Yesterday, when Devin at Badass Digest called out the Microsoft E3 presentation for what he saw as casual sexism and rape jokes, I was all set to roll my eyes and move on. Devin, one of my favorite writers about film and media, sometimes comes at games and gamers pretty hard, and it felt like he was reading too much into some pretty typical fighting game trash talk.
Then I had to take a step back and look at the context of the moment: in a presentation woefully lacking in female corporate presence onstage, we had one of only two women being held up as the “bad girl gamer stereotype.” This, in an overall presentation and slate of trailers and announcements across all of the publishers that seemed to still think that the only games their audiences would respond to would be very white and very male.
Beyond “Bayonetta 2,” name one game from the past two days that had a female character front and center? Or one with a person of color? No dice if you picked something like “Dark Souls II” or “South Park: The Stick of Truth” which allow you to create your own character since in those cases, the race/ethnicity/gender/sexuality of the player character is non-specific. The Master Chief is back, sure, and we’ve got Marius Titus in “Ryse,” along with more Batman, and I guess you might be able to play as that lady in “The Order: 1886?” Who are these games being made for? In fact, when was the last time any of the publishers made a full push for a mainstream game featuring a female character? “Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation,” I guess. The sole outlier this year was the new “Etrian Odyssey.”
It’s not like the audience isn’t there: this week, the ESA released a study showing that out of the 58% of the U.S. population playing video games, 45% of all gamers were female (note: opens .PDF), with adult women making up a greater share of the audience than the much sought-after teenage boy demographic. That’s near enough to say half of an audience being under served, underrepresented, and made outright invisible heading into the next console generation.
Now, I’m curious about some of the buying trends later in the report, specifically showing that shooters like “Black Ops II” and “Halo 4” made the top of the list (ultimately refuting the ridiculous notion that female gamers are turned off to those genres), with “Madden” wedged right there in the #2 spot. I love that with this stat, to a certain (but no conclusive) extent, the ESA has shown that if you want to get a huge tent of gamers, that doesn’t mean you’re strictly making “Nancy Drew” adventure games and considering half of your audience served. The weird thing, though, is that these numbers might continue to disincentivize the game industry from taking further steps to make what they’re putting out there more accessible to the women out there in the audience (and the black, Latino, Asian, trans, and queer gamers out there).
It’s a big tent and it can only get bigger–AAA titles as a whole stop making it seem like it belongs to burly white guys.
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