As we discussed in our podcast last week, one of the community-selected sales in Steam’s Summer Sale was “Story-Rich Female Protagonist” games. Dr. B and I were decidedly unsure what to think of this category. Of course, one of the first questions she had is whether the creation of this category was actually a positive move to recognize female-fronted games or simply an attempt to cash in on a hot topic. More problematic, however, are the games Steam chose to group into this category.
Each of the community sales featured four games. For this particular grouping, the four games were: Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Gone Home, and The Walking Dead Season Two. Perhaps you can already spot the issue—out of all possible games to select that could highlight story-rich games with female protagonists, two out of these four have essentially gender “neutral” avatars. That is to say that, for Mass Effect and Dragon Age, players have substantial options to customize their avatar and the stories for each game play out essentially the same regardless of the physical characteristics of one’s avatar. This isn’t by any means a bad thing (I quite enjoy games that give me a fair amount of avatar customization), but it also makes these particular games less than ideal choices to represent “Story-Rich Female Protagonist” games.
And there are a lot of games that could fall into this category. Recent releases like Child of Light ( a young girl questing through a magical land to save herself and find her way home) and Transistor (a singer with a stolen voice wielding a mysterious and powerful weapon) are both fantastic examples of games with strong stories and “true” female protagonists. If we reach back only a little further, the most recent installment of Tomb Raider was on sale repeatedly during the Summer Sale event and easily could have fit into this category, as could Portal 2.
While the community selected sales lasted only four hours each, this particular grouping also led me to think a bit more critically about what “counts” as a female protagonist game. Both Dr. B and I had strong reactions against the characterization of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, so obviously “gender-choice” avatars are out. What about a game like Last of Us? Ellie is playable for about 25% of the game, and is the focus of one of the DLCs- an entire back story without the co-protagonist, Joel. And if 25% isn’t enough to count, what about Resident Evil 5? Sheva is playable for the entire game, and players in a single player campaign select between her and Chris (with the other character being controlled by the game). And if dual protagonist games seem tricky, what about games like the Left 4 Dead series? Four possible protagonists, three men and one woman, all of whom are active throughout the entire game—this isn’t a Super Mario Brothers 2 style game where you select your avatar and the others hangout off-stage.
So which games would you have liked to see in a “Story-Rich Female Protagonist” game sale? Let’s be system-agnostic with this, any game is up for grabs!