In the games industry, games often cater to the imaginary male gamer majority that wants male protagonists in everything they play. Games like Remember Me are rejected by publishers if they have female leads. The "reality of production" caused the high budget Assassin's Creed Unity to abandon their plans for female characters in co-op. A 2012 study found that "Games with a female-only protagonist … [received] only 40% of the marketing budget of male-led games. Less than that, actually." and consequently didn't sell as well, creating a vicious cycle of less marketing in the future.
Last week, I attended GDC, the annual Game Developers Conference, for the first time. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and surprising.
In the midst of panels and lectures on breaking in to the game industry, game engine pricing announcements, and overviews of successful game creation and marketing techniques, a number of speakers targeted awareness and challenging the preconceptions we have about games and the people who make and play them.
Unexpectedly, my favorite of these was Curiosity, Courage, and Camouflage: Revealing the Gaming Habits of Teen Girls by Ashly Burch and Rosalind Wiseman.
Their premise: everything we think about girls and games as an industry is wrong.
They surveyed 1400 schoolchildren in the 6th through 12th grades (11-18 year olds), 46% female, 50% male, and 4% "prefer not to answer" spread across 39% private, 58% public, and 3% charter schools.
Wiseman and Burch used a combination of statistics and anecdotes to weave a strong argument for us to make games that are designed for male and female audiences alike.
For example, while speaking to 700 girls about conflict resolution, Wiseman successfully used imagery from games such as the first person shooter series Call of Duty. The response from the audience was unexpected: the girls started cheering and high-fiving one another. Girls play more games in more genres than we expect them to:
Especially in the aftermath of Gamergate, many in the games industry think that the young consumer base is a "boys club," but this is a serious misconception. In fact, the recent controversies in the game world are not even relevant to young audiences, who tend not to read gaming websites except for walkthroughs. Boys don't want girls to stop playing games; in fact, they actively want more girls to play the same games they do and already think that they are:
As far as protagonists in games go, as children get older, boys don't care about their avatar's gender and girls want more female characters to play.
In general, children would like to see less sexualization in their games; they want characters to be treated with respect. Notably, 61% of 11 year old boys think that there is too much sexual objectification of women in games.
The main takeaway here is that we have no more excuses not to make more games with strong, non-sexualized female characters. Lots of us have been arguing this for a long time, but now, thanks to Wiseman and Burch, we have lots of actual data with which to convince our teammates, publishers, and marketing executives.