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While I had the chance to attend E3 this year, I stayed home. I didn't know what to expect from this next generation. I was pretty sure my hopes and concerns were all tied up in graphics and hardware, because no one really knew what we were supposed to expect from the next gen. What was too little? What was too big of a risk? We had a long wait, and it was almost guaranteed that whatever was paraded across that stage, short of personalized mech suits, would be a disappointment. I didn't want to contribute to that somber droning of press headlines. And I didn't want to be that one person who decided to be optimistic and look like a sellout, either. So this year, while I sat at home instead of in L.A., I found myself paying attention to other things in each presentation. I wasn't alone.
What I noticed first was the total neglect on Microsoft's part to feature games that showed women as a protagonist. We had one man of color, and one dragon. The basic theme here being that you're expected to play as a white man with brown hair and a five-o-clock shadow for 90% of games. Oh, but you can also decide to be a dragon, just not a woman. Microsoft is not the root of this issue, but they played a role, just as we all do. I'm not going to mention the Killer Instinct segment, because I already have a million words of an article in draft for that. I also want to touch on race and other representation issues, but this article is focusing on women, because each issue deserves in depth analysis.
So I'm coming back to my point, which is the representation of women in gaming. Later glimpses at games during press conferences included not only women protagonists, but women of color. This is praiseworthy, but it doesn't mean the struggle is over. For every Faith, there's a swarm of marketing and publishing executives who push out roughly thirty times as many male protagonists. Not to mention, there are far more white women than women of color as protagonists. When I bring this up, people have told me that I have to understand, it's a business move. Surely I understand, this isn't about women being fairly represented, this is about making money. Because don't I know, most gamers are men, and no man wants to play as a female character! Females sell more as sexual objects! MARKETING. BUSINESS. SYNERGY.
First, I want to say that there's a fundamental flaw with using business decisions as reasons to marginalize anyone. You wouldn't find it an okay reason for a business to deny appropriate safety standards that could harm people, and you wouldn't find it an okay reason for a business to violate environmental laws and cause harm to people. Harm is caused when people are excluded or poorly portrayed in forms of media, but there are no laws or standards put forth regarding people from under-represented groups in gaming. As a result, we tend to look the other way when it happens over and over again. Issues of racism and sexism extend beyond gaming, but by excusing them and allowing them to persist in our culture, we have become complicit in normalizing these behaviors. This isn't saying that because someone uses a gun to kill someone in a game, they will use a gun to kill someone in real life. Clearly physical violence on that level needs many more variables to occur. Gaming escalates ideas that are molded by the institutions of racism and sexism in our everyday lives. These ideas can then be exhibited in daily life, worn on t-shirts, and screamed on Xbox live with little to no recourse. This simple access to the abundance of negativity in gaming, and the fear or apathy of people to speak against it, is instilling the notion that the worst attitudes of gaming are simply the fabric of normal life.
Games with male-only lead options sell 75 percent better than games with female-only leads. So yes, some of the fear that exists on the publishing side is founded. But you also need to consider the fact that this is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, given that games with only female protagonists were merely given close to 40 percent of the marketing budget as the male only games. That's right, not even half. And they wonder why those sales are not as good? The game industry is stifling advancement by using outdated, "safe" formulas. When I hear people complain about the other ways that gaming companies play it safe- not enough diversity in shooters, too many sequels that play the same way, decreased difficulty levels in modern games, the dreaded DRM we saw Xbox One further embracing- I do NOT hear the argument, “It's good business. It's what makes game companies money, so deal with it.” And furthermore, if someone did reply like this, it shows that they are far from being “rational” about the issue, they are just being plain dismissive.
Now let's move to the next step of why people think games with women don't sell: because gamers are men. If we are to believe most game marketing and the bastions of game culture such as the former G4, we could further define that to include boys and young men. There is our key demographic. That is the typical portrayal of a “gamer.” And yet, according to my womandom, and also this article in US Today, which I guess is important, too... women CAN be gamers! In fact, there are more female gamers than male gamers under 17 (our established media demographic). 70 percent of women between 12 and 24 play games! In terms of total gamers, women make up 45 percent. So gaming numbers are pretty close to showing the actual population, both of which are NOT majorly comprised of white males. And yet we are still carrying on as if white males are the only people worth acknowledging, even knowing that men only make up 55 percent of gamers, and the US population only consists of roughly 30 percent white, non-Hispanic males.
So we now know that men are roughly half of the gaming population, but they still don't want to play as women, right? A study in Sweden showed that most of the men polled there had no issue playing as women. In fact, of the men questioned, 90 percent reported choosing to play a female character at some point, and a whopping 46 percent of them claimed to do so at least half of the time they play games. None of them had any negative views on more women in games, with 71 percent of them feeling more women protagonists who were not sexual objects was either “Good” or “Very Good” for gaming. Have YOU ever decided to not purchase a game because the protagonist was a woman? Was it because you couldn't relate, or you didn't want to be a woman? Is it because you only view women in a sexual light? Was it for other reasons, like the game just wasn't good, or maybe you never even heard of the game due to poor marketing? By holding the industry and gamers accountable for the portrayal of women in games, we help discredit the reasons that people support this discrimination.