Last week I happened to see this piece from The Mary Sue about the disappointing numbers of games previewed at this year’s E3 that featured playable female characters. In it, TMS’ Jessica Lachenal expressed disappointment in the disparity between the relatively high number of games previewed last year at E3 that featured playable female characters and the seemingly lower numbers of such games this year:
After digging through the E3 2016 announcements for Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Ubisoft, Bethesda, and EA, I’ve only been able to count six games that feature either exclusively playable female characters, the choice to play as a female character, or a segment involving playing as a female character. This is a significant drop from E3 2015, where the illustrious Sam Maggs found 23 games that featured female playable characters. Seven of those games only offered female playable characters, as Feminist Frequency pointed out. — The Six Games at E3 2016 Featuring Female Playable Characters, Jessica Lachenal
To go from 23 down to six seemed like such a puzzling drop that it got me wondering. Were there really only six games featuring playable female characters being previewed at E3?
Let’s look at some (general) numbers (remember, these are approximations):
Happily, there were actually a good deal more than that! However, in order to come by this information, I had to dig up this list from IGN of all games featured at this year’s E3, at which point I did some perfunctory Googling of each game on the list to determine (as best I could with no more than five minutes per game) numbers and genders of protagonists.
Because this list was HUGE, I decided that I would not bother counting anything that was an “open world” game – which seems to be the new term for MMOs that aren’t RPGs, racing games – which are about vehicles more than people, and fighting games – because fighting games’ issues with gender are a phenomenon unto themselves, and remasters of existing games – because that’s just cheating. (Most of the games that I eliminated were open world games, although remasters were a close second.) If you look at all games previewed, there were 27 games featuring playable female characters, as opposed to 43 games which did not have playable female characters:
Granted, the point made in the TMS piece stands – fully 5 of the 27 games were games that were announced for the first time at last year’s E3. It’s also worth noting that more than half of games with playable female characters offer those characters alongside 1 or more male characters. And a large number of those games offer only 1 woman and multiple male characters. Additionally, Battlefield 1 makes the list, since it will have one sequence with a playable female character, while the rest of the game will feature only men. However, since it contains a playable female character, that’s enough to get it to count.
So while 27 to 43 doesn’t look like that bad of a ratio when you look at the numbers, things get a lot more depressing when you look at games with only 1 protagonist. There are only 11 games with a sole female protagonist, as opposed to 33 games with sole male protagonists! Even more depressing than the gender imbalance is the fact that SO. GODDAMN. MANY. of the dude characters that are headlining these games are just MORE OF THE SAME and represent ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOTHING NEW:
Because what gaming is more of the exact same protagonist that they have been serving us over and over and OVER for the last several decades. Please, I would like someone to tell me how I’m supposed to care about YET ANOTHER installation of The Adventures of Scowly GrizzledFace McSquareJaw and His Continuing Journeys In the Land of Heterosexual Mostly Whiteness. Because at this point, I’m pretty much at the same point with this shit as I am with Spiderman reboots. IT WAS GREAT THE FIRST TWO DOZEN TIMES BUT I’M NOT DOING IT AGAIN. I’M NOT. I DON’T CARE , YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.
Seriously, the offering of nearly identical grizzled (mostly) white guys with the same damn stories and the same damn motivations pursuing the same damn goals in the same damn environments… it’s just… BORING. BORING BORING BOOOOORING.
Contrast this with the female characters on offer. Even though there are many fewer of them, and they still skew overly white, young, and “pretty”, the variety still manages to be so much more interesting and compelling:
Here you see women who are white, black, Asian, and Middle Eastern. Old women, young girls, and in between. Soldiers and magicians, mechanics and rogues. And more than their visual dissimilarity, their goals and motivations are different. You have women trying to survive, trying to save someone they love, trying to make a new home and new way of life. Women trying to become masters of a martial art, women seeking action and adventure, and women looking to wrestle the Fates themselves.
All of which are WAY MORE INTERESTING than killing things with guns, regretting That One Woman You Couldn’t Save, having sex with women you don’t care about, and staring broodingly into the middle distance. I’ve been playing video games since I was six years old, and I’m fucking tired of seeing the same stories over and over again. As a consumer, pretty much the best way that you can guarantee that I won’t buy your product ever is to not include female protagonists.
And shit, you can still have pretty much ALL OF THAT Beardy McScowlpants crap in a game and still get me to like it if you actually have a female character worth playing. Joel from The Last of Us is one of the most stereotypical exemplars of the ScruffyBeard McFridgedDaughter trope ever, and I still wound up yelling my excitement about how goddamn good that game was over the course of several posts.
But, alas, given the continuing reluctance of AAA publishers to include playable female characters in their games, it looks like I’m going to be complaining about all the unoriginal Scowly White Dudes in AAA games for some time to come.