Heroine Complex

Running from the forces of patriarchal ass-hattery, "Remember Me" heroine Nilin

Running from the forces of patriarchal ass-hattery, “Remember Me” heroine Nilin

How difficult is it for video games developers to include female characters in their title?  Bafflingly tough, if two news stories this week are to be believed.

No sooner has French developer Dontnod revealed that publishers turned down their upcoming title “Remember Me” as it featured a female lead,than one of “Mass Effect 3″’s writers indicates that the games industry is actively resistant to featuring female characters.

If your game’s lead is a smart-mouthed dudebro, you’re on easy street but anything outside of that slight , gender-fixated design stipulation is an uphill sell, it would seem. So much for inclusion and broadening the audience, eh, chaps?  I suppose we can take some comfort from the RPG genre, where the demands of flexible character creation will out and more diverse options are frequently available but what’s to say that the next-gen can’t offer us a bit more diversity from our action platformer hybrids and shooty-shooty stabby-stabby fests.

There’s a case to be made that simply reskinning the male lead with an alternate female character model and doing nothing subsequently to address changes in the story would be almost as bad, but shouldn’t developers be trying to use the level of horsepower at their disposal to give us more choice?  Hello, player agency?  Or is that just a meaningless buzz phrase with zero actual meaning?

I suspect that some spurious marketing data suggests that people don’t buy games with female leads (just as Marvel are unlikely to make a “Black Widow” or “She Hulk” movie because nobody went to see “Elektra” or “Catwoman“), but this argument always strikes me as remarkably bogus and far too convenient.

A good game with a central female protagonist, person of colour or any non-traditional lead will sell if the mechanics are solid and publishers support it – the issue that I note time and again is that Game X is green-lit, gets good preview word of mouth and then falls over at retail because there’s no marketing behind it.  You can’t get people to buy a game if they don’t know that it’s out there.  I doubt that most consumers would actively boycott the next “Call of Duty” if you were playing a female Marine in some near-future combat scenario – they’d want to blow stuff up and head-shot dudes and the gender of the first person avatar you were inhabiting wouldn’t necessarily resonate that much.

Of course, I’m sure that the number of polygons and bump-mapping complexities necessary to render the ladies convincingly is the problem, and certainly not residual banal sexism and creative mindsets firmly locked in the 1950’s.  FYI, games industry, you’re not supposed to want to be Don Draper, lads – he’s kind of a dinosaur.

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