• Lack of Female Protagonists in Gaming Causes Debate

    by  • September 18, 2013 • Features • 1 Comment

    By ANTHONY VIGNA

    As you skillfully play as a deadly space bounty hunter with powerful weaponry and armor, your heroics causes the final underground enemy base to self-destruct. As you feverishly rush to the surface, your hands begin to sweat as you fear that you will not make it out alive. However, you somehow make it to the last platform right before the exit and make it out alive just in time.

    Women play video games almost as much as men. PHOTO/Anthony Vigna

    As you jump for joy and pat yourself on the back for finishing the game, you peek back over at the television. Your character, Samus Aran, takes off her helmet for the first time and reveals herself to be a woman just before the credits roll.

    This was a huge shock to gamers who completed “Metroid” on the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1986. Not only is Aran notable as one of the first major female protagonist in gaming, but her surprise reveal helped her to become one of the most memorable female characters in a video game as well. She proved that there was merit to having a female protagonist 27 years ago.

    Back when “Metroid” was first released, gamers were predominately male. However, that has all changed, as The Entertainment Software Association, a trade association of the video game industry, released a study in June that shows that 45 percent of women play video games. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped publishers from thinking that males are still the main target demographic, creating a lack of female protagonists in video games.

    Online gaming publication “The Penny Arcade Report” released an article in March detailing “Remember Me” creator Jean-Max Morris’ struggles to publish his game. “Remember Me” is a futuristic action adventure game in which the player controls a strong, independent female character. Publishers told him that his game was unmarketable because the female lead has no appeal, and would make male players feel uncomfortable if things ever got intimate solely because they are controlling a character of the opposite sex.

    Since the publication of this article, the gaming community has been openly discussing the value of having female characters in their video games. Heather Landfield, a 20-year-old communications major, says that she finds the statements about Morris’ game appalling and insensitive.

    “I have played video games where the main character is a guy and it has never been weird to me, because the character isn’t me,” she said. “It’s not even like it’s same sex interaction, it’s just a male and a female avatar and even that shouldn’t matter.”

    Landfield said that it is unfair to think that games with female leads would not do well. She said that characters in other media, such as “The Hunger Games”, prove that it is possible to have a very popular franchise with powerful female leads.

    “One type of character could never appeal to a whole market,” she said. “I’m sure there are guys that want to play as girls as well.”

    Steve Fallon, 20-year-old computer science major, said he is not bothered when controlling a female character despite being a male gamer. He said that the industry must get over its sexist mentality before female protagonists could ever be more common in gaming.

    “Every article that I have seen on this topic creates a discussion that receives a disgusting amount of backlash,” he said. “It’s a good example of how the article in question is right.”

    An article on gaming website “The Escapist” shows that another video game with a powerful female lead, “The Last of Us”, almost had an all male focus testing group for the game until developer Naughty Dog changed it. Fallon said that examples like this prove that focus testing is at fault for adding to the problem.

    “’The Last of Us’ sold very well, so games with female leads can sell well,” he said. The mentality that games with women have no worth is a product of focus testing.”

    Fallon added that female protagonists should not be at fault for poor sales. Instead, games should be judged on good game design and marketing.

    “If a game doesn’t sell well, it’s not going to be because of a female character that may kiss a man,” he said. “It’s going to be because the concept of the game is weird or may not work as a whole.”

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    One Response to Lack of Female Protagonists in Gaming Causes Debate

    1. jdursun
      September 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      I loved this article, it really ignited the feminist in me. I’ve been hearing uproar about this from feminist Twitter accounts that I follow for a while now, and I think the way you addressed it was awesome. I love how you chronicled the dawn of female protagonists in video game history by opening with “Metroid” and making me feel as if I were actually playing the game. I think it would have been cool if you cited a feminist source on this topic, because they are out there. But having a female Ramapo student that plays video games is creditable as well. Well done.

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