Let’s Hear it for The Girls!

In 2013 the percentage of lead female characters amongst the 25 best-selling games was a paltry 4%. The feminist debate about the marginal depiction of women in video games is not without some merit. The industry is dominated by men (86% in the UK). The clientele is also historically equally male. So, maybe we should have given up being surprised and disappointed some time ago.

Thanks, boys

It is interesting to note that the cash gaming industry, such as providers of online casinos, are now offering interactive games which feature live croupiers. The dealers are invariably young, glamourous and attractive people. But it is striking that there are often male dealers alongside the women. Away from the adolescent arena of fantasy games there seems to be at least a passing recognition that women also have money to spend. By all means feel free to see for yourself. You can play a variety of casino games here.

Meanwhile, there are some iconic characterizations that at least suggest a challenge to that minority stereotype. Lara Croft may have done wonders for Angelina Jolie’s career, but her place in the battle for gender equality is less clear cut. The subtext has always been that ‘girls’ can have any emancipatory character, as long as she has long legs, a pretty face, and a big chest. Thanks, guys.

tomb raiderby shanewarne_60000

The other side of the story

But before we got too heated, maybe we should think of this from the other side of the argument. After all, male characters can also be similarly drawn in a way that exaggerates their physicality. They can be offered up in ways that thrust their gender to the fore. Improbable physicality and tight fitting or suggestively ripping garb are every bit as common in male characters as they are in their female counterparts. So, perhaps Lara is not quite as bad as she is sometimes painted.
Of course, all of this suggests that eye candy is a necessary and integral part of the discussion. Gender is a bit like a nationality – everyone has one. But that does not mean they have to make it a key part of everything they do. Some of us just like games. Games do not have to come with a gender any more than they need to pack a passport.

Game on

Scrolling through lists of the gaming industry’s most illustrious females, it does not take long to notice that they are physically all incredibly similar. With the notable exceptions of Faith (Mirror’s Edge) and the frankly terrifying Bonnie MacFarlane (Red Dead Redemption) they are only ever ‘femmes banal’ or ‘femmes fatale’. Sadly, the heavy accent on their often gravity-defying appearance makes it difficult to seriously engage with them. And that is a shame, because there are those of us who like to play games. And much as we might fantasize about being our own action heroine, we do not necessarily want to have to do that with our clothes falling off.