Whenever some angry progressive gamer starts talking about how we need more female characters in games, we always seem to hear the same responses from dissenters. Usually they are framed in the context of “I don’t care” or “it doesn’t matter.” “I don’t care what a character’s gender is, as long as they are cool” or “It doesn’t matter what a character’s sex is, as long as the game is fun to play.”
I’m going to let all of these dissenters in on a little secret: we know. We know that you, the male population is OK with how gaming is right now. That’s the problem. When people say they don’t care, nothing changes, and then the people who DO care get left in the lurch.
A 2013 study by the ESA showed that 47% of gamers are female, but an academic study done by Jennifer Jenson, a professor at York University, showed that only 15% of playable video game characters are female. That is a huge amount of the gaming population that is being underrepresented.
If you are a guy, you have the luxury of saying, “I don’t care” because, whether you like it or not, gaming has catered to you, by a margin of 32% more than the representative gaming populace. Sure, some woman have said they don’t care as well, but what about the ones that do? By saying, “I don’t care and that’s why things shouldn’t change” you are basically saying your apathy is more important than the feelings of every other woman in the gaming industry who would like to see more female characters, and for that matter every guy, like me, who wants to see something else other than the same grizzled space marine on the cover of every game in the universe.
A lot of people also point to the great female characters out there, such as Lara Croft from the recent Tomb Raider release, and the questionable female characters out there, such as every big breasted Dead or Alive girl with more breast physics than personality, as evidence that female characters in gaming are diverse. But, and I’m paraphrasing Chris Rock here, true equality is the equality to suck. He was talking about race relations, but I think it applies here too. Just because you have really great female characters and hyper sexualized female characters in gaming, doesn’t make things equal. We won’t reach equality until there are a ton of female characters that we, frankly, just don’t give a crap about. When there are as many non-noteworthy female characters as there are exemplary ones, then things will have started to even out. As it stands, there are tons of boring and bland male characters, but we don’t think of them as male characters. We think of them as just “characters” because, once again, the overwhelming majority of game characters are male.
If no one ever cared about changing the status quo, then gaming would never evolve. No one would have taken a chance at telling a story when video games were just thought of as toys. No one would have organized professional level eSports competitions when video games were looked at as a skill-less distraction. History has shown that comfort with the status quo has never been reason enough to prevent change, both in the gaming industry and in the greater sociopolitical outlook on history. I’m sure it “didn’t matter” to a lot of men whether or not women got the right to vote when women’s suffrage was some new and radical idea.
So if it really “doesn’t matter” to you, if you really “don’t care” then I’d request that you stay out of the conversation, because, in reality, if you don’t care, you aren’t affected! If the gender of a character has no bearing on whether or not you enjoy a game, then more female playable characters can be made and you will be just fine. Saying that these issues don’t matter to you really serves no purpose other than to derail the conversation for the people it does matter to.
Senior Contributing Writer