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Female Protagonists in Video Games

June 13, 2013

I have tallied all the Steam games in my library which I know enough about to catalog and separated them into four categories:
Male – 98 games – the protagonist is male
Female – 14 games – the protagonist is female
Unknown – 48 games – the game does not specify the sex of the player
Choice/Mixed – 43 games – The game either has a mix of the sexes (such as Left 4 Dead), or allows the player to select a sex for their character, like Mass Effect).

It seems like the primary reason for male dominance is the prevalence of FPSs in my library. Games like Doom and Call of Duty have exclusively male protagonists. The only FPS which is female only in my collection is Sanctum. Mass Effect and Warframe allow player choice. Surprisingly, Tim Schafer games have exclusively male protagonists, which comprised a significant portion of the non-FPS male-protagonist-only games in my collection (Secret of Monkey Island, Psyconauts, Brutal Legend).

Female only games were strong in the platformer category. The Alice series, Tomb Raider, Mirror’s Edge and Portal. Generally, where females showed up, it was either as part of a mixed sex team, such Japanese style role playing games or FTL, or because the game simply allowed the player free reign to create their own character, such as the Elder Scrolls series.

Almost as big as the male-only category, but not quite, were games which either did not specify a sexed main character at all, such as puzzle and strategy games, or games which allowed player choice. Developers who want to avoid accusations of sexism I think simply allow the player to play whoever they like and leave it at that. I think this is a good option, since players like customizing their characters, and it allows players to feel connected to their characters.

I think game designer could have more female only games. I like the writing rule that “If you can’t think of a reason why the character has to be male, make them female”. However, the best solution is simply to allow the player to decide for themselves, which really isn’t a hard option to implement. Overall, the video gaming industry has a bias toward male characters which I believe is primarily due to the violent nature of the content. Still, video games aren’t nearly as bad as movies.

Violence plays a major roles in entertainment. People like to watch suffering, struggle, conflict, and ambition. The jobs which have all of those elements tend to be jobs which are held by men. Women just aren’t warriors very often and that’s the role that most games focus on. If you remove soldiers from the protagonist list, it’s much closer between male and female protagonists.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2013 2:19 pm

    Costume Quest lets you pick between the sister and the brother at the beginning, btw. I played it through using her

    • September 30, 2013 8:13 am

      I put player choice and mixed groups into the same category, so either way, it would have been there.

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