I was reading an article on The Huffington Post this evening about sexism within childrens literature. It was a fascinating read, but one sentence in particular resonated with me and my experiences within the Video Game industry.
“A girl’s imagination and literary life would be a stark and barren place if she didn’t learn early on to read books about boys, put herself in boys’ shoes and enjoy them”.
How perfect is that? It encapsulates so much about why the Video Game industry is devoid of awesome female leads. I bet you every single woman reading this who considers themselves a gamer has played a game with a male lead, probably at some point having a game with a male lead as their all time favourite game. We love video games, so we learn to empathise with men so we can still enjoy them. If we didn’t, we’d be pretty starved for choice when it comes to what games we play. I can name at least 10 games this year I’ve loved that featured male leads, where I played as and empathised with a guy.
For Arguments sake my favourites are Joel in The Last of Us, the unamed voice in I Get This Call Every Day, Booker in Bioshock Infinite, Stanley from The Stanley Parable, the small child in Castles in the Sky, Link in A Link Between Worlds, Layton in the new Professor Layton, the nameless lead in No Time To Explain, Oliver from Ni No Kuni, Luigi in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Mondo from Kiler is dead and Scrooge McDuck from Ducktales: Remastered. Pretty sure that’s more than 10 but those were some I thought were particularly good off my head.
Let’s flip that around, how many of our male readers can name five female lead characters in games this year. More than that exist, but how many of you out there can name them without having to stop and have a decent think about it. I’m guessing most of you had to stop and think pretty hard to list five.
(For the record, my five favourite female leads from games I played this year were Katie from Gone Home, Jodie from Beyond: Two Souls, Ittle Dew from Ittle Dew, Wryn from Bleed and Nilin in Remember Me. Runners up include Ayesha from Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk, Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and the cast of Assault Android Cactus).
I asked men on Twitter to name 5 female lead characters from video games this evening, most couldn’t do it. Those who did all listed at least one character that is non playable or listed a game where you have a character creation screen with gender selection. I asked women the opposite and pretty much every one listed 5 games with male playable leads.
From a young age, boys are taught to actively reject things that are not seen as masculine pursuits. While a book with a male lead can be read by either gender, no way a young boy will read a book about a girl and her life. Boys are taught to resist femininity, girls have no choice but to cross-gender empathise if they want any chance of getting an interesting selection of books to read. Kids grow up and these attitudes very much stick with them. Boys won’t play games about girls, girls have very little choice but to play games about boys.
This leads to the assumption that female gamers are rare because games with female leads won’t sell as well. They don’t sell as well because women buy games with both gendered leads, many men only buy male leads. This leads to male gamers refusing to play games like Remember Me because they’d be playing a character that kisses a guy in part of the story and they “can’t relate to that”. You know how many games I’ve played that put me as someone I don’t identify as? 99% of the games I ever play.
I’m not asking for more female leads in games today. That would be nice, but wouldn’t fix the issues we have. What I want is for men to have the courage to step outside their comfort zone and play games with female leads, empathising with a gender they don’t personally identify as. If more men did that, you might start to see the differences and understand why women want more female leads for yourself. Go out of your way, try buying a few more games with female leads.