Ah, yes. The age old question. Why aren’t there more female protagonists in video games? Besides the typical game that gives the player the option to choose their gender at the start of the game, are there any that completely follows the narrative from a female character’s perspective? Men get Call of Duty, Kingdom Hearts, Grand Theft Auto, even the first Pokemon game lacked a female player option. But what about the female gamers? What strong, inspirational protagonists do we get?
I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Put your pitchforks down. Us female gamers do in fact have a good number of female protagonists to play as. Unfortunately, most of them were designed not to cater to a female audience, but to cater to a male one. There certainly have been some improvements over the years. Tom Raider’s Lara Croft has finally decided to switch to wearing sensible pants as opposed to impractical short shorts. Child of Light brought us the lovable and appropriately dressed Aurora. Final Fantasy gave us a strong and well dressed protagonist in Lighting. But for every single well dressed female protagonist, we get five more that look like this: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/9nkCd3Eiicc/maxresdefault.jpg (warning, image is NSFW) Yikes.
Games for Girls
While much more rare compared to the wide variety of games clearly targeted towards males, from First Person Shooter to RPG to even rhythm games, there certainly have been games that in the past that have appealed more towards a female audience. Cooking Mama, Style Savvy, Otome games (dating sims geared towards women), and games based on popular franchises like Barbie and Disney Princess all have a female audience in mind when they were conceived.
The Atelier series is an interesting case…It’s a long running RPG franchise that’s consistently provided likeable female protagonists with each entry. If you’d asked me seven years ago, after Atelier Annie‘s launch, if I classified that series as one that’s specifically geared towards women, I would have said “Yes” without hesitation. Ever since Atelier Rorona‘s release shortly afterwards, the series seemed to shift into a different direction. That much was clear with the risque art provided as pre-order bonuses in Japan. Don’t get me wrong. Rorona and her successors are still very likeable heroines. And while Atelier Rorona still seemed to acknowledge its female audience by implement mechanics not unlike what one would find in an otome game, later entries abandoned this entirely. While one could still make the argument that the games appealed to female consumers, Atelier Sophie pretty much threw that notion out of the window with its sheer lack of pretty boys and increase of inappropriately dressed female characters.
Harvest Moon, now renamed Story of Seasons, is also a franchise that has appealed to women for several years. Much like the Atelier series, it has a calm, relaxing atmosphere filled with friendly, lovable characters that the player can potentially romance. But much like Pokemon, Harvest Moon‘s first game only featured a male protagonist. The first game to feature a female protagonist quite clearly favored her male counterpart (the game ended once the female character got married whereas the male character would be able to continue the story past marriage, to name one of many unfair mechanics). Games that followed would separate for boy and for girl versions, with male centered game being released first and the female version being released as an updated release. Island of Happiness and its successors would all follow the same format as the current Pokemon games. A recent survey conducted on the game’s official twitter indicates that 77% of it consumers are female and play as a female character. With these statistics on hand, you’d think the developers would give up on trying to push the franchise as one that appeals to males right? Wrong. In manga adaptations, the male is always chosen over the female, spin-offs to the game (Rune Factory and Innocent Life) only gave the player the option to play as a male (it took 6 games before Rune Factory gave players the option to play as a female at the very start of the game) and promo material such as commercials and the game’s opening cinematic similarly favors the male protagonist. Despite its overwhelmingly large female fanbase, one has to wonder why the franchise doesn’t just give up and realize that its a game that appeals to girls? That leads us to our next topic.
Preferential Treatment Of Male PCs over Female PCs
In video games that give the player the option to play as a male or female, commercials , promotional materials, and subsequent comic and television adaptations will always favor the male player character. In the character trailer announcement for Robin in Super Smash Bros 4, female Robin was literally added as a footnote at the end of the trailer. And guess who was chosen to be immortalized as an amiibo figure? Male Robin. Surprise, surprise.
There can be a number of arguments made as to why the gaming industry chooses to market its characters like this. We could say that they’re sexist, that male gamers pay more for related merchandise than females, we could debate for ages, but one thing remains clear: this preferential treatment isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to female gamers who love and adore a game as much as their male counterpart and isn’t fair to younger girls who are currently being taught that it’s okay to view women in media like this, because that’s how most girls in video games look! They’ll grow up thinking that video games are for guys because they never see any female protagonists in video games. But they’re there, either in the background or wearing barely there clothing.