Earlier this week, the results of a US survey by Time’s Rosalind Wiseman were published that give some insight into male gamers perception of how women are portrayed in video games. From a sample of over 1400 schools, the most interesting finding was that 47% of boys aged 11-14 and 61% of boys aged 14-18 believed that women are being portrayed too often as an object of sexual appeal rather than a strong independent character. It also found that most of the male gamers surveyed did not attribute importance to the gender of the character they played as. Videogames are often said to be maturing as a narrative medium and so these results highlight perceived weaknesses in female character building.
In my personal opinion the videogame industry has come a long way regarding the portrayal of women, however there are still many improvements that need to be made before we can really say all is equal. First, we must discuss female videogame characters as presented in contemporary games. In recent years we have seen an rise in the number of games featuring female lead protagonists (Portal (2007), Mirror’s Edge (2008),Tomb Raider (2013), Alien: Isoltation (2014)), and while some may still face the challenge of derogatory elements (Lollipop Chainsaw’s upskirt achievement comes to mind), others benefited from the inclusion of strong, independent character traits. Mirror’s Edge and Portal, for example, present playable female characters who are clearly capable of taking care of themselves. Perspective, physical appearance and costume also play a role in shaping perceptions. We can surely all think of examples of female costumes in games that seem to leave practicality and believability out of the brief in place of sexual suggestion. Wiseman describes these images as hyper-sexualised and believes that this widespread imagery, available in games across all digital devices is sending the wrong message to children. Not only that, but many of the children were aware and critical of this.
Perhaps the biggest breakout female lead protagonist in the past few years is in fact a character who has been around since the 1990’s Lara Croft. Funnily enough, Lara Croft was once the exact opposite of what she is today. Granted she still had the independent nature and fiery spirit she has today but back in the 90’s and 2000’s, for that matter, Lara was arguably a video game sex symbol. It is quite ironic, if you ask me, that she evolved from possibly being perceived as a piece of eye candy aimed at selling to adolescent boys, to being a true lead protagonist with her own back story, motives and character development in place. I feel Crystal Dynamics should be commended for pulling Lara out of the dark pit she was placed in by original series developer Eidos. They have reinvented Lara’s character for the new, and much more gender aware, audience. In fact, fan support has been so acclaimed for the new Lara that she will feature in a sequel to 2013’s Tomb Raider this November titled Rise Of The Tomb Raider which is a timed exclusive for Xbox One. Not bad for one character if I do say so myself.
Of course I cannot end this piece without acknowledging the work of prominent female figures pioneering this changing perception in the videogame industry today. Two names come to mind instantly: Amy Hennig and Bonnie Ross. Amy Hennig served as the creative director and lead story writer for the popular Naughty Dog developed series Uncharted. Under her watchful eye they created a male character dynamic enough to rival Lara Croft herself in the form of Nathan Drake. Unfortunately after a falling out with studio executives Hennig lost her position at Naughty Dog, however lucky for all Star Wars fans out there she is now working with EA development studio Visceral Games on a new Star Wars Video game rumoured to be based on Han Solo. If true sounds like an another awesome gaming experience down the pipeline.
Bonnie Ross is probably more familiar to those who play on Xbox. Ross is the head developer of Microsoft’s in house development studio 343 Studios who are known for taking over development of the popular Halo series from Bungie. Ross is most likely one of the first breakout female executives in the modern day videogame industry. Under her leadership 343 have led the Halo franchise in a bold new direction by focusing more on the humanity of the Master Chief than Bungie ever did. In Halo 4 she watched over the development of Cortana as a more human character that players may grow more attached too and that in itself is a pretty impressive feat. Ross has promised that the upcoming Halo 5 Guardians will show the repercussions that losing Cortana has had on the Chief and that they will form an important part of the story arc. Personally I would like to thank Bonnie Ross for doing such an amazing job with the Halo franchise over at 343. It’s nice to see that the game has gone into the hands of someone who truly appreciates it.
So guys, I leave this one open to you. Do you think women are treated unfairly or equally in video games? For more news on games and more be sure to check back here at Xbox One UK.