Maybe this isn’t even the real is­sue here.

HWM (Singapore) - - FEATURE - By Koh Wanzi

T“The num­ber of women pro­tag­o­nists in E3 games still in sin­gle dig­its,” blared Poly­gon’s head­line in the af­ter­math of E3 2018. The web­site was re­port­ing on the peren­nial dearth of rep­re­sen­ta­tion af­forded to women in video games, as doc­u­mented by Feminist

Fre­quency, and you wouldn’t be wrong in com­ing away with the im­pres­sion that this was a re­ally big prob­lem.

Af­ter all, the per­cent­age of games at E3 that fo­cus on women has been stuck in the 7 to 9 per cent range for the past few years, and this year shows scant im­prove­ment. In com­par­i­son, around 24 per cent of E3 games – out of 118 ti­tles – had male pro­tag­o­nists.

That may seem like quite a lop­sided state of af­fairs, es­pe­cially if you think that games should be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of real world de­mo­graph­ics. Fur­ther­more, it hardly seems fair that games are gen­er­ally made for men, by men. There is a lack of women in video game de­vel­op­ment, just as there is a lack of fe­male pro­tag­o­nists in games.

This means that games that are os­ten­si­bly de­signed for women are be­ing cre­ated by men. There’s noth­ing wrong with this in and of it­self, but things be­come prob­lem­atic when these games are based on a stereo­typ­i­cal fem­i­nine ideal. This is typ­i­cally a white, straight, cis-gen­dered fe­male with an aver­sion to vi­o­lence and a pref­er­ence for cute things, and the re­sult­ing games re ect this.

Sim­i­larly, this means that games are de­signed pre­dom­i­nantly for their largest au­di­ence. For the long­est time, the as­sump­tion was that this au­di­ence wants hy­per­vi­o­lent, hy­per­sex­u­al­ized ma­te­rial. The pro­tag­o­nists were of­ten al­most al­ways male, which al­lowed male play­ers to readily project them­selves onto these char­ac­ters.

The prob­lem with this is that this forces fe­male gamers to ex­pe­ri­ence the world through the eyes of a male pro­tag­o­nist, which can cre­ate a feel­ing of dis­so­nance for some and lead them to view games in gen­eral as dis­tant and in­ac­ces­si­ble. This in turn cre­ates a vi­cious cy­cle that dis­cour­ages more women from en­ter­ing this male-dom­i­nated space, which is what re­ally needs to hap­pen in or­der to achieve any form of equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in games.

Hav­ing said that, I ques­tion whether we’re view­ing this is­sue in the ap­pro­pri­ate and most con­struc­tive terms. Rep­re­sen­ta­tion is im­por­tant, but I’d ar­gue that call­ing for fe­male pro­tag­o­nists just for the sake of hav­ing more of them feels rather heavy-handed and fu­tile.

There have also been hope­ful signs of progress. E3 2018 had some note­wor­thy ti­tles that promi­nently fea­tured fe­male char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing block­buster games like Bat­tle eld V, TheLastofUsPart2, Wolfen­steinYoung­blood, and Gears

ofWar5. The re­sponse to this was mixed. While some fans wel­comed the change, oth­ers took is­sue with what they

per­ceived as their beloved game giv­ing in to so-called po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

For ex­am­ple, some vo­cal Bat­tleeld fans took to Twit­ter with the hash­tag #NotMyBat­tleeld, de­cry­ing what they thought was his­tor­i­cal in­ac­cu­racy in ser­vice of be­ing po­lit­i­cally cor­rect.

Bat­tleeld V doesn’t even force you to play a fe­male char­ac­ter. While the trailer fea­tured a British woman, play­ers will be able to choose the gen­der and eth­nic­ity of their troops, so they’re not be­ing shoe­horned into a par­tic­u­lar role that they don’t iden­tify with.

In fact, I’d ar­gue that al­low­ing play­ers to choose is a bet­ter op­tion than hav­ing a xed fe­male pro­tag­o­nist. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for char­ac­ters like El­lie and Kait, but player agency isn’t some­thing that should be over­looked ei­ther. While it seems bad that just 8 per cent – or nine games – were head­lined by fe­male char­ac­ters, a good 50 per cent of games at this year’s E3 let play­ers pick the gen­der they wanted to play as.

I don’t see why we should ig­nore all these games and sim­ply fo­cus on those that have a fe­male lead. Ac­cord­ing to Fem­i­nistFre­quency, when a game fea­tures a set fe­male pro­tag­o­nist, ev­ery player who en­ters those worlds must ex­pe­ri­ence them through the lens of that fe­male char­ac­ter. These games then help to “nor­mal­ize the no­tion that male play­ers should be able to project them­selves onto and iden­tify with fe­male pro­tag­o­nists just as fe­male play­ers have al­ways pro­jected [them­selves] onto and identied with male pro­tag­o­nists”.

This sounds un­nec­es­sar­ily com­bat­ive to me. I get that some nar­ra­tives de­mand a xed char­ac­ter, and we should denitely em­brace greater in­clu­sion and di­ver­sity, but it seems like we should also wel­come the abil­ity to choose as progress as well.

At the risk of triv­i­al­iz­ing the en­tire is­sue, I’d also ar­gue that we’re tak­ing things a lit­tle too se­ri­ously here. Feminist

Fre­quency only be­gan track­ing games at E3 in 2015, and four years is too lit­tle time to ex­pect some ma­jor leap to­ward gen­der par­ity.

Fur­ther­more, while more than half of gamers are sup­pos­edly women, most of these are com­prised of women who game on their smart­phones, which means that the au­di­ence on PC and con­sole is still pre­dom­i­nantly male. It’s pos­si­ble that women shy away from so-called “proper” games be­cause they’ve been con­tin­u­ally led to be­lieve that they don’t be­long in that space, but it’s also en­tirely pos­si­ble that they are sim­ply not in­ter­ested in the kind of games there.

The re­al­ity is likely a mix of both, and while I am all for ban­ish­ing stereo­types, it also seems fool­ish to dis­count the truth of vary­ing in­ter­ests.

What’s more, the gen­der dis­par­ity in games is just a reec­tion of deeper in­equities in so­ci­ety. So­cial norms and ex­pec­ta­tions still pose huge bar­ri­ers, and un­til we solve these is­sues, games will con­tinue to reect the world we live in. In­stead of rail­ing against gen­der in­equity in games, we should prob­a­bly di­rect our en­er­gies to­ward xing what is re­ally wrong.

Gears of War 5

The Last of Us Part 2

Bat­tle eld V

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