Monday, May 01, 2017

Does Adding Female Characters Make a Game Better?

Serious question is serious today. While having a discussion with a gaming cohort over the weekend, he brought up a recent debate regarding Diablo. One person argued that Diablo 3 was the best of the series while he stood firm on number 2. Which I agree; the second game has a more engaging story. But the person who argued for game 3 seemed to focus on the fact that there were more female characters in the world compared to the others. She found it more relatable, even in the alternate world with a war between angel's and demons.

Diablo 3 is a fun game. I like the combat and it's got a great story. But 2 gripped me in a different way that it felt so much more exciting. Yes the character options were limited. Most of the women you met were damsels in distress or zone bosses, but it didn't detract from the gameplay. Diablo 3 is a solid game, none-the-less. The addition of more female characters did not hamper the experience. If anything, having more options and unique archetypes was a refreshing step forward. But I don't think that having the characters in the game made it better. It made it stand out more and not feel clustered by a male-dominated landscape - that's about it.

As we move forward in video games, we have to ask ourselves when we add more female characters to a game, do we assume that it's better?

There's a lot to be said about having female leads. Aloy (Horizon: Zero Dawn) and Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) are the key figures, so of course they are going to stand out and change our perspective on what a hero can be. But what about the miscellaneous NPC population roaming the towns and outlands? Does adding in more female characters help produce a better game?

As a whole, I say no.

Shocking, right? A woman who doesn't think that adding more women to a game makes it better.

There's a very big caveat to this though. For me, it's not a numbers game. A game's value to me isn't about having F number of women compared to G number of men. Or having more of Y race over Z race. It's about the quality of the character.

Adding in soulless NPC's to fill a character role doesn't improve the product. In these situations, it feels like the developer is pandering to the potential female audience to boost sales. "Look! We've got XYZ more female characters then this other game. Buy it!"

If the characters have personality and a role worth interest, then yes. Adding in those females makes all the difference. I'm going to roll back to Horizon: Zero Dawn for a moment. One of the things that captivated me about this game was how societal norms regarding gender are removed. Men and women are expected to contribute to their tribes by any means necessary - hunting, cooking, you name it. The council of wisdom for Aloy's new tribe is led by women. Men of all ages and races take on the roll of "damsel in distress" just as often. But this isn't a reverse in the archetypes for games. The choices made by the developer to put these people in these situations feels natural. The characters are all given life and aspirations that you don't find in your atypical NPC's. They are engaging. They feel real. When you go out to battle with Hunters, you feel compassion to the men and women at your side who are working just as hard as you.

When it's a random NPC that joins the fray while you're battling demon's to save Heaven, it doesn't feel as epic. In Diablo, the female characters that are not involved in the primary story are less then stellar. They typically run around, scream, or hide when they are not acting as one of the thousands of corpses on the ground. When the NPC's are content fillers, then adding more women into the game doesn't benefit the product or the gamer. While I think most of us can appreciate a developer's attempt to provide more diversity, this isn't the best approach. Anyone or anything can fill those roles as a nameless NPC. Why does it have to be women?

So what are your thoughts? Does adding in more female characters help make a game better?

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