Friday, June 13, 2014

Female Players Want Female Playable Characters

In this article, game writer Sande Chen reviews the reasons she's heard for not including female playable characters in video games.

Oh, deja vu!  Here comes the news that there won't be female playable characters in co-op mode for Far Cry 4, following the revelation that Assassin's Creed Unity will not have female playable characters in co-op mode.  The reason why?  As other companies have responded in past queries of this sort, it's just too much work to make female playable characters: it's double the amount of animations, double the workload, and double the production cost. 

At least that sounds more reasonable than some narrative excuses that have been brokered in the past, such as, "It's not historically accurate or believable to have females in those roles" or "It's a warrior culture!" which led to my presentation at LOGIN Conference 2010 on "Hot Warrior Women."  As Brenna Hillier writes in her article about sexism and the game industry, narrative excuses come off as rather flimsy.


Let's face it, most of these games are fantasies, even if based on real-life historical eras.  That's why there are items like G-string armor for female playable characters.  In an idealized society of the future, a fantasy world, and even in a historical setting, we can surely see that writers have the option to include strong female protagonists.  And in real life, even though they may have been marginalized or overlooked, women have been in combat situations throughout history.  As Dan Golding points out, the most famous assassin in the time period of Assassin's Creed Unity was a woman.  Our world history is not just "the history of men." 

Is it any wonder that female players might want to play these kick-ass female characters?

Sure, I agree that there are production realities and I have faced those myself, but ultimately, the decision to include female playable characters really boils down to whether or not a video game company makes it a priority.  Currently, nearly half of the gaming audience is women and they have proven with their purchasing dollars that they are a demographic that shouldn't be ignored.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

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