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5 reasons why video games need more women characters

Creating more female characters that are compelling and empowered, game designers will not only address a much wider audience, but also contribute to the gradual change of the gaming industry for the better.

If there's anything that generates controversy among the gaming community, it's the presence and depiction of female characters in games. Some claim that there are not only too little such characters in games available on the market, but when they appear, they tend to realize male fantasies rather be female characters in their own right. Steering clear from personal tastes and scandals that seem to envelop the debate, here are 5 key reasons why video games really need more women characters – backed up by recent research studies and key gaming community data.

 

1. Women do play video games – and a lot!

 

Browsing through forums, you might spot different figures accounting for the presence of women in the gaming community. But those never reflect the reality, because there are far more women playing games than you'd suspect!

 

This study conduted by the Internet Advertising Bureau showed that women are growing to become a gaming majority on the British market – 52% of the gaming community in the UK are women. (http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/sep/17/women-video-games-iab)

 

What about the US? The analyst firm Superdata Research found out that when it comes to PC games, women play slightly more than men – we're talking 50.2% to 49.9%. Interestingly, the scale goes up for PC RPG games, which are often considered a game type preferred by men – here women dominate with 53.6%. FPS and MMO genres are still favored by men with 66% of the audience being male. (http://www.pcgamer.com/researchers-find-that-female-pc-gamers-outnumber-males/)

 

Another interesting piece of data was uncovered by a study from the Entertainment Software Association showing that there are twice more adult women than there are boys playing games in the US. After men aged 21-35 (18%), the largest chunks of the gaming community in the US are women aged 21-35 (21%) and 36-50 (15%). Interestingly, when we look at the age bracket of 51-65, there are more women playing games than men – by 2%! (http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2014.pdf)

 

Seeing such statistics is bound to generate a question – maybe some genres aren't so popular with women precisely because they lack characters that are aspirational and empowered? Even if you still think that the line of 'women just don't play these games' rings true, it's clear that there are many women gamers out there that brands could address by creating fantastic female characters. And isn't widening its audience a top business priority for any company in the gaming industry?

 

2. More women characters will lead to positive discrimination

 

In 2009, a group of researchers form the University of Southern California analyzed 50 largest game releases and concluded that in less than 10% of them game characters are female. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090729140931.htm) Just because game creators would finally acknowledge that women exist and incorporate them into games wouldn't lead to positive discrimination.

 

Audiences who want more female characters aren't asking for a total revolution of the industry and domination of star female protagonists over the sector – what they want are simply more options to choose from. Games should accurately reflect the makeup of the gaming public and society as a whole, not a selected group of individuals who happen to be male, white and have specific fantasies about female bodies.

 

Just because recent years brought more female protagonists and Lara Croft got revamped to have a humanized body doesn't mean the job is done. The plea to include more women characters in games is often misrepresented as a campaign to entirely exclude male characters.

 

Games are created with marketing ratios in hand, so once marketers realize that female audiences do exist and thrive, we might expect more aspirational female characters to become an increasing presence in the gaming industry.

 

3. Accurately designed characters won't cause controversy

 

This is something we often hear from game creators – even if I take the risk to design a female character, I'll get criticized or even accused of violence against women. Needless to say, that kind of apprehension is based on a firm tradition in the gaming industry for representing female body.

 

A 2007 study showed that there are three major stereotypical depictions of women in games: a vision of beauty, scantily clad and sexualized. (https://dx.doi.org/10.1007%2Fs11199-007-9278-1) This is a canon that holds true for more than 80% of women depicted in video games – over 25% of these characters embodies all three categories at once!

 

Creators scared that their female characters will be received badly should do everything they can to minimize the chance of getting negative reviews. One way to go on about it is to dress female characters accurately to their role (not as sex fantasies of a teenager) and avoid making them objects of fetishistic violence.

 

No more scanty armors and pixelated cleavages for everyone to gawk at. Game creators should take their responsibility to create compelling female characters seriously – otherwise we'll all have to wait for things to change even longer.

 

4. Your art budget can take it

 

Yes, designing a female character will double your art budget if what you had in mind was only one male character. But does this logic sound alright? Creating female characters is considered costly only because it's viewed as additional – not fundamental. In the end, character budgets are only a fraction of the whole art budget, so if you're setting out to create a unique performance capture for 3 different male characters, adding a female character (or two!) won't cost you a lot.

 

It's really the way of thinking about the game's story – especially for larger studios that can afford other expenses such as actors for dubbing. If the budget is designed to include female characters from the ground up, game creators would assume a completely different attitude towards the process of creating female characters. The popular assumption that adding a female character takes a lot of money and work to create simply won't hold true.

 

5. Women in power are totally realistic

 

This is an argument that irks many women who actually work in the gaming industry. While it's perfectly realistic to see Cole MacGrath shooting lighting bolts form this hands, if he were designed as a woman it would suddenly seem absurd?

 

What is really unrealistic is the present situation in game creation, where a half of the global population is either completely ignored or assigned a passive role in the background of the game's plot. While real women work in law enforcement or army, it seems that virtual ones cannot be easily granted a similar degree of empowerment. And you have to admit that such an impoverished imagination is just sad.

 

Creating more female characters that are compelling and empowered, game designers will not only address a much wider audience, but also contribute to the gradual change of the gaming industry for the better. Just consider how many gamers around will appreciate more options that the ever-present and identical white, straight male. That's right, we're talking a major part of the gaming community, which is fed up with stereotypical character depictions – both male and female!

 

The blog post was contributed by Torri Myler of http://www.bankopening.co.uk/

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