Female Protagonists in Video Games: Bring ‘Em On
Not 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.
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?
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’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
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.
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.