Why more female protagonists are needed in video games

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The hardware is getting better, but the gaming world is still as sexist as ever. That was the takeaway from E3 2013, the video game industry’s biggest annual convention. First, feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian observed that none of the Xbox One’s launch games have a female protagonist, and indignant gamers went to Twitter to excoriate her for it—which only appeared to prove her point. (Note to sexists who use Twitter: Be more creative! Jokes about “cooking and cleaning games” and dropping the C-bomb can only take you so far.) Then, Killer Instinct producer Torin Rettig (who is male) made a rape joke during a demonstration of the Xbox One launch title with Microsoft community coordinator Ashton Williams (who is female). “I can’t even block correctly, and you’re too fast,” Williams said. “Just let it happen,” Rettig replied. “It’ll all be over soon.”

Ugh.

Although Microsoft has since apologized for the gaffe, both incidents cast an ugly pall over the most exciting event of the year in gaming. They’re symptomatic of a seemingly permanent state of affairs in the gaming world. As Sarkeesian noted, video games continue to be almost entirely devoid of female leads. Publishers are reluctant to fund games with female leads,

and when they do, they give them little or no marketing—which makes the conventional wisdom of “games with female protags don’t sell” (as one of Sarkeesian’s respondents put it) into more of a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Outside of a few franchises, such as Nintendo’s Metroid and Square Enix’s Tomb Raider, female characters take secondary roles: as helpers to the protagonist, victims, or villains. [Rest.]

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