There’s been a lot of buzz in the gaming industry lately regarding female protagonists. Sexism has been a pervasive issue for a number of years now – mostly revolving around females suffering online abuse and being totally excluded from the demographic for game design – but recently the spotlight has shifted to female characters in games.
The whole thing was kicked off by the upcoming title Remember Me’s creative director Jean-Maxime Moris, who stated publicly just how prejudiced publishers were against a female lead. While shopping around the idea to different publishers, the response was almost always the same – “people don’t want female protagonists”. The thing is, I’m not actually sure this is an issue of sexism.
The fact is, “core” gamers, the type who play Gears of War and Call of Duty and Starcraft 2 and all the other big AAA titles, are mostly male. Of course there is a contingent of female gamers that shouldn’t be dismissed, but the demographic is largely male. In that sense, if it was true that most male gamers did not want to play as a female character, because they couldn’t identify with that character, then I think I’d be okay with that. That particular brand of demographic targeting is seen everywhere – a series like Grey’s Anatomy, for example, is designed to appeal to women. Or 50 Shades of Grey. Or a romantic comedy. Men, on the other hand, get disposable action flicks like Die Hard or The Expendables or television series jammed with violence and explosions. These are broadly applied stereotypes which fit a general interest profile for a specific gender – they’re certainly not always accurate, but they’re effective enough to make some executives somewhere a nice pile of money. And I’m okay with that. I don’t think Grey’s Anatomy is sexist in the same way I don’t think Barney and Friends is ageist; these very gender-focused forms of entertainment are a guilty indulgence, a necessary evil. Of course the truly great examples of entertainment appeal across the Gender Curtain, such as Game of Thrones or Spider-Man 3 (just kidding, that movie was awful).
Unfortunately, female gamers are put in a kind of awkward spot where they’re a minority in the demographic target of big budget titles, meaning they’re often dismissed. Of course, what companies should be aiming for is a game that can appeal to everyone, but this isn’t always possible and sadly it’s always going to be skewed towards males – they just represent a bigger piece of the pie. My issue then isn’t necessarily with these executives wanting to appeal to male gamers (which is kind of a separate issue in itself), but more that they think male gamers are so against female protagonists. That, I don’t agree with at all.
I can’t really quite understand where this idea even came from. The most quotable quote to come out of the whole thing is, “You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.” When people play games, do they seriously “become” the protagonist? I’m playing Tomb Raider right now, but I’ve yet to feel the urge to stuff rolled-up socks down my T-shirt and speak in a British accent. I’m a freakin’ nerd, I hate the outdoors. I’m also having some of the most fun I’ve had in a game in quite some time.
I’ve never really considered the gender of a protagonist in a game at all, to be honest; it’s kind of a non-issue. If you present a game design with a female lead, I’m going to like or dislike the idea based on just that – the idea. Are we back in pre-primary school? Do all girls have cooties? Does playing as a female awaken some kind of latent homophobia in people? No, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. These publishers seem to think it does, and they’re afraid they won’t make money.
Publishers aren’t sexist, they’re just really stupid.
Sure, I’m one person. Maybe I’m stuck in The Truman Show, the whole world is a lie and everyone I know are actors placed around me to make me think they aren’t close-minded zombies that can’t walk upright without drooling. Or, more likely, publishers are stupid. I’ve been a gamer for a very, very long time. I’ve had a lot of friends who game, a lot of discussions about gaming, I’ve read a lot of forums. In all that time, I’ve never once, and I do literally mean not once, heard someone say they a. Wouldn’t play a game with a female lead, or b. Liked a game less because the lead was female. These people just don’t exist.
Remember Me looks awesome, and I will be playing it. I’ll just close my eyes if it gets all super awkward and I have to kiss a dude.