I Need a Hero(ine)!

It’s kind of ridiculous that in 2017 there’s still a lack of female protagonist in video games. Nearly all games feature male leads, with female characters taking secondary roles. While there are a few exceptions (Lara Croft and Samus Aran being the most notable), the majority of games tend to follow the same formula. To me this is archaic, and often ignores issues associated with female protagonists.

While it is true that most games let you pick your character’s gender, this is merely a band-aid over an open wound. These games feature predetermined dialogue that fails to explore the issues associated with being a female. They only give you the illusion of being a woman, not the experience. This system needs to be overhauled to reflect the consequences of your choice, giving more depth to our experiences.

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Selecting your gender in Fall Out 4.

Luckily, some developers have done exactly this, and with great results. In both Dishonored 2 and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate you are able to choose between a male or female protagonist. Each choice has different play-styles and side missions, providing unique experiences. These titles have proven it works, but whether other developers decide to adopt this approach remains to be seen.

Unfortunately even if there are heroines in video games, they’re usually placed in secondary roles and illustrated in a sexy, unrealistic manner. These characters are often designed by men for men, for as the old saying goes “sex sells”. This only strengthens stereotypes and diminishes any progress made. Games like League of Legends regularly cast women for supporting roles, a stereotype often attributed to the gender. Even their outfits are designed for men. They are usually short, revealing, and resemble lingerie. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine anyone going into battle dressed as a sexy nurse.

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I wasn’t kidding about fighting as a sexy nurse.

It’s a bit odd that we’re still struggling with these issues considering how many gamers are women. Several studies have found that nearly as many women play games as men, and the number is only increasing. As the player base continues to evolve so to must the industry. Gaming is no longer an activity just for men, but one both genders can enjoy equally.

Other mediums have already begun to embrace female protagonists. Recently Marvel Comics gender swapped several classic heroes, including Iron Man and Thor. This shakeup has provided some interesting stories that most readers would have otherwise never been exposed to. The movie industry has also seen a greater focus on heroines. The Hunger Games, Star Wars, and the Alien series all feature strong female leads and all are highly regarded. This trend is only increasing, as films continue to feature more female leads each year. It’s time video game developers follow these examples and make the change.

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Riri Williams, a.k.a Ironheart

Honestly I think developers are missing a big opportunity. Games tend to become repetitive and predictable when a male protagonist is featured too often, leading to disinterest. Focusing on a female protagonist can lead to some new experiences and can help men better empathize with women. Imagine playing Grand Theft Auto as a woman. The game would completely change. Not only would the dialogue and player interactions be different, but the player’s perspective as well. This could bring some life back into old series and attract new player bases. I believe many would welcome the change, even if they’re apprehensive at first.

While this issue can seem daunting, these is hope. Although minor, there has been a noticeable increase in female protagonists in video games throughout the years. This year alone we received two excellent titles featuring strong female leads, Horizon Zero Dawn and Nier: Automata. These games have proven popular with both male and female gamers alike, something the industry will undoubtedly realize.

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Aloy, the main protagonist in Horizon Zero Dawn

If we continue to support these titles the industry will change, but it will take time. We must remain adamant on our views, and continue to mature as a culture. Unique and exciting experiences await us, all we need to do is embrace them.

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