Making Playable Female Characters Isn't Just Right, It's Good Business


Here are some facts: Women play video games (almost 50% of all video games and a third of PC and console games!). Women have money to spend on video games. Women would like to see themselves represented as playable characters—not just sexualized prizes—in video games. Playing a female character in a video game, if you are a male-identified person, will not cause you to suddenly extrude an armored bra out of your skin and start tacking Eat Pray Love quotes on your intention board (see: all the girl gamers who’ve managed to play mostly male characters for decades without transforming into human ballsacks and making 25% more money at work). And players of all genders reportedly enjoy “the option to be able to play as anything other than the generic brooding white guy hero.”

So, despite all those facts, why are playable female characters still such a rarity (and treated like an impossibility)?

CNET looked into why developers from so many different companies are making the same costly mistake, seemingly independent of one another. The answer seems to be a combination of systemic ignorance, a handful of damaging misconceptions, and the assumption (which lies at the root of so much of the sexism and white-supremacy that defines our culture) that a “white male” is the default human and anything else is an “other,” a “risk.”

Here’s CNET:

Gaider also believes there is an institutionalised mindset — and an erroneous one — that playable female characters constitute risk, but also that many developers simply don’t consider other possibilities.”I think it happens in dev teams most often because the male default is considered ‘neutral’. It occurs without much thought going into it, or because there is a certain amount of risk associated with doing anything else (and, considering how much games cost to make, any risk — even imagined risk — is considered anathema),” he said.
“It falls on the developers to take a moment early in the development process and consider why they’re making the game the way they are. Nobody’s saying they can’t have a white male protagonist… but have they considered whether he could be anything else? Have they considered whether their characters offer any breadth in their portrayals, and whether having some variety might actually be more interesting, not only to them, but to the larger player base?”

But the real risk, it seems, might be to ignore the problem:

“AAA games are now so expensive to develop and launch, and must sell so many copies to break even, that it’s of critical importance that they are as inclusive as possible and do not exclude large portions potential audience, especially when there are so many alternatives to choose from,” he said. “In my view, it’s more commercially risky to exclude the very significant female audience than it is to risk alienating some of the less progressive audience.”

Also, at a certain point in cultural evolution, creators have to start coming forward and saying, “fuck the less progressive audience.” Diversifying representation isn’t the right thing to do because it has the potential to be profitable, it’s the right thing to do because it’s RIGHT. Technology is about movement and progress, not pandering to scared teenage boys who want to live in the past.

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