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Gynophobic Gaming

I came across this article where the developers of upcoming sci-fi adventure game, Remember Me, discuss their issues with trying to find a publisher for their game.

The reason they struggled is pretty ridiculous. They were refused by numerous publishers just because the protagonist lacks a penis. That’s right, the games industry that still suffers from the stereotype of being a boys’ club is refusing to address this by increasing the number of female protagonists that female gamers are likely to identify with.

The excuse seems to be based on the statistics that, bafflingly, show that the few games with female leads and no option to play as a man sell 75% less than games with solely male leads. While this certainly seems to lay blame with gamers still adhering to the stereotype of being teenage boys who feel threatened by women, the picture becomes clearer when it shows that publishers also tend to sink less of a marketing budget into the likes of Mirror’s Edge, Heavenly Sword or, indeed, Remember Me, and therefore the games don’t enter the public consciousness as well as the likes of Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed.

Essentially, publishers are operating a self-fulfilling prophecy. They believe that games with female leads don’t sell, so they don’t bother to promote them, and therefore they don’t sell.

Is it really that simple? Well, gamers certainly don’t seem to object to female leads in their video games. If an oestrogen-powered game gets a worthy amount of promotion and shows itself to have good, strong gameplay mechanics, people will buy it. Enter Tomb Raider, the reboot of the famous franchise starring iconic adventurer Lara Croft.

Oh no, boobs, get out while you still can!

Lara is visibly female, so therefore the game sold poorly because sad teenage boys don’t like playing as women in games for fear of it threatening their masculinity. Except it didn’t sell poorly at all. It reached a million sales within 48 hours and shot straight to the top of the charts in many countries. The game sold because it was a fresh reboot of a series that was already popular, and received so much promotion that you must be living under a rock to not know that a new Tomb Raider was on its way.

People didn’t buy the game in spite of its female lead, people bought the game because it was promoted in a way that some other games with female leads generally aren’t. The majority of people playing Tomb Raider probably couldn’t care less that its protagonist is a woman, and if they do care, chances are they love that the game features something than the same generic shaven-headed white males that appear so frequently in modern gaming. There is a market for female protagonists, as Tomb Raider proves, but publishers are seemingly scared of taking the risk of exploring this possibility. And it’s baffling.

Remember my original point

Which brings us back to Remember Me. This is a game that I didn’t know anything about before reading the linked article, but I got curious and looked it up. Remember Me actually looks like a fantastic game. A stealth-tinged, 1984-inspired action adventure, it looks like a very unique game and I’m now very excited about it. Just a shame that I hadn’t heard about it before.

So it seems that while Capcom are willing to take a chance on this game by allowing it a release, they aren’t willing to give it more promotion, therefore allowing them to justify the belief that people don’t buy games with female protagonists when it will most likely sell poorly due to its poor promotion.

Why is this still the case in the gaming industry? What is so bad about female protagonists? While gaming has certainly been a male-dominated industry for a long time, this doesn’t automatically mean that it should always stay that way. In fact, I would strongly argue that this needs to change.

As a male gamer myself, I have no objection to playing games with female protagonists. Tomb Raider is and most likely always will be my favourite franchise of all time (and no, I have no interest in Lara’s infamous chest balloons), while many of the most interesting games I’ve played in the last few years have had a lady in the driving seat.

Mirror’s Edge was an addictive if frustrating experience that I would love to see a sequel for. Gravity Rush for the Vita was a fun, charming adventure game with a likeable lead. The Portal games were a cult success with addictive gameplay and featured not only a female protagonist but also a female antagonist (who was also an AI, but still). And now we have Remember Me, which looks rather intriguing.

What’s more, all of these games stood out a little amongst the numerous moody-white-men-with-guns games on the market. That was the truly important thing here. Seems that a developer willing to change the gender of the protagonist is also willing to change everything else and try and do something to stand out from the Call of Battlefield clones littering the market.

I am all for an increase in female protagonists in gaming. The medium needs to mature, and the medium needs to openly welcome the growing female audience (yes, they do exist, and yes, many of them could probably kick your ass). And by maturing and welcoming the female audience more, that female audience will grow even further. And then, maybe then, gaming can finally shake that tired old sweaty manchild in his basement stereotype once and for all.

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  1. June 12, 2013 at 1:59 am

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