Most people would agree that stories as a whole do not have a gendered audience. And yet video games, one of the more dynamic ways of delivering a narrative, are overwhelmingly considered to be a “dude thing” by most Americans – even by female gamers! Admittedly, watching the roster of triple-A games coming out has been a little depressing in the recent years. Most big budget games coming out seem to all have the same protagonist: the thirty-something, grizzled white man with stubble and a lot of guns. Games that used to come with the option to play as a male or female character are cutting the female player character out, citing the extra work it would have caused to keep her in. In 2012, only roughly 4% of mainstream games had an exclusively female protagonist, and less than half offered the option to play as a woman.
But the future is looking brighter. Although ReCore, a game about a young woman and her robot dog, saw a disappointing release earlier this year, we still have games like Horizon Zero Dawn, NieR: Automata, and Mass Effect: Andromeda to look forward to for our female protagonist fix, and recent games like Dishonored 2 have been generally well-received. More games with well-written, engaging female characters with more clothing than the oft-ridiculed “boob armor” are coming out every month. So, in a sense, there has been development, and there will be more of it in the future, especially as women occupy a larger proportion of positions in the industry.
Of course, with any change come growing pains. The influx of games starring women – or, indeed, games made by women – is facing some resistance. Many male gamers are unhappy with the shift in focus, and controversies surrounding the issue – like the notorious Gamergate of 2014 that bled all the way to mainstream media – have broken out in full force in the recent years. In many ways, some of the male gamers involved are afraid of losing the one thing that was “theirs,” a hobby they felt they had ownership of. But was it really theirs to begin with?
Let’s ignore the present for a moment. Let’s ignore that in most countries the gamer gender split is anywhere between 45 to 66 percent female.
Let’s ignore that more American women own video game consoles than men.
Let’s instead focus on the history of gaming. Let’s talk about Samus Aran, the player character of the Metroid series, who has been blowing up aliens in her robotic exoskeleton since 1986, selling over 17 million games over the years. Let’s talk about Princess Zelda, who, although not the player character, has been the peaceful ruler of Hyrule and the titular character of the Legend of Zelda since 1986 – a series which has sold over 62 million copies. Let’s talk about Final Fantasy and Fire Emblem, which started out with female player characters way back in 1988 and 1990 respectively, and have only been growing their female character roster with each installation. Let’s talk about Lara Croft, Elaine Marley, Jill Valentine, Alyx Vance, Chell, Bayonetta, Mia Fey…
Women are nothing new to video games, not as gamers or as developers – and definitely not as characters. Can we please stop pretending games are just for boys?