With EA taking steps to introduce female players in Fifa 16, I thought now is as good a time as any to address the issues surrounding women and video games. So, ATTENTION NERDS, this is a pretty taboo subject and I’m probably not going to be able to cover absolutely everything, and please keep in mind that this is my opinion, although my opinion can be taken as gospel. Women in gaming has been a hot topic of debate on the internet for as long as I can remember, and I thought I’d throw my opinion into the fray, hoping to try and make sense of what the real issues are.
I’ve tried to take a balanced view on this subject for some time, but very few people seem to sit on the fence, either people having an open opinion on the matter and others having a very close minded approach to voicing their opinion. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are two kinds of people; those that seem to make sense, and those who seem to think gender inequality is a good thing, and want to keep gaming, one of the fastest growing industries in recent years, a private club for men.
When I was a teenager, I didn’t know many girls or women that played video games, but on balance – I really didn’t know all that many boys that played video games. I grew up with very few people I knew in person, actually playing video games, so my childhood didn’t really shed much light on the subject; but if I were to look back at those days, and just do a quick head count of those that played video games: my two older sisters would play Street Fighter 2, Tetris and Super James Pond. My mother used to play the crap out of Super Castlevania IV, one of my favorite Castlevania games of all time. My dad used to play Fester’s Quest and NES Golf, while I had free reign over picking and choosing whatever I felt like, usually Contra or Zelda II. So, just my household alone, we had a 3:2 ratio of women to men, all of us playing video games on a regular basis.
Granted, the example above is just from my own experience, but it never seemed strange to me to see women playing games. I always found it kind of odd when I used to play Street Fighter 2 and my sister would only ever use Chun Li, or Cammy in the new challengers. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the symbolism of my sister always using a female character: it was the closest to female representation that the game actually catered for. Yeah, thinking back, I always used to choose Blanka or Ryu if given the choice, because I liked how they looked.
Taking the need for character representation, I have always struggled to find characters that accurately represent me, I mean, I’m a 6ft 3″ pale skinned, red head with a muscular build. Unless I’m playing games where I can completely customize my in game avatar, I’m not accurately represented. I would hate to feel how many women feel like, when they play a game and end up playing as some guy that clearly doesn’t represent themselves. There are plenty of games out there that could have easily of had some, if not more female characters, but big AAA companies such as Ubisoft have given press releases talking about how expensive it would be to create additional models, in order to cater to the female audience, or even men that would prefer to have a female avatar.
One of the biggest obstacles surrounding this issue is the lack of character representation for women in video games, although saying that, in 2014 we saw an increase in female protagonists rise by 4%. Small steps, but steps in the right direction I guess. Here’s a fun fact for you all: 52% of people who play video games in the US alone, are women. Didn’t think it would be that high did you? Well, it shows us that a large portion, more than half of the so called target audience is under-represented. And guess what, the arguments and stigma around these kind of figures like “Well, women only play casual games” is complete bollocks really, since 34% of active FPS gaming accounts belong to, you guessed it: women. Why is it then that with figures like these, a third of the audience for FPS games, and many other action oriented games see us playing as a dark mysterious man, or a burly, muscle-bound grunt? Why is it that in most story driven games, women are pushed to sidelines and are portrayed to be a sexy, damsel in distress, or a two dimensional character that do something cool during a cut scene but then aren’t a playable character? Why do they always appear weaker than their male counterparts? Why is it that when we do get the basis of a good female protagonist, the game we end up seeing her in isn’t all that great? Well, Ubisoft made the plunge into trying to answer the question and their response was “it’s too expensive”. I call bullshit when I smell it, and I smell it like a fart in an elevator. Ubisoft, a multi billion dollar company is saying it’s too expensive to create female avatars? Come on guys, don’t spout crap if you can’t back it up. We live in the year 2015 and we still have gender inequality. Why is it Ubisoft, that Dark Souls could do it? Why could we do it in Skyrim? How about Black Light Retribution, an indie developed FPS which was free to play? Don’t tell us it’s too expensive. Other studios have done it, both big and small. Cost cannot be the reason they haven’t tried it.
The main problem for me as I peer through the looking glass is that a lot of these games that actually pitch a female protagonist haven’t been well received. I mean, seriously, there are a lot of games I could name that came out the last couple of years that are terrible that have a male protagonist, but I’m always more disappointed when it’s been a female protagonist in a game, and the game has been luke warm, or just missed the mark somehow. I guess it’s because of the marketing that surrounds these games, that makes us ultra aware of their existence and whilst hype is a good thing and will undoubtedly generate more sales, you unwittingly set the bar that much higher, meaning the game has to be something pretty damn special to actually be considered good. Hype is something I’m probably going to gloss over for now, and talk in more detail in a video (that is coming soon). Let’s just take a few games in recent years:
- Dead or Alive 5 – is this game marketed towards women? No. It’s target audience is young boys that want to activate the DOA boobs physics. Seriously, there is an option for boob physics.
- Wet – A stylish first person, action game, that unfortunately sucked the big one. It was also marketed with the main character in tight sexy clothing, soaking wet. Aimed at women? Don’t think so.
- Final Fantasy XIII – Yes, this is a genre of game that people often refer to as gender neutral, but only the 2nd in the long running franchise where the main character was a woman. Unfortunately, no-one likes Lightning because she has no personality whatsoever and features in probably one of the worst Final Fantasy games to date.
- Remember Me – A game that showed so much promise and just fell short of being something brilliant, unfortunately, it’s short running time and lack of variation inevitably killed off any chance of there ever being a sequel.
But all is not lost, there are actually some decent games that came out that are good:
- Final Fantasy XIII-2 – Yeah, strange one for me, I hated the first part, but this one was far more up my alley. Yes, the battle system is still using an auto battle function, but beyond that is a well delivered story with decent characters.
- Tomb Raider – Yes, I was shocked at the reveal trailer too, but the game itself and the development of Lara in her younger years, taking away some of the sexual focus from earlier titles, proves that she is a strong character with a personality, with fears and goals just like…a real person?
- Portal – Although this character doesn’t talk she takes on one of the most memorable villains of all time.
And then you have games where you have the choice:
- Blacklight Retribution
- Dragon Age
- The Sims
- Resident Evil (all except 4)
These are just a few to choose from, but they offer us some insight into the gaming world of today. We have gone so much closer to equality than ever before, yet we are still so far away. The one thing that stands between us moving forward is the gaming community. Yes, I said it. You guys. Out there, reading this, maybe agreeing, maybe not. We all have a moral compass to follow, where we should know right from wrong, and is it right that part of OUR community is unfairly represented, and that some people in our community are being unfairly treated by others? With the release trailer of FIFA 16, I was welcomed to a whole mess of comments that are both childish and offensive to women, and men like me who give a damn. I’m not going to pop them on here, but comments like this is what let’s people think that it’s okay to act this way, when it’s not. It’s really not. Once these idiots grow up and join up with the rest of society, then maybe we can move forward.
I promise next post will be something a bit lighter, and I know I’ve only really glossed over many of the points I’m trying to make, but it’s such a huge topic, I could be here writing this forever, and you’d never get to read it, which would be a shame, right? Anyway, go have some fun, treat each other with some degree of respect and carry on.
How do you feel on the subject? Do you agree with me? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments below, and let’s discuss the matter.
Ryan Griffiths is a British gamer, known as a bit of a lone wolf. Retro games are his passion, with newer releases not living up to his expectations. Of course there are exceptions to the rule when it comes to Dynasty Warriors & Total War games.