Female Protagonists in Video Games: Bring ‘Em On

By Heather Scribner On 30 Mar, 2013 At 08:40 PM | Categorized As Blog, Featured | With 6 Comments

womeningamingNot too long ago, Dontnod Entertainment was desperately looking for a publisher to distribute their upcoming video game Remember Me. A game that features a female memory hunter, who has had her memory stolen from her.  Much to their surprise, they were stonewalled by publisher after publisher. Why? “Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.”  But, is that even true?  Think about it.  According to industry reports, almost half of gamers are women.  I decided to take it upon myself to ask the questions that they obviously didn’t want to… “Does it matter to you if a protagonist is a woman?”  I did my leg work.  I asked around at PAX East, on the Gamer Chatter Facebook group page, forums on various developer websites and the like, to see what people thought.  Turns out, more people are indifferent about the topic than these publishers may think.

samus

One of the reasons publishers think that gamers don’t want to play a game as a woman is because they hold to the belief that their main demographic is predominantly male.  Jean-Maxime Moris of Dontnod Entertainment told Penny Arcade,  they had companies tell them “You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.”   I can understand that if we’re talking about cultural differences.  There are many cultures in our world that hold gender roles closer to their identities than others, and therefore make playing as a woman a little different (which can be a whole other article in itself).  But there is a large part of this world that is more open to female progression as a whole, but is still being held back in some part, by backward stereotypes.  Some countries are even in the middle of their own “Feminist Movements”.  Fighting to earn their rights just to be able to have an education.

I’ve been playing video games all of my life.  Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been in the shoes of countless male characters, fighting to save or win the hand of a female character.  If I can handle the guy winning the girl at the end and sharing a kiss, why can’t a guy?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say that I can’t get into a Male to Female romance, either.  As a matter of fact, I can give you a direct, recent example: Assassin’s Creed and the interactions between Desmond and Lucy.  I’ll admit, when I played the first game I wondered (verbatim) “OK, so when does Desmond get into her pants?”  I said it as a joke originally.  The stigma that when a main male character interacts with an attractive, prominent female character, they’re bound to hook up at some point or another.  I rolled my eyes and waited for the moment when I’d begin to hate Lucy (as is what usually happens is these cases).  But I never came to hate her.  The games progressed, and by the end of Assassins Creed 2 I was thinking “Alright seriously, when the hell do these two hook up!?”  I wanted it to happen.  Not because I wanted to see some action, but because the prospect of them being together was intriguing.  Their relationship never goes beyond anything but professional, but you can still feel the attraction.  The subtlety with which Ubisoft uses is brilliant.  All that changed in Brotherhood.  While still on professional terms, you can tell that the attraction between them was coming to a head… that is, until the end.  For anyone who hasn’t played it, I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say I was a little more than upset.

OK, I lied.  I did want to see a little bit of action.  I’m not dead, ya know?

desmondlucy___assassinlove_by_rabbitzoro-d4ai28y

OMG It’s so Freaking Cute

To get a wider consensus on the topic, I posted this question on a few different forums.  I’m not sure what prompted it, but the Activision forums didn’t feel it was in their or anyone else’s interests to post it, as they thought I was spamming people…

Click the Image to Enlarge

I guess legitimate questions about Hot Topics in the industry these days are considered Spam

I guess legitimate questions about Hot Topics in the industry these days are considered Spam

 

I’ve had a lot of interesting and enlightening conversations this past week.  But there was one theme that was constant: When it comes to playing video games, gender is rarely a concern.  If a game looks good, gets good reviews, and has a solid, engaging story, most people don’t care whether they play as a man or a woman.  There are, of course, exceptions and different points of view.  For example, while many gamers have no issue playing as a female character, if they have a choice (like in many RPGs), they would choose to play as their own gender.  That’s perfectly understandable.  I do the same thing.  But when it comes to playing as a fixed female role, the number one thing that would stop them from purchasing it, is the storyline and content.

I did, however, get a lot of different views when it came to why they would or wouldn’t play as a female character.  Some were a matter of culture.  Some were a matter of “If I’m going to be staring at someone’s ass for 30 hours, it helps if the view is nice.”  I was pleasantly surprised when quite a few men felt that the hyper-sexualization of female characters is over-rated.  They’d rather play as a tough, smart, healthy looking woman over all else.  So, why can’t publishers and developers see this?  All they have to do is ask.

Along with posting on forums, I also posted a couple of polls where I could.  The BioWare Social Network gave it the most attention, while the UbiSoft polls were mostly quiet.  Here are the results regardless:

Results of the Polls were as of 6:30pm 3/28/2013 with 1-2 days exposure

Biowareprotagonistpoll

 UbiSoftPoll

 

If you’d also like to check out the forums I’ve posted to and read some of the discussions had, I’ve provided links below. Please feel free to peruse. These forums are still active, so if you’d like to post something, go right ahead.

PlayStation Community Forums

BioWare Social Network

UbiSoft U-Play Forums (this one is not as active as the others)

To me, as a woman, it doesn’t matter.  Hell, why should it?  I’ve been playing games with guys as the main character all my life.  Sure, if I’m given the option to choose my gender in a game, I’ll choose to be a female character 100% of the time.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t go back and play the same game as a male character afterwards.  It’s the journey of the character that matters.

It’s my hopes for the future of this industry, that the right people realize that having a woman as our main protagonist isn’t going to ruin them.  It’s good to know that from the opinions that I’ve gathered, most of them don’t put gender into consideration when they decide to purchase a game.  A great deal of us don’t see that it should be a a topic of issue as much as the publishers and developers do.  So go create more original Female Protagonists!  Make more Tomb Raider!  Bring us more Metroid!  There’s no reason to over saturate the gaming world with big, rugged, badass, dudes anymore.  It’s time to move forward, and bring more women into the spotlight.

About - While I've been playing video games most of my life, it wasn't until just after high school that I was really able to make it a bigger part of my life. Nowadays I spend my free time gaming, cosplaying, reading, and writing. You can find me on XBL or PSN as Vegete524

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Oscar-Alberto-Abrego-Suarez/100003051237919 Oscar Alberto Abrego Suarez

    as long as the player character isnt meant to represent the player (RPGs for example) i cant play as female, role playing isnt really the same without an avatar that match your gender.

    I dont mind playing TR because Lara is meant to be her own character.

    This is called allegorical Projection were you put yourself on the MC role, some people like to play games to BE the protagonist and for that a matching gender is important to me.

    Not to be machist but women can handle romance with their male avatars because they see it as a scene like that of a movie you see them as two characters hooking up than rather YOU hooking up, but those that successfully put themselves in the MC shoes cant do that on a female avatar.

    For instance i couldnt play a Persona game with a female protagonist because her gender is an impediment for me to succesfully roleplay and more if going to romance guys (Glup).

    Good article anyway.

  • Esq

    I think we need more non-white characters. Pick a different race/ethnicity for the protagonist!

    • Edward Pol

      I completely agree!

  • Pingback: GC Interviews: Heather Scribner | Gamerchatter.com

  • Jay

    The whole point of playing games is that you get to be someone you’re not for a while. Love playing as a woman, so yes, give us more female leads.

  • Arpith

    When I started to play games I used to play characters that are male. Never thought of playing a female character back then. Then I thought to myself to look for those games that have a female as a lead. I was quite surprised when I heard that there were very few female characters as a lead compared to their male counterpart. I AM A GUY & I ENJOY PLAYING AS A FEMALE CHARACTER. When something gets too repetitive (be it playing as a male and female character) then it gets boring for me. Lara Croft, April Ryan (Dreamfall series), Jade (Beyond Good and Evil) and Catwoman (Arkham City) are very good examples in games. Aside from the fact that many female characters are unrealistically over sexualized, I had like the female lead to be sexy but not too much say like the early tomb raider games where lara croft had that XXL sized boobs. The new tomb raider game in 2013 is just how lara should be. It’s realistic and can be compared to the kickass women you see in real life. As much as I love playing as Batman in Arkham series, I love playing as Catwoman. I dunno its just much fun. The game developers of Arkham Series did a fantastic job by incorporating Catwoman in Arkham City. I mean it didn’t looked like she was just forced to be put into the story. If there’s an another Arkham game, I would like to see more characters (male and female) in it. If Catwoman’s there in the game she could probably have a variety of Heist/Steal/Rescue missions. The best part of Catwoman character is that you can do good as well as be bad. Would love to see her get a very good solo videogame just like the Arkham games