‘Remember Me,’ ‘Gears of War,’ and ‘Mass Effect’ Highlight Industry Attitudes on Female Leads

By Joseph Leray


One of the most pervasive ideas in the games industry is that games with female characters don’t sell well. It’s a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating idea: companies avoid publishing games with leading ladies, and then cite the lack of sales as a reason to keep avoiding those types of games.

When asked by Official Xbox Magazine in February if the “Gears of War” series could ever feature a woman COG in the starring role, for example, Epic Games art director Chris Perna demurred: “That’s certainly interesting but I don’t know,” he explained. “If you look at what sells, it’s tough to justify something like that.”

Dontnod Entertainment faced similar opposition when shopping their upcoming cyberpunk action game “Remember Me” — which stars Nilin, an ex-combat operative and memory hunter — to publishers. “We had some [companies] that said, ‘Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.,’” Dontnod creative director Jean-Max Morris told the Penny Arcade Report recently.

The French company kept looking though, eventually striking up a deal with Capcom during last year’s GDC Europe. Morris explains that creating Nilin was “one of those things that we never looked at from a pure, cold marketing perspective because that would have endangered the consistency of the whole game.”

Capcom seem to be quite taken with the project, though, even sending Yoshinori Ono, the lead designer of “Street Fighter IV,” to help Dontnod design the combat in “Remember Me.”

“Mass Effect’ developer BioWare, in contrast, allowed writer Ann Lemay to add Nyreen Kandros — a female Turian mercenary leader featured in the “Omega” DLC for “Mass Effect 3” — with no hesitation, even though it was time-consuming and expensive.

Writing on publisher EA’s blog, Lemay describes the development of Nyreen positively. “In all of my years in the videogame industry, this request process was the simplest and smoothest I’d ever gone through, particularly for the creation of a significant female character,” she beams.

“The proposal implied the creation of an entirely new rig and model: an expensive undertaking, but the only way to introduce such an important character to the ‘Mass Effect’ universe,” Lemay explains. The investment seems to have paid off, though, at least from the development team’s point of view. “We ended up with a DLC that, should the player choose to play as the female Commander Shepard, features a triumvirate of interesting, diverse, and powerful female characters,” says Lemay.

“And it was never an issue.”

“Mass Effect 3” just released its final piece of campaign DLC, and the excellent “Gears of War: Judgment,” which introduces Sophia Kendrick and Kilo Squad’s medic, came out yesterday. “Remember Me” will be out in June for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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