by Mica Rose
The debate surrounding sexism in the gaming world has been raging for a while now and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. It’s clear that there is an issue, but just how much of an issue is it?
Video games are rather unique when it comes to sexism, a problem that is prevalent on many levels. First and foremost there is the attitude towards female gamers themselves, the ladies that love to play and make up a significant 48% of the market. Despite making up nearly half the number of gamers, some marketing companies believe that this isn’t enough to warrant female focus testers when choosing how to market a game. Earlier this year, an all-male focus group suggested that the female lead of The Last of Us be moved to the back of the case, leaving the front cover to the game’s male protagonist.
Developer Naughty Dog vetoed the suggestion and chastised their marketing company (who they neglected to name) for not seeking female opinions as well as male. It is some comfort that one of my favourite developers believe that my gender should be represented, and are pushing for this to be the norm in other parts of the industry. What is shocking is that we’ve reached 2013, are on the cusp of 8th generation gaming, and still sexist attitudes remain an issue.
It’s not just the industry itself that has a certain perception of girls who game, but the general public too. On more than one occasion, when my penchant for playing has been discovered by new acquaintances, they’ve felt the need to test me, as though I’m lying to them to make myself more appealing to men (for the record, I’ve not come across any men that are impressed by it). Only once they’ve put me through the paces do they accept that I genuinely enjoy playing video games. I’m yet to meet a guy gamer who has had to take an exam to earn the title of ‘gamer’, but I know plenty of ladies who’ve had similar experiences to mine.
I suppose there is one good thing to come from the prejudice and stereotyping of female gamers, and that, is this glorious tweet:
Another level where some people may consider there to be a lack of balance between the sexes in video games is in the characters. It’s not often you will find a game with female-only protagonists, and even rarer to find one that isn’t designed to make men attracted to a bunch of aesthetically arranged pixels. Thankfully, I do think that the industry is maturing with regards to this to a certain extent. The reboot of Tomb Raider has transformed Lara Croft from a pixel pin-up with ill-fitting clothes to a strong survivor with full dignity intact; she’s no longer a girl locking her butler in the fridge. It may be her origin story – but she’s grown up.
I’ve seen some feminists complain about the lack of female leads in games after the next gen reveal at [annual video game conference] E3. Whilst there may not have been as many games with female leads as male ones, I’d much rather women be included in games organically and as part of the story, not just popped in to fill the equality quota.
Sadly though, there are always going to be games that feature a female protagonist for one reason, and one reason only. Look at Lollipop Chainsaw; it’s fairly obvious which target the developers were aiming at with this game. They really drive home the debauchery by awarding a trophy for looking up a character’s skirt.
I have no desire to play a game like this, but take comfort in knowing that there are some games available that have respectable female characters. Beyond: Two Souls from developer Quantic Dream is set for release later this year. It features a female protagonist, voiced by Ellen Page, kicking all kinds of ass. This is far more appealing to me, and a lot of other gamers I know, than an overly sexualised cheerleader killing zombies in a short skirt.
So there you have it, gaming industry. It really shouldn’t be so hard to avoid sexism in gaming. All you have to do is take note of your consumer demographics, not just the guys, and develop female characters into your games where it is natural. If you think that means we only belong in Cooking Mama 3, or fighting zombies half-naked, then we’re going to Fallout.