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The Changing Face of Women in Video Games

Heroine from Mirror’s Edge

Guest Post by Christina Thompson

Princess Peach. Ms. Pacman. Zelda. They’re perhaps some of the most popular classic female video game characters, yet they’re all inherently flawed and display some of the biggest problems the video game industry has seen since its inception. Many video games have been accused of being overtly sexist, and we can see this not just in the way they seem to be oversexualized in their design, but in the narratives surrounding these characters as well. Of course, it doesn’t help that developers seem to be focusing on the outward appearances of their characters and oversexualizing them, with Dead or Alive even boasting of enhanced physics for the breasts of their characters. But often, even when we have a character who seems to be much less offensive at first glance, there are still problems with the way they have been designed.

Princess Peach

 

The examples above are some of the most obvious. Princess Peach serves as nothing more than a Damsel in Distress – a trope we’ve all seen and become familiar with, even outside the realm of video games. Ms. Pacman follows the Ms. Male Character trope, which is “The female version of an already established or default male character”. Ms. Pacman is obviously a female version of Pacman, and sadly, she’d never be able to stand on her own two legs. Zelda, for all intents and purposes, just like Princess Peach: a damsel in distress awaiting the rescue of Link.


Ellie from Last of Us

 

Of course, there are other less obvious examples, such as Ellie of The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite’s Elizabeth, who, despite their obvious superiority crumble to pieces in the hands of male protagonists. As the years go by and more attention is drawn to the fact that we don’t have enough strong female characters in our video games, developers have struggled to do their part. But have we actually progressed? As the face of the prominent gamer changes, so do the games that are being developed. Mobile gaming and casual gaming are now taking top priority in most developers’ books, with Betfair reporting a whopping 500% increase in revenues from mobile devices. We’re now opening the doors for many independent developers who can afford to create the quick casual game for mobile phones, and this provides more opportunities to subvert the established trend of female video game characters that fall short of the spotlight.

Unfortunately, developers don’t seem to be taking advantage. An article on the Washington Post about a 12-year old girl struggling to find characters in her apps that looked like her reveals that the gender gap is still there, and that the platform is still in need of more positive female protagonists and supporting characters.

Zelda

 

But all hope is not lost. In many of the later Legend of Zelda games, Zelda began to play a more prominent role and was shown to be more than capable of taking care of herself. Even the Final Fantasy series, a series that had predominantly male protagonists and supporting characters, had three games with a female lead. Lara Croft of the popular Tomb Raider series even saw a reboot that fleshed her character out and made her much less about her iconic looks and more about the adventures she embarked on. Sure, we’re a long way from achieving complete gender equality in video games, but thanks to efforts like #1ReasonWhy, we’re drawing more attention to the problem, and compelling game developers to start representing women in video games in much better light.

 

About the Writer

Christina Thompson was born in the Golden Age of console gaming, and she’s been an avid gamer since the days of the SNES. When not writing about the evolution of the industry, she can be found scouring development blogs and forums, and hopes to someday publish her own JRPG.

Photo Credits: Mirror’s EdgePrincess PeachEllie, Zelda

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