to see how gender-specific appeal is in any way essential to quality storytelling in most cases. There are certainly a few topics (which tend to be rather sensitive issues for video games) that can benefit from a gender-specific treatment, but I can't really see how this relegates gender-neutral storytelling to second-class status.

There are very many ways in which a narrative can engage its audience, and gender is just one of those (which happens to be socially constructed). For me, true progress for the industry involves not only viewing both of the genders as equally qualified developers and consumers, but also acknowledging that binary gender may not describe the majority of human experience (which I'd argue is common between both genders).

Simone Tanzi
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well, I do agree with most of the topic.
I do totally agree on having more competent and serious female protagonists more often.
Nonetheless, I keep hearing people bashing the various damsel in distress and femme fatale tropes.
That's troublesome... while they are certainly overused and misused they need to stay (and possibly, written in a better way).
I admit, I don't see the issue, but maybe is just the types of games I play.
I feel there are already a lot of games that do things right.
Also, I'm pretty fond of female characters, I play them whenever I can, so maybe I tend to gravitate towards games that allow me to do that.
Maybe it's something that happens more in genres I don't really care for (like sports and shooters) but I fail to see the issue.
Sure ... there are a lot of hypersexualized women in games. There are also a lot of games with decent female characters and games that has both (which I tend to see as a good thing)
Basically, I see the issue as "making sure there is a correct and sensitive interpretation of female characters" and I tend to see a lot of them around.
As long as female characters are not RELEGATED to eye candy and damsels in distress I think is fine.
Is perfectly fine to have the Hypersexualized bombshell character as long as there are prominent female characters there to say "she is not the way women are, just the way SHE is"
At the same time there is space for damsels in distress as long as there are capable women to say "she's weak because she's weak, not because she's a woman"
I also think sometimes the issue is pushed too far, to the level where no female character is considered acceptable unless she is completely devoid of any kind of sex appeal, completely devoid of any weaknesses, overly hostile to every male character that's even slightly suggesting to help her, and completely erophobic.

Alan Rimkeit
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This right here. ++++++

Nat Tan
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I think most males don't have a problem with a female protagonist at all. The problem is when we keep hearing that we in the industry are doing too little, and perpetuating the stereotype of damsels in distress. In addition, we're constantly being told that the female characters that we do have in video games are too sexy, not normal females, etc... And then companies react by censoring and creating female scenarios that emit no appeal to me as a male consumer, eventually risking the business bottom line.

Lets face it, a lot of guys that pick female avatars in games (WoW, FFXIV, Monster Hunter, etc...) pick them because they look sexy and are less of an eyesore when spending multiple hours in a game. Look at Hollywood movies, all the big blockbusters always have a sexualized/attractive female for eye candy. It makes sense from a business perspective to cater to what people are attracted to. It's the world we live in, we're just attracted to good looking things.

The typical gamer portrayal of females has it's roots in basic social expectations as well. In a social context, guys and girls have different expectations, the most obvious being that guys are always supposed to be stronger and the hero for the women in their lives. Guys who rely on females, at least what I know of in North American culture, are viewed as subpar individuals.

Now that being said, we can definitely try to cater more towards gender equalization in our industry through minor things like adding more female protagonists in similar fashion such as the more recent Lara Croft, Mirrors Edge, female Shepard, etc... which are all great gaming experiences for the most part. However, we have to carefully know where we draw line in catering too much to the vocal critics that say we're not doing enough, while balancing the appeal factor in our games.

ps: I still don't see anything wrong with saving princess peach in all the Mario games. :p

Mike Higbee
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Funny you bring up female Shepard, only 17% of players opted to use her http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/122323/83_Percent_Of_Mass_Effe
ct_2_Players_Opted_For_Male_Protagonist.php
I'd be curious to see the same stats for other titles with the option as likely these are the numbers the board room execs and marketers are looking at when making these calls.
Combined with actual surveys of male/female playerbase numbers, age, preferred genres and platforms, time spent gaming, average money spent etc we could start pulling some actual stats to support either side of the argument, mainly if it's financially viable.

Personally I've always found the "damsel in distress" to just be another MacGuffin to get the players directly into the gameplay (something that seems to be becoming less and less the focus of games and designers lately) when you just need a shoestring story or plot to get right to the action.

Ernest Adams
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The real question is, are you going to boycott the game industry if the game industry makes some games that more progressive players would like than the ones we have? If not, then there's no issue. If you are, then, as I have shown, we really don't need your money.

Nat Tan
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Well, absolutely not. I'm just stating that there is a tendency for knee-jerk reactions based on a vocal community. As stated in my statement above, I have no objection to it, I'm just cautioning against compromising vision and appeal to make a particular project more progressive than it needs to be. In addition to point out the real life social expectations and behaviors of why female game characters tend to be portrayed as attractive/sexy beings or damsels in distress.

every designer knows that function determines form, and as long as the progressive form (in this case the use of the female gender) fits a particular intended experience and gameplay, there should just be a no issue at all. But in the case where it doesn't and we have to revert to the traditional way of gender portrayal, I don't feel it's necessary that the developer hear about how they're a bunch of old dinosaurs just because they didn't go into the progressive route.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Most of the argumentations in this Blogentry are very valid and welcome, because they focus on the whole thing the entertainment industry is focused on: monetary gain.
So Kudos for staying away from all that emeotionally clouded nonsense we mostly hear about from homophobic gamers that threaten to boycott a game because you can play as a Bisexual character in it or gamers that are somehow threatened in their masculinity because Halo introduced female Spartans or Gears Female COGs.

"Our biggest problem isnít the haters at all; itís conservative game industry executives who believeóon the basis of precious little evidenceóthat AAA games with female protagonists donít sell."

I can`t agree though with some aspect of your argumentation:

"we don't care where the money comes from. A dollar is a dollar.
Second, any game developer who prefers a small market to a larger one is an idiot."

You neglect two aspects of this money-game you are defending:
1.Producing content in the space where you obviously want to see more parity costs money, tons of it in fact.
2.It most likely will stretch development time

Imagine A recently, highly critically acclaimed game like The Last Of Us. How would it influence the cost of this game if you could for example play the storyline not as Joel but as Tess, with all the implications that meant, probably even having a son instead of Ellie etc.
The ratio of Players chosing the female role would be probably a lot like this:

http://gaming.pure-power.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/MassEffec
t-info-fullsize.jpeg

I find that stat interesting because the last Mass Effect is surely a "Posterboy" (pun intendended) when it comes to giving the player total freedom in how he/she wants to play the main character.

Now Its obvious that you have to invest double the voice acting/dialog/motion capture if you want to really do it right, all things that do cost a lot of AAA-money.
So looking at that stat above Bioware might have barely broken even if I assume they would really have "lost" that 18% of hardcore female gamers that would have not played Mass Effect (which is doubtful).

So basically your statement is disregarding the fact that catering to all possible customers is also a question of money and your statement could easily be turned against you:

"when its all about the money then we are looking at how we can achieve the best costeffectiveness with our game and when we see that only a small percentage of our players actually use the option to play as a female character if we offer it, than its a waste of our investment money.

PS: Also what I really donīt understand is why you would group such differnt games as Dragon Age or Bejeeweled in the same "gender-neutral" statistic, you should instead have a fourth category like gender-inclusive or sth. and use that group to adjust your overall theory that things are getting worse.

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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I've brought this up before, but the problem I have with the mass effect example of how many people played the male/female shepard is that it's skewed data due to the fact that the default selected character is the male (and many people don't even bother changing the defaults)

Mike Higbee
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@Elisabeth It'd be interesting to see the numbers on a casual friendly title like say Skyrim which doesn't default you to anything.
The Mass Effect example though while it may be a default is also semi reflective that the extra costs for VA work etc may not have been worth it.

Wylie Garvin
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@Elisabeth:

Its such a shame, all those people who picked male Shepard because he was the default, and will never know the joy of playing as a female Shepard excellently voiced by Jennifer Hale. I've played all 3 of those games through several times. I've played them as both male and female Shepard, and the female Shepard is my favorite, mostly because Hale just breathes life into the character so well. Every line is perfectly delivered, and her tone is consistent throughout all of those branching conversations, and yet it never feels bland. Bioware and Hale showed what a great performance in a branching narrative looks like. Mark Meer's voice work as male Shepard was pretty good too, but I think Hale's was supremely good.

Chuck Adams
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There is so much wrong with this article it blows my mind. The misleading representation of the data (not the graphs themselves), the fallacies and lack of focus on the real core issues is only going to add fuel to the fire and just create a larger gap between "progressives" and "reactionary" gamers.

Lincoln Thurber
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The weird part is in just one year, just one year we would make twice as many games with female protagonists and nothing would suffer it would all be fine. It would be no harder to making games now with more female protagonists rather than so many males. Nobody needs to get fired, no body necessarily needs to be hired either. It just (choose any sort of game) now has a female lead character or a female version available. Instead of this boy/man being the main character it is this girl/women.

It is simple, yet it still isn't happening and THAT is the saddest part. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of the status quo is for good people to apathetically do nothing."

Antonio Dickerson
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The idea that some guys don't want to play as a female protagonist baffles me,as a guy who just wants to play a great character sex is irrelevant.

Wylie Garvin
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Agree, and also: I want to play characters who I haven't played a hundred times before.

Stereotypical macho-male space-marine characters (Gears of War) or macho-male elite-military-dude characters (Call of Duty) are all well and good, but they seem severely over-represented among AAA game protagonists.

Where are my "geeky college kid" protagonists? What about "doctor who gets lost in a foreign country" or "marathon-runner who stumbles across an ancient secret [something] while out running in the woods". Or just about anything, really. There's so many interesting people in the world, and their variety is part of what makes them interesting. Show me protagonists I've never seen before in a video game!

Micah Taylor
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I'm late to the party, but when I see things like "I can prove it" and "looking at some real numbers", I expect to find piles of dead and mangled numbers. It's easy to find numbers that support your argument, but very hard to objectively analyze numbers and accept the resulting conclusion.

For evidence of the lack of female protagonists, you have counted the number of games tagged with female protagonists, but all other numbers are based entirely on conjecture! I agree that there are likely more games with male protagonists, but it is impossible to argue using such "real numbers", let alone use such numbers to prove conclusions.

See here for related numbers (Industry Games no longer has the original article):
http://web.archive.org/web/20111203065036/http://www.gamepro.com/
article/news/216271/51-of-hd-gen-games-feature-female-protagonist
s/

And, although I hate linking to Kuchera's ramblings, his article is another possible source:
http://penny-arcade.com/report/article/games-with-female-heroes-d
ont-sell-because-publishers-dont-support-them


Later, when discussing "How Important is the Hardcore Market", you claim that "Nintendogs has sold twice as many units as Call of Duty: Black Ops". If fact, Black Ops on the 360 has sold 14m copies and Black Ops on the PS3 has sold 12m copies. This gives a total of 26m copies; Nintendogs has only sold 25m copies. Some other COD games: MW2 23m copies, MW3 28m copies.

You claim "hardcore games seem so much more important than they really are", but many of the games in the VGChartz list launched over a decade ago. Looking at best selling games these days, hardcore still seems important. From ESA Essential Facts 2013:
1 Call of Duty: Black Ops II
2 Madden NFL 13
3 Halo 4
4 Assassin's Creed III
5 Just Dance 4
6 NBA 2K13
7 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
8 Borderlands 2
9 Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heros
10 FIFA Soccer 13


Again, it's easy to find numbers to support a conclusion. For example, suppose I'm someone that hates video games. I would find all this hoopla about female protagonists to be a convenient distraction from what is actually happening in video games:

From the ESA 2012 Essentials: 47% of gamers are female
From the ESA 2013 Essentials: 45% of gamers are female.
Based on a 2% point loss per year, there will be no female gamers in the year 2036.

However, this doesn't matter, because according to other trends...
Mobygames, games from 2011: 2165
Mobygames, games from 2012: 1915
There will be no games after the year 2021.

Finally, a reminder that invalid support does not prove an argument incorrect. There well may be issues with female protagonist representation, but other evidence is needed to support this claim.

Ernest Adams
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Actually, not all the other numbers are based on conjecture. The total number of games is not. I did my level best to slant the numbers in the direction of "there's no problem" and there is clearly a gigantic problem.

Here are the numbers about which there is no conjecture:

73,719 games over all
1,327 games in the female protagonist group, 1.8%

1,749 games made in 2012
17 games in the female protagonist group, 0.97%

That's all the evidence I need. The rest of that section of the article was just trying to find ways to not make this look as disastrous as it is.

The point about the VGChartz data is that those games were launched over a decade ago... and are still going strong. Hardcore games have a short shelf life. They're horrendously expensive to make and to even more horrendously expensive to market. And if a few haters stop buying them, the industry is not going to crash and burn.

Simone Tanzi
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I would like to ask you something but I'm afraid I will sound overly confrontational.
I see a lot of statistics, marketing researches. percentages. charts.
But what about passion for games?

I do agree to a point wit your argument (I posted above.. you can check my post) but in yours and many other discussion I keep reading about what sells, but never of what is good, what makes us proud of working on such a creative environment.
As if game industry is all about the money (that makes me wonder, why choose a career in gaming then instead of working in a bank)

Also, I totally disagree on Hardcore games = Horrendously Expensive
AAA are Horrendously expensive
FTL Is one of the most hardcore games out there and is all but Horrendously Expensive.
King of fighters XIII is the absolute top of his genre, one of the most hardcore games with an absolute unforgiving learning curve and managed to do incredibly well by selling the amount of copies other games would consider a utter and absolute failure. Also,
And Paradox Grand Strategy games? There is nothing more hardcore than that on the market and they do extremely well without fancy cinematic and super detailed models.

Ernest Adams
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This is what I think about passion for games:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/6523/the_designers_notebook
_passion_.php

Sjors Jansen
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@Ernest

I agree that passion for games in a job ad is pretty much bs.

But, that is for most of the games industry as it is now.
If we want whatever changes Leigh and some others have been rambling about, then that's exactly what should be driving it in my view. And then it would be relevant.

As for passion in general, this is where your tastes would provide a very helpful context right?
I mean if you and the reader have starkly different taste in arts, music and such, then there will be a disconnect or misinterpretation when discussing passion. Language just doesn't cut it.
(I can also explain it from a different angle if you'd like.)
So I did a quick google check but didn't really find anything. It would be great if you could provide a short list of things that touched you. For instance music that you feel brings some deep feelings to the surface etc. You know.. passion stuff.

When I look at the games you worked on, then my feeling of a disconnect grows, and I can see that as a reason why you hold professionalism in high regard.
And I think I do understand where you're coming from having been a programmer on the last couple of Tombraiders, Deus Ex 3 and such, but it is also exactly why I quit. And seeing as how you studied Philosophy, you can probably also understand very well why somebody would want more than that right?

I guess I'm not quite sure where you feel passion comes in with regards to money and professionalism. What is the driving force that causes you to create?
For me I think the equasion is probably just different. Passion drives and causes the spark. Professionalism steers the wheel and money keeps me afloat as long as I don't run out.
But I can see money for wife & kids being a driving force as well for instance.

Haters are basically passion-driven people for a large part I think, so that might partially explain why there's a disconnect there as well.


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