It shouldn’t surprise anyone when I say women aren’t equally represented in video games. This is evident in both in the actual games and the development process. Considering how every gamer knows this and I can only stretch a topic so thin (apparently two sentences aren’t enough for an article), I’m going to take a stand by saying that equal representation between sexes doesn’t always matter.
As far as representation is concerned, there are two aspects. The first is basic representation. To be equally represented, the same proportion of female gamers should be equal to female characters. The second element is how they’re represented. If a character is representative in the gaming world, it usually means she isn’t an obvious stereotype and isn’t hypersexualized, thus making her like a real person. While being inclusive through accurate representation is important, I will not be discussing it because the video game press has already beaten it to death more than my Dark Souls II character—which was a lot. If you want to read more about it—not my Dark Souls II character—you’ll discover an article easier than finding sand in the Sahara Desert.
What you already know
To be fair, you can make different categories of gaming tropes to see what sex dominates which situation besides the main character. For example, women are more likely to be damsels in distress, but this could be due to all the Mario games that exist (even though Mario is no stranger to getting rescued himself like in Luigi’s Mansion and Super Princess Peach). Conversely, since men are more likely to be grunt enemies, they’re also the ones who get shot in the face the most. For these complicated reasons, I’m going to narrow it down to the equal representation of playable characters for simplicity’s sake.
As I said before, women aren’t equally represented. According to Entertainment Software Association, 48 percent of gamers are women. Before someone even thinks of casual gamers or the mobile market, GeekWire reported that 38 percent of Xbox users are female, as are half of Nintendo users. Therefore, almost half of playable characters should be women, but they aren’t. Instead, most protagonists are white men (the racial issue is different can of worms, but you can draw parallels if you please). It has gotten so ridiculous that white male heroes have literally become a stereotype.
Why equal representation in games is irrelevant
This may be just my viewpoint, but I’m honestly sick of male protagonists. There are so many that any game with a female protagonist, like the new Tomb Raider, becomes a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, preferring to play as either a man or woman is nothing more than personal preference.
Non-customizable video game characters range from complex and three-dimensional personality to emotionless, observing cardboard cut-out. Unless a game’s story has gender-related element, the gender of a character doesn’t matter. If the character is detailed, then his or her sex becomes a secondary factor. If Joel from The Last of Us or Jade from Beyond Good and Evil were gender swapped it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. On the other hand, if a character more along the lines of the silent protagonist, like Metroid’s Samus or Half-Life’s Dr. Gordon Freeman, then his or her gender is basically a defining characteristic. However, since these characters aren’t very dynamic, their sex could have been switched—before they were introduced to the public—without us being any the wiser.
Furthermore, games like Fallout 3, Mass Effect and Fire Emblem: Awakening have demonstrated that a great narrative in an interesting setting make sex meaningless considering how they all have customizable characters. Of course, if a game offers customizability but doesn’t include both sexes, it seems more than a little stupid and lazy (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed Unity).
Since being a man or women is irrelevant in games, equal representation in terms of characters becomes pointless. With that said, I welcome all games that have a female protagonist because I’m fatigued from playing as the countless amounts of white guys. I want this pattern to change quicker than it is, but it’s imperative to recognize this is wanted, not needed.
Where equal representation does matter
There is a representation issue behind the scenes though. Women are woefully underrepresented in the video game industry. Excluding indie developers, women only make up 11 percent of game designers and three percent of programmers. If this statistic doesn’t change, then women will continue to be both underrepresented and misrepresented in games. Either that or we’ll have to look toward indie developers for salvation. It’s crucial that women are included in the development process of games unless you’re satisfied with infinite sequels and stale ideas.
Representing for the purpose representation is one thing, but if women are equally represented where it matters, we, as gamers, will receive not only more female protagonists, but more realistic ones as well. The difference between having women equally represented in games as opposed to the video game industry is like being stranded in the desert (I know I already used a desert simile, but it’s hot where I live). You need water to survive, but it would be better if your cup had crushed ice instead of backwash in it. Without the proper amount of innovation, video games, as a medium, won’t thrive as they should.