As I discussed in a previous post, Gamergate of 2014 was a terrible time for women involved in the gaming industry. However, as reported by Wired, the biggest event on the 2015 gaming calendar, E3 2015, brought with it a sense of change and a feeling that the industry had hit a turning point. I, along with my fellow female gamers, hoped that the numerous articles praising developers for increasing female representation in games would only increase in the years to come.
As shown by Feminist Frequency, a website which has been tracking female representation in gaming since Gamergate, the number of female protagonists in games has fallen since this potential turning point. In 2015, nine per cent of video games showcased at E3 featured a female protagonist. That number took a nasty tumble in 2016 to a mere three per cent. Luckily, in 2017, those numbers looked to be getting back on track by hitting seven per cent and then eight per cent in 2018. But in 2019, it all went downhill once again.
Once again, male protagonists greatly outweighed the number of female protagonists showcased at E3. The yearly expo saw a mere five per cent of games exclusively featuring female protagonists, per Polygon. That said, there was a stark increase in the number of games which allowed the player to select their gender. Previously, the highest percentage of games which allowed the player to select which gender they wanted to play as was 52 per cent in 2017.
Giving players a choice is an increasingly popular option, and one which is enjoyed by players – myself included – but this doesn’t help to increase the appeal or experience of gaming for women as the games aren’t being tailored to us, just the general audience. Not only does this not help to give more women and girls the chance to play as their same gender, but it also doesn’t ask other players to take on the role of a female and experience a turn in a woman’s shoes.
Any woman who has ever wanted to play a triple-A game has often been forced to do so as a male character. Male gamers will always have a wide selection of male protagonists to choose from and rarely have to go through the experiences of a woman which, in my experience, has made some male gamers somewhat insensitive to females or the struggles of women by seeing us merely as supporting cast members or even objects in some cases.
Admittedly, the gaming industry is in a difficult position as more games are becoming more inclusive through the use of character select and character creation mechanics, but there is a need and demand for female-led games. You don’t need to look any further than 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn to quickly see how successful and loved by the whole gaming community a female-led title can become if given the proper attention.
There were many exciting games on show at E3, with Planet Zoo, Cyberpunk 2077, and Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 being among my personal favourites, but the percentage of female protagonists dropped off of a cliff edge after the industry looked to be back on the up. One of the best revelations that came from E3 2019 was that so many online outlets, including myself here, have picked up on the findings of Feminist Frequency to show how much the gaming industry has backtracked in this category.
I wish that the percentage of female protagonists in gaming was on the rise, but unfortunately, video gaming remains in the past. Hopefully, the backlash of the lack of representation at E3 2019 will usher in a new wave of increased female-led gaming experiences.