Where Them Girls At???

posted by on 23rd September 2011, at 4:33pm

It’s the name of a popular song, but also an appropriate title for my second gaming article this month. Have you ever noticed where all the girls are in video games and what they do? When I consider all the video games I have played, not many come to mind that actually have prominent female characters in them. By prominent, I mean the role that a female plays is central or important to the game’s storyline. Why does this occur and why is it worthy to note? I’ll try to explain this gender discrepancy in games and prove to you why the lack of female characters and their limited roles only hurts the overall quality of games.

Before I can address this gender quandary, I first need to point out what I think is the overarching and main issue at play. Many game designers, in their competition against other companies and attempt to appeal to the modern gamer, have chosen to imbed more realism into the games they create. Simply put… the more real or believable the story and its characters, the more interested a gamer is in purchasing the game. Games like Halo and Mass Effect take place years in the future, yet a gamer believes that the story and character they play are somehow authentic and thus more exciting. While John-117 and Shepherd are heroes in an advanced time, they still like all humans and have weaknesses. The player can become these humans and turn them into heroes. Another thing some designers aim to achieve is improvement in versatility. The choice of the player to control more of the environment, the character they play, or the items they use are key essentials to a player’s happiness, creativity, and imagination. The more choices a player has available, the more fun the game becomes… at least, I believe most players have more fun when they can control more parts of the game.

But back to how this relates to female characters in gaming. In order to become more realistic, believable, and versatile, the player’s character as well as NPCs should be unique and varied. This would mean that for a game to be more realistic, it should have females appear somewhere along the way at different points. For example, though Call of Duty is a game focused on war, environments can arise where women and children are present and should be noticed. Of course, these side characters hardly ever take on an important or noticeable role. Often times, these secondary characters and their roles consist of running across a screen and disappearing or being saved from a hostage situation and being left behind to be evacuated. Needless to say, their impact on the game is very limited. Once they disappear, you never see them again. If you rescue them, they get hauled off while you move on ahead. Often times, these are roles reserved for female gendered characters when really any person, either male or female, young or old, big or small could end up in that type of situation.

In researching this topic, I found a Wikipedia article titled Portrayal of women in video games. In it, the article points to “Two recurring themes are the level of independence of female characters from their male counterparts, and their objectification and sexualization.” In essence, women have much less independence and roles to play in games than men, and more often than not, female characters become objects or eye candy for the average male gamer. These same type of problems can recur in movies, books, television, etc. In my personal view, I think this divergence in representation of females only serves to hurt the game rather than improve it. Fair and equal depiction of females will, in my opinion, lead to more realistic game play and better plot overall. Then again, it’s not of paramount important in comparison to other things that affect a video game, but I digress.

Now, I’m not trying to make a social issue out of this or make a social statement. As a gaming writer, I want to bring things from games to the attention of players. I’m only trying to point out the facts and the problem it poses to video games now. As I’ve pointed out, there is a lack of female portrayal in video games, which to most people may seem trifling. To me, it’s a matter of getting the game right… of making it as realistic and believable as possible. A game cannot be complete unless it has some portrayal of women and fairness in the roles they are given. To ignore females and the roles they serve in a video game or any other entertainment medium is to ignore the reality of the situation. Women can play important roles and should play a bigger part in games than they do now (of course, I don’t refer to Laura Croft or Metroid or any other female dominated games when I say that).

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