Last week I wrote a piece discussing what Gavin Moore said about the reasons why he chose to have a male protagonist in the upcoming game Puppeteer. The general thrust of it was that in developing a game (or writing in general) there is nothing wrong with choosing to make a protagonist male for the purpose of telling a good story. Conversely, there’s nothing wrong with choosing to make a protagonist female for the sake of telling a good story. What is problematic is choosing to make a character who is supposed to be a proxy for the player male by default and then saying that people who ask why it couldn’t be female are whining over something that’s unimportant.
I got a little bit of feedback on this post with someone pointing out a couple of examples of recent games that did indeed have female protagonists. It’s true there’s Tomb Raider, the long running action-adventure series that stars Lara Croft, perhaps the most iconic female character in gaming. Also we have games like Mirror’s Edge, Portal, the recently released Remember Me, the PS3 launch title Heavenly Sword, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, Final Fantasy XIII and its sequels, the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, Lollipop Chainsaw, and a myriad of other games. It is fair to say that these games are not nonexistent. If you’re curious, here’s a list of games featuring a female protagonist; it has nearly 800 entries. That’s not bad. Then you see a database like this that has over 85000 entries for video games ever made. Even if we take into account that the first list comes from a wiki, and most likely is not an exhaustive list, it’s still disproportionately small compared to the total number of games published.
Heck, if that looks like skewed disparity, then let’s pare the 85000 down a little bit. Since 2000, beginning with the sixth generation of consoles (Gamecube, PS2, Xbox) and going up to the present including games published on all major home and portable systems, there have been just over 4700 games published in English-speaking countries. I excluded PC games from this count, though those would probably expand the number considerably(it does; games developed for Windows alone add 3800 entries).
Stop and compare those two numbers again. The number of games published in this century comes in at 4700. One list of games that feature a female protagonist (and that list includes games that were not published in English-speaking countries, mind you) comes out to just under 800. That’s about a 1:6 ratio of games featuring women to games published period.
Does this not strike anyone else as imbalanced?
When the ESA publishes its market demographics report that says that nearly half of all game consumers are female, that suggests there’s a problem with how the market is being served.
So, yes, I will concede that there are a lot of games that feature women in the lead role. Some of them are even great games. But when you take that in comparison to the total number of games that the industry produces, it becomes clear that there’s a portion of the gamer population that is being underserved. It’s not fair to tell them “Well, you don’t mind playing as a guy, so what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that women are not afforded equal opportunities to play as women.