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.