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Personal Tech for Women: 5 Things You Need to Know About Female Leads in Video Gaming

Monday, June 29, 2015


This month, video gamers got to binge on their favorite pastime at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the annual video game conference held in Los Angeles. And if you weren’t lucky enough to attend, no matter – the wealth of media coverage and reviews keep you in the know about the surge of gaming technologies and titles that will soon hit the market. On the feminist front, the games showcased at E3 still failed to accelerate the number of female protagonists, regardless of the pressure gamers have put on the mainstream industry to make that happen. Here are 5 things you need to know about the state of female leads in the video game market.

1. Still low numbers on exclusive female leads

Only 7 games at E3 had exclusively playable female protagonists, whereas gamers could choose between 24 games with exclusively playable male protagonists. That means out of 76 titles, 32 percent had male leads and only 9 percent had female. It seems the majority of writers and bloggers on the topic are saying women representation was greater this year than 2014’s dominating white male heroes (like every year), but the numbers are still quite low. According to 2014 statistics from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 59 percent of Americans play video games – and women make up 48 percent of them. Hence, game designers should create more female leads because – not only is it fair – but it’s simply wise from a marketing standpoint when almost half of all players are women. Yet the fact that only 22 percent of game designers are women might have something to do with low numbers of female leads.

2. A glimpse at the female leads of upcoming games

Apart from being the love interest, the damsel in distress, the sidekick or the cute elf, female characters are leading the pack and kicking ass in the following games sited by the blog Feminist Frequency: ReCore features desert nomad Joule, accompanied by her robo-pup, as the world’s last human survivor; Horizon: Zero Dawn gives us hunter and archer Aloy who fights her way through a post-apocalyptic world of mechanized creatures; in Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, Faith fights for freedom within the City of Glass; and the widely popular Lara Croft leads the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider. E3 also featured the mobile game Lara Croft Go, and two indie games, Tacoma and Beyond Eyes.

3. More games let players choose a female lead

Out of the 76 titles, however, 35 games let players choose between a male or female lead. That’s 46 percent of the games. But while it’s true that many men might prefer to be a woman in a video game, the reasons could be more superficial – they get to look at their character’s sculpted body, symmetrical face, pouting lips and flawless hair. Not true for all men of course, but it is something to consider. Interesting to note is a comment from Professor Jeffrey E Brand of Bond University, who told CNET, “A few researchers studying how gamers take on avatars and characters noted that female gamers are more comfortable taking on male avatars than male gamers are taking on females.” Conditioning seeps into video games too. Bond also points out how developers could be reluctant to introduce more female-led games simply because they might prove to be commercially limiting, if both men and women are already comfortable playing as male characters.

4. Female leads help men identify with women… maybe

Feminist Frequency stresses the importance of introducing games fronted exclusively by female characters because, “it works to counter the long-established, long-reinforced cultural notion that heroes are male by default. By and large girls and women are expected to project themselves onto male characters, but boys and men are not encouraged to project themselves onto or identify with female characters.” Running with this logic, if male players see the game world through the gaze of a female protagonist, “it helps challenge the idea that men can’t or shouldn’t identify with women, their lives, and their struggles,” writes Feminist Frequency. True … kind of… which brings us to Number 5.

5. Female leads don’t necessarily reflect real women

It’s a game, not real life. And the struggles of a female lead in a video game are closer to acquiring rare weapons and abilities than balancing one’s self esteem or fighting for equality in the workplace. For this reason, men won’t necessarily better understand “things” from a women’s perspective just because he plays as a women. This is entertainment and fantasy, remember. He should try playing as a woman because her story is just as engaging as a male’s, and is not secondary to his. Feminist Frequency also points out that indie games like Tacoma, Firewatch and Beyond Eyes are embarking on a more “human experience through a lens of empathy rather than one of violence.” At this month’s E3, 76 percent of games revolved around combat and violence. But that’s no surprise, since the “fight” or “combat” in games are almost synonymous with the genre. So whether or not more games in the future are less violent isn’t a matter of gender, but rather of story innovation.

Melanie Sevcenko is a journalist for radio, print and online. She reports internationally for BBC World Service and Monocle Radio (M24) in the UK, and for Deutsche Welle in Germany. Melanie also reports for the online news source GoLocalPDX, in Portland, Oregon. Her work has been broadcast by CBC in Canada and the Northwest News Network, and published by Al Jazeera English, Global Post, Pacific Standard, the Toronto Star and USA Today, amongst others.


Related Slideshow: The Best Virtual Reality Gadgets and Games

Big names are now making VR a viable and desirable “new” technology. Google, Facebook, HTC, and Samsung are all in the game and the results make the 75-year-old View Master look like a child’s…well you get the idea. 

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In fact the View Master has gotten a serious upgrade thanks to Google and it’s Google Cardboard project. The new View Master is now a fully immersive experience with 360-degree worlds, photosphere, and interactive “field-trips.” The $30 plastic viewer requires a smartphone to function, and can be replaced with a standard cardboard setup since most of the work is done inside the app, but the View Master is a much more durable version and will come with the classic reels. These reels, however are no longer inserted into the top of the device, but laid on a table and viewed through the smartphone app triggering the experience. 

Of course since the View Master is just a sturdier version of the standard Google Cardboard so it can be used for the variety of apps now available for the platform. Some of the best apps include Orbulus, VR Cosmic Rollercoaster, and Village. The View Master will be available in October, and will eventually support both Android and iOS.

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Samsung Gear VR

Similar to the Google Cardboard, Samsung has developed it’s own VR headset designed to use the Galaxy Note 4 as the display. The Gear VR is actually a very good-looking full-on headset that only cost $200. The drawback, and it is a very big very expensive drawback, is that it requires the $700 Galaxy Note 4 in order to function. Another drawback is the limited software. It can of course use all the VR apps and features available for Google Cardboard, but those are still very limited both in visual quality and variety. If you already have a Note 4 and $200 to blow this could certainly be a fun toy, but at this point I would probably just go for the View Master or straight cardboard box.

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HTC Vive

Like Samsung HTC is best known for it’s outstanding smartphones, particularly the outstanding One series. They were also the first to develop an Android phone so you would think they would be content with the Cardboard project or something similar to the Gear VR. This is not the case; HTC, with the help of Valve, has developed the HTC Vive a high end VR headset aimed at PC gamers. Basically HTC is handling the manufacturing of the device while Valve/Steam handle the software. With a Fall 2015 release date the Vive is the first of the big VR headsets to launch, and could set the stage for the others.

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Project Morpheus

Project Morpheus is Sony’s go at VR technology. This headset will connect directly to the Playstation 4 and provide a similar experience to the HTC Vive but in a console/living room setting as opposed to Vive’s PC/desk setting. Demos of the Morpheus have people on a luge, swimming with sharks, and robbing banks. If successful this could breathe new life into Sony’s lackluster attempt to copy the Nintendo Wii; the Playstation Move. Some of the issues gamers may have here are with the headset being wired to the PS4 and the potential amount of movement required of some games. Now movement and wires aren’t by themselves a bad thing, but pair them with a living room full of furniture, maybe a child/dog or two, and what amounts to a blindfold strapped to your head and you can see the potential for issues.

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Oculus Rift

The device that re-started it all; Oculus Rift was a project that began back in 2012 with Oculus VR founders Palmer Luckey and Brendan Iribe. Palmer envisioned a lightweight head mounted display (HMD) that was both functional and inexpensive. The first prototype was little more than a couple of LCD panels duct taped to the head and running Doom 3. In August of 2012 the company began its Kickstarter campaign that introduced the first “dev-kit” for $300 allowing many the chance to develop for this new and exciting platform. In 2014 Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2.2 billion. The Oculus Rift is set to launch sometime next year and will likely have a price tag of around two or three hundred dollars. 

The development of this next generation of VR looks like a promising one. Not only are these devices being developed for gaming and looking at pictures, but virtual tourism, medical uses, and virtual art shows are just the tip of the iceberg. Companies are developing VR arcades that merge real world environments and virtual ones to create even more realistic experiences.

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As exciting as all this sounds it is all still in it’s…we’ll say…toddler stage. Things are looking good, but we won’t know how good for another two to three years at the least. If you want to try VR out for yourself Google Cardboard is your best bet currently as most of the more advanced options don’t launch until later this year or next. You can find a list of Cardboard sellers here, and perhaps I’ll see you in a virtual space down the road.


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