Not too long ago, a guy revealed in a forum how his mother had entered the room once while he was playing a PC game. She stood and watched for a while, then commented on the fact that most game heroes are men. "Where are all the women?" she asked, annoyed by the morals games were teaching her kids.
"But mom," the boy said. "There are plenty of female heroes. There’s, ehm…"
Desperate to prove his mother wrong, the boy fired up another game from his shelf to demonstrate. "There you go," he said proudly. "Lara Croft!" I doubt I have to tell you that he quickly realised his mistake.
And this story got me thinking. Sure, there are plenty of important female characters in the games we love, many of whom we’ll remember in years to come: Alyx Vance from Half Life, Nina Williams from the Tekken series, not to mention the lovely Cate Archer from No One Lives Forever. But what do they all have in common? That’s right, where the men wear suits and play around with their big guns, the women tend to wear much less and play around with their charm and, well, other big guns.
Unlike the case with most male characters, we’ll remember the female ones for qualities other than those of saving the world. And yes, to some extent, this also works the other way around, but it’s far less common that men are portrayed as charming, half-naked puppets and the women as well-dressed intellectuals.
But are videogames really that far off track? I mean, we see this all the time: in movies, advertising, music, and so on. Are videogames any different? The answer is of course no. However, it’s easy pointing fingers at others rather than doing something about it yourself.
It would be nice to see steps being taken in the gaming industry where a certain amount of equality was achieved. Dressing down the men might not be the answer, but dressing up the women would. Because that’s how it is: to create equality between the genders, they not only need to be equally present, they also need to be equally decent.
Then again, that’s not going to happen, because sex appeal sells. Charming women sells. And as with any product, it all comes down to money, earnings and how high you climb on the charts. After all, the majority of players are men, so why create games for women?
It is, however, possible to create good female characters who will stick to our minds not because of their looks but because of their intelligence, personality and more ethical qualities. It’s only too sad that we, the consumers, make it so difficult for the developers to feel comfortable taking that path rather than sticking to what they know works. As a comfort, at least Alyx didn’t wear a skirt or tiny bikini (even though she did seduce us in other ways).
I don’t believe the lad I was talking about earlier will introduce his mother to Lara Croft again, and probably shouldn’t. And while I’m sure there are a few decent female heroes out there (that’s odd, I can’t think of one), we sure could use a lot more.
That’s not only to have something decent to show our mothers, but to create a stronger sense of gender equality within videogames. It might not save the world, but it could broaden our children’s views on the opposite sex, thus making room for a brighter future even outside the world of videogames.
In the end, it’s all about what we demand from those who make the products.