Videogames have always been associated with a certain type of player: teenage boys, most times nerdier than their peers. We can all agree that it was thought of as a male-controlled world. Researches have proved that notion wrong. More and more women play games on different consoles and of different genres. They make up half of all videogame players around the world. Still, the ruling perception is that most gamers are men.
A gamer is anyone who plays games, any games. They range from casual gamers, if they only play sporadically, to pro-gamers, if gaming is their profession. Basically, you don’t need a fancy computer or the most expensive console on the market to be one. If you play “Candy Crush” on your way to school or work then, congratulations, you are a gamer.
Studies show that the way genders are portrayed in games influence the players’ perception of the role those genders have in real life. Keeping this in mind, and considering the high numbers of female players, one would think that the representation they should get in order to educate players of the role of women in society would be one of a strong, interesting lead. Or, at least, a respected character, not just decoration. Unfortunately, women have been used mainly as supporting characters, love interests, most of the time oversexualized, or used as the stereotypical “damsel in distress”. I’m looking at you, Peach.
Women are often used as motivation for the male protagonist to do something. Let’s face it, it makes sense that the protagonist would want to move Heaven and Earth to try to rescue or avenge their missing one. But there should be a balance.
We have to understand these decisions based on the social context they were taken in. Understand it, not accept it. Most of the people that have worked in this field over its history were male, as were most of the players, even if this is changing. So, up until recently, most games have been made for men by men. This is just how it is.
But things are changing, right? I mean, look at the progress with Lara Croft, a character that, even from the beginning, was strong and brave, but was overly sexualized. We have gone from conic breasts and mini —and unpractical— shorts, to an actual normal-looking woman. Big props to the amazing actress that portrays Lara in the games now, Camilla Luddington. She really does a great job at being the adventurous English lady we all know.
How about LGTBQ representation? Well, it sucks. There is a representation, and it is growing. We have amazing titles with queer protagonists and characters, like “Life is strange” or “The last of us: Left Behind”. But during its history, videogame developers have avoided having LGBTQ+ characters in their games.
One of the first videogames with a character that belonged to the LGBTQ+ group was “Final Fight” back in 1989. In the arcade game, Poison is a trans woman, but she was an antagonist NPC, which means that she was a Non-Playable Character that you have to fight against. We have to go forward to the 1999 “Final Fight Revenge” game to be able to play as her.
During the ’90s, more and more LGTBQ+ characters appeared in videogames, but they were all supporting characters. There were references to homosexual relationships and other things, like the laws related to those relationships.
There’s a really interesting article about queer representation in videogames. The author, Sam Greer, is a queer gamer who takes us through queer representation in the history of videogames. She gives some great and detailed examples and makes a shocking point right in the first paragraph: there are only around 179 games that have queer characters. Considering there are currently millions of videogames in the world, that number would be almost laughable if it wasn’t so sad. Of those 179 games, only 83 have playable queer characters. And only 8 of them are pre-written queer instead of it being an option the player can choose.
We have said before, videogames influence the players. How they represent us will affect generations to come. They aren’t just games, they matter.
Obviously, not all protagonist should be women or LGTBQ+ characters, because then we will have the same problem, but reversed. We need balance, and we can get it with time and effort. How? Not everybody can become a videogame developer, but anybody can be a gamer. The market is the one that rules what kinds of games will be created in the future. We, as clients, have the deciding vote on what kind of representation is the one we are going to get. It is our money that makes videogames possible.
And though I know there are more problems with awful representation of other groups, like races or religions, I would like to explore further into these two groups. There are a lot of games that have evolved or are just making their way into our lives that have amazing female or LGTBQ+ leads. In this series, we will take a look at different videogames where the representation of women and LGTBQ+ is key. Let’s supports these types of games, make them popular, or even more popular in some cases. We are the ones that decide.
During this series, I will play some games that have the type of characters we are looking for. These are games like “Metroid” (1986), “Tomb Raider” (2012), or “Life is strange” (2015). Some of them have been recommended to me, some I knew from before. If you have any recommendation from me to analyse, comment down below and I’ll check it out.
And if you want to know more about statistics on the world of videogames and videogames development, I urge you to investigate a little more. A great book I recommend is “The white book of Spanish videogames development” (in Spanish, “El Libro Blanco del Desarrollo Español de Videojuegos”), the newest edition came out in 2018. It really gives you an understanding of what is going on in the industry in terms of market, both globally and in Spain. It answers questions such as who is playing, who is producing, what consoles are more popular, etc. Do check it out, and if you know of other books like this, that analyse the growing market of videogames in other countries, tell me in the comments so I can check them out.
Thank you and I’ll see you in the next one!