Gaming and #SuperWomen: Female Protagonists Can’t Be Justified?


It’s been a while since we’ve busted out the SuperWomen hashtag, folks, but a discussion this morning with my agent and another writer on Twitter made me think it was time to raise the banner once more.

The spark for the discussion was this: Chris Perna, the art director of Epic Games (which created the popular Gears of War franchise) said that it was unlikely they’d ever have a female protagonist for their games.


Because “if you look at what sells, it’s tough to justify something like that.”¹

Excuse me while I turn my head and cough.

What I hate the most about that kind of statement is that it’s a bit of a straw man. If you look at the gaming industry, it certainly looks male dominated. Just like the comic book industry looks male dominated. But if you look a little closer, you’ll find that women make up a huge portion of gamers and readers and enjoyers of these media. (Though admittedly the creation aspect is still overwhelmingly skewed toward men.)

For instance, 47% of gamers are, in fact, women. And female gamers OVER the age of 18 are one of the fastest-growing demographics in video games.²

Perna’s argument is a straw man because honestly, most major video gaming companies simply haven’t MADE a game in a major franchise that has a female protagonist, so they have nothing to actually compare it to. And if you look at the success of the long-running Resident Evil series (Capcom) and Tomb Raider (Core Design/Crystal Dynamics), you see that games with female protagonists can absolutely be hugely profitable and popular with the male demographic. If both of those franchises had flopped horribly (or rather, blipped into the waters of gamerdom without so much as a ripple), maybe his statement would have a teensy bit of merit from a fiscal standpoint.

But after multiple films, huge numbers of titles, and years of devoted fans — he comes off as more than a little naive and condescending. Perhaps he didn’t mean to sound like he was patting women on the head for feeling empowered when they go to cons and cosplay as Anya or Samantha (two characters in the Gears franchise), but it sure sounded that way.

You can’t say games with a female protagonist won’t sell because most of the games out there have male protagonists. Naturally those will sell more copies, because more of them exist.

Until one of the hugely-successful, popular franchises goes for it and produces a title in their series with a female protagonist, they really have nothing to compare it to besides the success of Resident Evil and Tomb Raider and the franchises that were built around a female leader in the first place. If you can point to a blockbuster gaming franchise that tanked as soon as it introduced a female protagonist, do tell.

Comments like Pernas’ are like saying women clearly don’t want to see superhero movies with female leads because Catwoman flopped. Hello. Catwoman flopped because it was an awful film, not because Halle Berry was the lead instead of Christian Bale. The point is this: make an awesome, well-written, exciting game and gamers will flock to it regardless of whether the protagonist has a dingle or a hoo-hah. But don’t try to tell me people won’t buy games with female protagonists (or rather that men won’t). They will.

To their credit, Epic Games seems to have gotten the point that they needed to minimize Perna’s words, because they issued a statement saying they would never rule out having a female protagonist for the Gears of War series, but that doesn’t mean much to me until there is one.

There are plenty of franchises (like my beloved Dragon Age and the Elder Scrolls) that offer gamers a choice. I love that option, and I think that Bioware did a good thing by giving gamers the opportunity to control much of their character from the outset, including the character’s sex.

This Thursday (21 February), I would like to bring back the #SuperWomen live chat to discuss geek girl culture and female gamers.

What: SuperWomen live chat on Twitter!
Topic: SuperWomen in gamer culture. Female protagonists, the female gamer demographic, and more.
When: Thursday, 21 February from 7-8 PM EST. (Don’t worry, I’ll let you out before The Vampire Diaries.)

Come hang out and discuss what YOU want to see in the video gaming industry.

¹Yep, he really said that. Here’s a link.

²Entertainment Software Association. See link.


About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on February 16, 2013, in Fandom, Gaming, SuperWomen and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Having been sucked into Skyrim, I totally agree with you. Even my husband will pick a female protagonist just for the fun of it. And both my sisters and I play and I know plenty others, so there are plenty of female players out there.

  2. Well said!
    Why haven’t we collaborated on this? I write about gaming and female gamers all the time! Haha!

  3. Tiresome, ain’t it? I’m not a gamer, but I like action movies and books. Hunger Games, anyone?

  4. i have a twitter but i don’t use it – but i’ll try to get on and actually participate. sadly, thursdays are hard for me [i run a game on thursdays] so i’m not sure i CAN, but i’ll try. maybe between combat rounds? if we have combat. my players are awesome, so they tend to talk themselves OUT of combat through sheer roleplaying awesomeness…

    all that said – my gods, this shit is beyond pissing me off, now! some of THE most popular comic characters are FEMALE, and… WHAT? WHAT ARE YOU IDIOTS *DOING*!!!
    i mean, BOTH the Lara Croft movies [which, frankly, were NOT that great, story-wise] did REALLY well. but “women as the main character won’t sell”?!?!?!?!

    this is true – if you make movies like Catwoman or Elektra, NO, they WON’T [sell well], because you’re thinking “oh, it’s just a woman. the men are going to go see it for the scantily clad aspects and won’t CARE about anything but the tits and ass – and women either won’t go see it because women don’t *DO* comic books, OR, women will pay even if it sucks just to see a woman, right?”

    this is utter and complete bullshit. both men and women want GOOD STORIES, women *DO*, in fact, *DO* comic books… and, you know… that second bit, about women, it says something. it speaks to the fact that 50.2% of the population? IS FEMALE!!! we’d MUCH rather go see something that DOESN’T suck just because the lead is a woman. we’ll drop so much more than we do already on it. STOP BEING IDIOTS, COMIC BOOK AND GAMING COMPANIES!!! JUST STOP ACTING LIKE 5-Y-O BOYS AND STOP TRYING TO HANG THE “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” SIGN, YOU’RE TOO LATE WE’RE ALL GROWN UP AND I AM BY-GODS ALLOWED WHEREVER THE HELL I WANT – EVEN IN COMIC BOOK AND GAMING LAND!

    i want more kick-ass women in all media. i want them to be CHARACTERS, with armor that actually, you know, covers their vital bits, with real story lines that don’t involve being stuffed in a fridge to provide some MALE character with more plot, while destroying the female character’s plot…
    i want to buy video games with women i can ADMIRE as the main character, not just women who are cheesecake. don’t get me wrong – there *IS* a place in the world for cheesecake [AND beefcake. i think my fav thing about the Avengers movie? was the fact that, for once, the MALE characters were treated to the FEMALE GAZE. mmmmmm… erm. sorry. don’t mind me] but it shouldn’t be the ONLY option.

    and companies who continue to buy into and then attempt to only sell this antiquated, outdated line of bullshit are going to find themselves going out of business, as the fastest growing gamer demographic happens to be WOMEN!
    and comics are ALREADY being hurt by this bullshit.
    so are many, many movies. it’s my contention that the REASON Avengers did SO FREAKING FANTASTIC is because it gave women all this beefcake. i mean, we got ONE woman superhero in the whole movie – but then again, she was THE hero, wasn’t she? she’s the one who saved the day, she kicked the most ass, she closed the gate, etc – but by gods, we got to see captain america in clingly sweatpants that made his ass look delicious, we got to see hawkeye tied up and sexy, we got to see bruce banner* all but naked, we got to see ironman teased and run in sexy circles by the awesome Pepper Potts [even if WTF is PP doing as Stark’s love interest?! she never was in the comics!]

    and so women went to see the Avengers, and went to see the Avengers, and WENT TO SEE THE AVENGERS! because BW kicked the most ass, and the rest of the ass seen? was sexy, sexy beefcake, displayed JUST FOR US WOMEN.

    and if stupid comic book companies and gaming companies CAN’T SEE THIS, they DESERVE to go out of business.

    whew – sorry, that turned into a HUGE rant, sorry.

    *erm. not a fan of the Hulk. but Mark Ruffalo? yes, please! and i’m an even bigger fan of Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans *swoon*! and i’m not a girl who swoons, just sayin’!

  5. The paradigm shift is coming. It takes longer for an aircraft carrier to turn than a kayak. I’m sorry the change is taking so long. People’s ideas normally manifest their persona or cover their fears. As more women continue to dominate the different industries the change will move noticeably faster.

    I definitely want to see more kick-ass women characters in everything that has a story. How long has the female gamer been in high stats?

  6. They should at least make the sex of the game’s mc optional. Don’t forget Metroid either. That was the big shocker way back when, that it was a female. Guys didn’t seem to care about that.

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