The lights are on
[The Gender Gap originally debuted in Issue 204 of Game Informer. Here we provide the original article with expanded developer commentary.] Ask gamers who their favorite video game heroine is, and a few names will likely garner the majority of the vote. Samus Aran, Lara Croft, and Joanna Dark are three early icons whose rareness catapulted them to stardom and helped keep their respective franchises afloat for more than a decade. Who could forget the surprise when Metroid’s protagonist removed her helmet to reveal long locks? Players never looked at masked heroes the same again. The exploits of cyber “it-girl” of the late ‘90s, Lady Lara Croft, became a multi-million dollar brand that spawned film adaptations, a comic run, and endorsements deals for everything from energy drinks to luxury cars. With such prominent female leads appearing in the early stages of the interactive entertainment phenomenon, the video games industry seemed well on its way to creating abundant gender diversity. But since Croft's glory days, progress has seemingly halted. Sure, recent years have given us the occasional female leads in blockbusters like Uncharted 2 and critical darlings like Beyond Good and Evil, Mirror's Edge and Bayonetta, but in general the fairer sex has been all but M.I.A. in action titles. Some games even neglect to include a female character when allowing players to choose among multiple protagonists. While some genres like role-playing and fighting games generally offer a level playing field, others seem to be treading water.We chatted about the gender selection process with members of several prominent development studios and learned that the decision between XX and XY isn’t a frivolous one. Demographics, cultural norms, technical constraints, and more must be considered. So when narrative, setting, or historical context doesn’t dictate the gender of a character, why are females noticeably absent from the action? Read on to find out.
The Numbers GameFirst and foremost, numbers matter. Perhaps the most influential factor in regards to core design decisions is player demographic. An NPD survey detailed a five percent increase in female console gamers (23 percent to 28 percent) between June 2008 and 2009. A similar Nielsen Company study showed that females 25 and older now make up the largest segment of PC gamers – holding strong at 46.2 percent. The number of female gamers is obviously growing, especially in relation to specific platforms and genres. This being said, female gamers are still the minority, even if not to the grossly overestimated degree perceived. If there is any truth to the notion that individuals identify closer to characters of their own gender, then it’s somewhat expected that we see a disproportionate ratio of males to females.“The game industry is constantly collecting information about who is buying games, and what types of games they’re buying the most of,” explains Jennifer Wildes, art director at Gearbox Software. “If these statistics suggest that your game will sell more copies within your demographic if the majority of the player characters are big hulking males, then it’s obviously a bit risky to decide they should all be female instead.”Wildes also points out that while modern games may not have a new female protagonist on the level of Samus or Lara Croft, progress is being made. “It’s important to note that only a few years ago, the male to female [character] ratio in these types of games was four to zero. We may be moving slowly, but we are getting there.”
It's nice to see more women being integrated into games, but the fact that developers are still giving in to the demands of those who would rather view women as physical statues is disappointing.
Yeah its bad for the ladies, not to mention people of color. Not many people outside of Rockstar, and now Valve, Will have the balls to go against the system. But things are slowly changing. Great article!!!!!
I would like to see more female lead characters, but understand why it can be hard to put them into the game. It really is nice when you see a female character that kicks butt, there should be more.
GEARS 3 Nuff Said can't wait
sector2813: both informative and entertaining a very well thought out article excellently written terrific even
I've played a few games with some pretty major lead villains. Harley Quinn from Batman, I think if they do the 2nd game just as good she could make a mark.
I liked the Women in God of War 3
The point of cost is a very important one, though. Should a game such as Borderlands or Gears of War drastically increase their production time and budget to include a female character? Also, I'd be interested to know how many female gamers played Lilith simply because of her gender, without taking into account that the other three classes are considerably better.
I'd prefer to see less WETs and more Metal Gear Solids, where female characters are every bit as complex and meaningful as their male counterparts. Quality over quantity; brains instead of boobs.
You know, I didn't play Fable II (we're a PC and PS3 household), but I DO appreciate the realism of having the female characters bulk up, and forcing players to make that decision between the trade-off of looking petite and cute or being extra powerful. Because, let's be honest, women can work out and get big and pumped too. And when they do they are stronger. But their bodies look different. It's realism.
It's also striking to me that, not only did they give Faith (Mirror's Edge) a boob job, they rounded out the edges of her features to the point that she doesn't just look younger, she looks less Asian. You show me image two standalone, and if I didn't KNOW, I'd be hard pressed to discern her race. Not that this is the point of the article, per se, but its interesting, when discussing what makes a female character attractive, that we see a western/Caucasian model of beauty held up as the ideal as well.
I know Crackdown snubbed the women protagonists, but games that let you design your own character, Mass Effect in particular, have sexy, tough, truly believable female characters. I thought this article got a lot right, but no love for the Mass Effect, or even Fallout 3(only one I've played from that series).
@Big Teach Jr.
Alyx is a favorite of mine. Saved my ass more than once in HL 2: Episode One.
There's a major challenge that comes with making a female hero for an action game. Generally, people expect female characters to just be really hot, but you want the hero to be really badass too. It's probably kind of a challenge to make a character that's a good mix of hot/badass like Lara Croft was, and it's just easier to just make a huge guy that yells a lot. Hopefully, in the future, developers will be more willing to put in a little more work and get a really good female heroine.
It is a shame that it is sucha technical limitation because IMO the more diversity the better in games. Honestly one can only play the same 'me big guy, me smash' games for so long before it gets boring. I think that is the reason why I play a lot of RPGs and why FFXIII is one of my favorite games right now. I mean if we're talking about typical female videogame characters Lightning and Fang go very much against the grain. Both are very strong very independent women who kick more ass then the guys of the game.
women have always been in games. just not as much as men have been. but metroid tomb raider etc. sonic. ah elise good times.
If only Meagan had referenced Metroid and Tomb Raider in the first sentence. Oh, wait...
if im not mistaken, didnt a new game just come out featuring a female main character, oh, what was the name of the game? oh, right, FINAL FANTASY XIII
this is true tho, there are way more guy main characters than girl, i think the reason is to have a badass and jacked female main character, the game would need lots of backstory and plot (which not tons of games have) and badass male protagonists are easier to think of