The Internet has been simmering as of late about the lack of female characters in video games, with titles like Assassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 being the subject of unexpected (unexpected by Ubisoft at least) backlash at this year’s E3. The lack of female characters in video games is a touchy subject for a lot of reasons, but for many gamers the absence of female characters in a title like Assassin’s Creed Unity is disappointing for a pretty simple reason — female video game characters are better than male characters.
90 percent of video game characters may be male, but if you were to list the 100 best video game characters of all time, far more than a tenth of them would be ladies. Most female video game characters are at least semi-redeemable, while a pretty decent portion of male characters are intolerable, or barely characters at all. It’s the reason why myself, and a lot of other not-lady gamers play as Jill before Chris, always have more girls than guys in their RPG parties and have played most of the Tomb Raider games even though triangular boobs have never done anything for them. It’s nothing to be ashamed of guys, you just know a well-wrought character when you see one. Here’s a few reasons female video game characters are where it’s at…
Female Characters Are Allowed To Be Vulnerable
We have very specific ideas about what a male hero should be — tough, invulnerable, emotionless and unflappable to a fault. Sometimes a male hero may start a game a bit unsure of himself, but the end goal is always to become an invincible badass. Unfortunately, as anyone who’s tried to read a Superman comic without falling asleep knows, being the coolest, toughest, baddest dude on the planet isn’t actually all that exciting. Drama comes from conflict and there’s no drama if your hero is too rad to be fussed by anything.
For whatever reason, video game developers seem to feel freer to create characters with vulnerabilities and real human emotions when they’re working with female characters. There’s a reason survival horror games, which, traditionally, are all about making the player feel vulnerable, have an unusually high number of female protagonists. The Last of Us had to add a female tag-a-long character in Ellie in order to give the game an emotional, human core, because they knew damn well male protagonist Joel wouldn’t be allowed to do anything but brood while maintaining his beautiful stubble beard.
There’s a Greater Variety of Roles Available to Female Characters
Expanding on the ideas from the last point, male characters aren’t just limited in the personality department, they’re limited in what they’re allowed to do. The drive is always toward giving male characters bigger guns, more fancy attack combos and longer life bars. Female characters, on the other hand, often seem to have more nuanced, unique abilities. In most RPGs you can count on the ladies being the most complex characters in your party, and it’s no surprise that Mirror’s Edge — a game that’s mostly about graceful acrobatics and limiting direct conflict — stars a woman.
Check out the character page for the new anticipated multiplayer shooter Evolve. All the male characters have to be wielding some form of giant bazooka. Now, let’s look at the female characters — one’s an interesting sniper/medic combo, and the other is a trapper that uses a pet alien to track prey. I would play as trapper Maggie a dozen times before I bother to try bland looking tank, Markov.
They Aren’t/Can’t Be Generic
If a developer doesn’t have any particularly strong notion of who they want their lead character to be, they default to the all-purpose brown-haired white guy. Brown-haired white guy is the standard, boilerplate video game character, which isn’t to say there aren’t some good brown-haired white guy characters, but a significant portion of them are what they are because a developer couldn’t be arsed to think of anything else.
By just making a female character, a developer is doing something different. That shouldn’t be the case, but it is, and in order to justify breaking away from the safe zone, developers often invest more in a female character in order to justify their existence. And hell, if you’re going to make a character non-male, you may as well make them non-white and non-brown-haired too! Here’s a video of the depressingly samey male characters showcased at this year’s E3…
Now, here’s a few of gaming’s top heroines.
They’re More Fun to Look At
Okay, okay, calm down. This isn’t just a boobs ‘n’ butts thing. Not entirely. Continuing on from the last point, female characters are actually permitted to be unique and do radical things like wear colors and have hairstyles aside from “basic buzzcut”. And yes, if you’re going to have to look at a butt for 30-hours in a third-person game, I’ll admit I’d rather it be a lady butt. Unless it’s a very specific male butt, I think even most straight women would agree with that.
About as likely to be played by a girl or guy. Adjust your flirting appropriately.
They Appeal to Both the Guys and the Ladies
According to studies, in games like World of Warcraft that let you create your own character and choose their sex, around a quarter of male players choose to gender swap and play female, while only 7 percent of women players do the same. Trying to explain why that is would probably take another 1000 words and possibly make us all a little uncomfortable, but the most important take away is this — both guys and girls like to play as female characters. The video game industry’s notion that female characters will scare players away is false, and in fact, the complete opposite is true — the number of people out there eager to play as female characters is a lot larger than those who aren’t.
To the video game developers out there — don’t dismiss the push for more female characters in games as just more fanboy whining or social justice warriors trying to tell you how to make your game. This isn’t a PC thing, it’s a making your games better and more appealing thing, and I think we can all agree that’s something worth pursuing.
You used to do great female characters, Ubisoft. What happened?
So, what are some of your favorite female video game characters? Feel the need to refute any of the points I’ve made above? Let’s get this comments section rockin’.