As a woman who plays games I find myself constantly wishing that more games had playable female characters in them. This wish does not stop me from playing the games I love, but when they start to embrace the playable female character I get really excited. This recently occurred when Gears of War 3 came out in September 2011 and offered up two playable female characters in the multi-player aspects of the game, Anya and Sam. Their character development and purpose in the campaign was all but useless; Anya acted as “Captain Obvious,” pointing out things we already could clearly formulate in our minds without her mentioning them and while Sam’s character was much more developed than Anya’s, she still wasn’t what I would call exemplary character development.
But still, they were women in the game! In a world filled with testosterone it was nice to see these two women walking around in this enormous armor holding their own. Especially since Anya had all but been eye candy up until the third installment of the game. These two women gave me hope that Epic Games realized the value of having a female playable character and that this meant they must also realize the value in games that offer a female protagonist. Well, I was wrong (go figure, huh?). In a recent interview with OXM, Epic Games’ art director Chris Perna explained the value of having female characters and in basically the same thought expresses that having a female protagonist would be “tough to justify” based on what sells.
Before I go into my rant about everything that is wrong with his sentiment, Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez also wrote an article discussing how ridiculous this thought is and directly contacted Epic Games. She received this statement, “We have lots of strong, intelligent female characters in the Gears universe and we would never rule out a female protagonist for any of our future games, Gears or otherwise.” Okay, good job Epic you covered your butts. Give me the female protagonist first and then we’ll talk.
My first and biggest beef with this is simply the fact that what sells is what’s been given to us and what is given to us are male protagonists. How many times have we complained on the podcast and on this site that we want more female playable characters let alone protagonists? We buy the games because we want to play them and work through our disappointment that we aren’t given the female characters we so yearn for. Male protagonist games sell because that’s almost the only thing that gets made! So, solid logic there.
My second beef comes from the people who are saying that my first point is not valid because there are plenty of successful games out there that offer a female protagonist. Most of the examples of those games are Mass Effect, Borderlands, and really any game with character creation. My problem with that is yes, they do allow you to play as a female protagonist but they are paired with the option of playing a male protagonist. They have given players the backup option of playing a female, but let’s be honest most of the time it is the male character that is portrayed as the true protagonist. In Mass Effect “BroShep” is predominantly used in marketing. In Borderlands 2 they don’t even advertise one of the playables as being the protagonist, but instead focus on Handsome Jack. Commercials for Skyrim featured a male character. Have I made my point, yet?
Still, there are a few games that feature a female protagonist that have been extremely successful: Metroid, Tomb Raider, and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation are just a few. But that’s not to say that those female protagonists don’t come with huge limitations as far as being able to aptly resemble what a good female protagonist should be. Take for example Lollipop Chainsaw; it had all the promise of offering up an amazingly kick-ass female protagonist and instead gave us the disgusting representation of a female “bimbo.” And come on, how long did it take you to figure out that Samus in Metroid was a female? Somehow some people still don’t know.
Of course there will always be an exception to the rule, but I am talking about main stream, AAA gaming here and let’s be honest, they do not value the female protagonist. Well, I hope that changes. I am beyond excited to play the new Tomb Raider because I think it might offer a female protagonist I can get behind.