Tuesday, June 21, 2016

E3 and the Lack of Female Representation

Feminist Frequency released an overview of the gender representation from the developers featured at E3 this year, and of course it's making it's rounds on the internet by news sites and trolls. Because trolls will always be trolls. The wise words of Wil Wheaton clearly do not permeate into their existence, or they would stop being dicks. But the chart is something to look at and review, so that's what we are going to discuss today.

If you want to be a troll, go somewhere else. I have no problem hitting the delete button, or reporting you to local authorities if you threaten me. This is an adult conversation. If you want to be a little kid and rant, go to your corner and do that. It's not welcomed here.

With that out of the way, Frequency started this study last year, based on the games previewed/announced during developer presentations. While there are more games on the show floor, they are not always showcased to the audience at large, the millions of us who watch YouTube and Twitch streams of the developers conferences live. We may not know about these other games until a week or two after E3 has ended and journalists have time to write their thoughts. Last year, there were 7 games in these presentations that featured a female only lead. 35 allowed you to pick the gender of your main character, though Frequency points out that most of those games featured men as the hero of choice instead of women.

This year, it's pretty pathetic.

Only 2 games in developer presentations contained female heroes as the primary character. Those 2 games were shown last year, so they are not even new. Horizon: Zero Dawn and ReCore. That's it? Really devs? The issue of ethnicity aside (that's a discussion for another day), we can only manage to get two women into new games for E3? That's sad. 29 other games had the feature of allowing you to choose the gender of your main character, and a greater ratio of male to female main-stage options (41% compared to 32% last year).

What the heck happened?

Honestly, I don't know. Some of the games featured last year with a female lead were released in late 2015/early 2016, such as the Lara Croft games and Mirror's Edge. But no other games have taken their place. You are free to argue that Dishonored 2 and Mass Effect: Andromeda have female options as protagonists, and feature game play for both genders is a win in the "gaming girls" column. And it most certainly is. Mass Effect in particular had a very heavy-hand in advertising with broShep only for games 1-3; it's nice to see a change where both genders are featured equally on the screen. But that's about it! We still only have 2 games featured on the main stage with female only protagonists. Where are all the ladies?

Video games have long held this notion that it's a male dominated field, but it's been proven time and time again over the years that women are equally as invested in the hobby. Having heroes that are male only reinforces the notion that games are not for women, or that women are not allowed to be the hero of the story. (This is the core reason why I'm not happy with SquareEnix's direction for FF15. By removing female heroes from the core cast and sexing up Cid into a woman is the opposite of everything that Final Fantasy has stood for when it comes to diversity and sanity, in a fantasy world.) While more devs are getting on board by giving players the option of being male or female, that doesn't change up the advertising or the box art. Characters featured are male, therefore it's assumed that the male protagonist is the ideal choice over the female, as if the female is a lesser being. How often do you see commercials for a video game with a heroine on the screen instead of a male hero? Probably never, unless the game was developed with just a female hero, such as Tomb Raider. If girls and women don't see representations of themselves in these stories, or at least fictionalized super women, it further segregates us from the medium and limits creative output.

Having said all of that, here is my personal opinion. I'm a fan of male-centric games like God of War and Halo (just 1-3, though). The archetypes developed with these leading figures are dynamic, cunning, and intense on levels I rarely see outside of books that I'm drawn to these characters. But, I'm also annoyed that I can't say the same thing about games with female characters. Mostly because the options are incredibly limited. The few female-centric games tend to cycle between the same set of stereotypes: Mrs. Man, Macho Woman, and Mary Sue's. I don't like these type of characters. I like heroes with flaws. The ones who might not get up after a punch to the face, but still willing to fight for their cause in other ways. The ones who are not intentionally sexed up to show us boobs and butts (because that's what a female audience wants - impractical boob armor). I like the characters that feel real. The everyday person doing extraordinary things.

You can slap the template all you want on your alternate female heroes, but at the end of the day it doesn't make them dynamic or real. It just makes them another boring, boobed-out woman.

I don't want female-centric games because I'm a feminist. I want these type of games for something honest. They make for amazing content that can open up a new world of creativity for us to explore. Life is Strange is a vibrant example of this. (The irony of this is not lost on me. SE published Life is Strange and promotes the gender diversity, but has no trouble tearing apart Final Fantasy in favor of a male cast.) So let's embrace that reality and enjoy the diversity around us!

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