News flash: The gaming world is a really unfriendly place for women. Gamergate — the viral bullying, harassment, and threat campaign against female game developers and journalists — has brought that fact into the international spotlight. But, don’t be mistaken. Sadly, this particular dilemma has gone on for way longer than Gamergate has existed.
Allow me to share a few statistics with you. A proud 52 percent of gamers are women. Despite being the majority consumer, women are video-game protagonists only 24 percent of the time. Put another way, a staggering 76 percent of solo video-game protagonists are male. On top of that, there is only one female character for every five male characters in video games. In games with coed main characters, males are also much likelier to appear on video-game covers than women.
Pretty hard to feel welcome in the gaming room as a lady with numbers like that floating around.
As if those numbers aren’t bad enough, I’m gonna level with you. Out of the 24 percent of female video-game protagonists who are women, a lot of them suck. Yes, I said it: They suck. There are a few really, really good ones out there (I'm looking at you, Elizabeth from "Bioshock Infinite"), but for every well-rounded lady badass, there's a handful of duds. These duds are frequently over-sexualized (see Juliet from "Lollipop Chainsaw"), or defined by their relationship to a man in one way or another (see Madison Paige in "Heavy Rain").
But more infuriating than that, really, is that these female protagonists are just plain unrealistic. So many of them aren't living real, substantial experiences like their male counterparts, and I'd really like to see that change.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty appalled that it’s 2015 and we are still having this tired conversation about giving female video-game characters more fleshed out, believable roles in the art form. As a long-time gamer and proud feminist killjoy, I’m craving nuanced writing that uplifts women and showcases character development the way so many games today are doing for male characters.
Boiled down even further, there are some things I would love to see more female video-game characters do. Here is a small sampling:
1. Break a Heart
I won’t lie to you: I love a compelling romance arc in video games. When I finally got Anders as a lover in "Dragon Age II" (even if it did mean ending things with Isabela), I was super pumped about it. There’s always going to be a soft spot in my heart for what I call the "squee" factor.
The unfortunate part of a lot of these romance arcs, however, is that they’re mainly focused on "getting the girl." Especially considering we’re playing as men 76 percent of the time, it gets a little tiresome. I would love, and I mean love, to see a female protagonist break the heart of a man or woman. And that’s not because I’m a sadist, but rather because I’d love to see a woman in a video game know herself enough to do what’s right for her, and to make that choice firmly with no exceptions. Which carries me to my second point ...
2. Not Fall in Love
We can’t all be heartbreakers, but who’s to say we have to fall in love at all? It’s more than possible to save the world without a romantic interest at your side. In fact, it’s probably easier, because all that googly-eyed hoo-ha is bound to distract you from slaying dragons and looting corpses.
3. Have a (Believable) Orgasm
If our female protagonist is going to do the aforementioned googly-eyed hoo-ha thing, or just sleep around for funsies (What a concept!), it’d be great if she could enjoy herself. And I mean really enjoy herself. I get that ratings are a thing that can’t be avoided, but if you’re going to bother writing and animating sex, make it look good.
Besides, if Kratos from "God of War III" can get it on whenever he wants, what’s so wrong about affording the same courtesy to our plucky heroine?
Sometimes, a girl needs a burrito. Considering we already live in a world where seven million American women are currently suffering from an eating disorder, I think video games would make a nice outlet for showing healthy relationships between women and food. A relationship with food, period, would be a good starting point.
Surprise, women poop! I know we like to pretend we don’t, but we’re gonna do ourselves a favor and stop denying ourselves the right to exist and function as normal organisms, okay? Everybody poops, including gorgeous, mysterious ladies who battle zombies or hack computers.
And before you tell me video-game characters don’t poop, they totally do (see "Heavy Rain," "The Sims," "Duke Nukem," etc). Not that I like, want to physically see the pooping occur, but just to know that we went to the ladies' room and something happened other than powdering our noses or looking wistfully into the mirror would be helpful.
6. Be Ugly
According to research done by Jimquisition, there is only ONE video game in existence with an ugly female protagonist who isn’t motivated by male approval, and that’s Vertigo from "Primal Rage," circa 1995. 1995, you guys. It’s been 20 years since then, and it’s safe to say we haven’t seen any other prominent examples.
This one strikes a particular cord with me because it harps on this idea that women have some kind of responsibility to be conventionally attractive, and only women who achieve this goal have stories worth telling. Because why bother telling the story of a woman who’s elderly, fat, disfigured, or balding? They aren’t people, right? Right? Wrong. Let’s stop buying into this shallow, outdated idea that women need to be pretty to be interesting.
7. Have a Family
It doesn’t seem to occur to video-game writers and developers that women don’t just disappear out of the realm of existence after their teens and early 20s. There are plenty of brave, strong heroines out there who have families, namely spouses and children. I would be thrilled to see more games with a mom as a protagonist, kicking ass and taking names to protect her children and herself.
If the statistics I mentioned above tell us anything, it’s that the video-game industry needs to recognize its rapidly shifting consumer demographics. We’ve hashed and rehashed the conversation about representation of women in video games, and many of us have paid a very heavy price for raising our voices when the rest of the gaming world would rather us be quiet. But despite a very loud minority of people who would rather make the gaming world a close-minded community of male chauvinists, there are so many women and girls who enjoy video games, and spend their hard-earned money on them.
We deserve more female characters, better female characters, who tell our stories and to whom we can relate.