The internet has been ablaze lately with the revelation that the upcoming Ubisoft video game, Assassin’s Creed: Unity (ACU) would feature four male protagonists. The resulting outrage at the exclusion of 50% of the population as possible game players has of course been widespread, with people decrying the absence of representation of women for a reason as insignificant as cost and time (forgetting that Ubisoft is, above all else, a business.) However, there seem to be some logical disconnects here:
- Video games already feature primarily male protagonists, and the industry has grown (including having female players) despite this fact. Obviously, the lack of female representation has not impacted it.
- An argument can be made that the growth occurred in a market very different from the one that ACU occupies (more focused on “core” gamers, console exclusive.) Women seem to dominate as consumers of “social” or “casual” gaming, typically browser of phone based. These are games that usually don’t feature much of a player avatar which the player could feel alienated by (do the Angry Birds even have sexes?).
- So if women are half of the gaming industry’s customers, they’re either not bothering with the kind of game that ACU is or they’re already customers who were undeterred by the lack of playable female characters (in which case it doesn’t matter that there aren’t any.) If it’s the second option, and the only thing keeping them from becoming a bigger part of “core” gaming is the absence of the choice to play as a female protagonist, then there’s a problem with that theory: the evidence is against it.
- Let’s look at Mass Effect 3 (ME3,) produced by BioWare, who analyzed the player trends in their game to provide us with an interesting look into the behaviors of their customers. As the above infographic makes clear, only 18% of those who played the game played as a female character. This was a series famous for allowing the player to design their own avatar, which avoided concerns about not having a female protagonist (now a homosexual protagonist was a different matter until the final entry.) Where were the throngs of women gamers who are so put off by the absence of females in ASU? Either inclusiveness was irrelevant, and they ignored the game anyway, or they played as men despite having the option not to (I’m assuming the much lauded 50% of gamers are women stat applies to the players of ME3, even though it probably doesn’t.)
- Before anyone argues “well, ME3 is a RPG while ACU is an action game” one must consider that women generally don’t like violent games. The ME series focused on social interaction and even lessened the violence if you could talk your way out of situations. ME3 in particular had a “casual” mode which afforded players much easier combat so they could focus on the story. So if anything we should expect more women to be interested in ME3 than ACU, further supporting my point that the lack of a female character is largely irrelevant. However, if action was what they craved, there was 2008’s Mirror’s Edge! The game featured a female protagonist, was fairly well received by critics, and audience met it with … mediocre sales. Again, the throngs of female (and asian!) gamers crying out for product that spoke to them turned a deaf ear. Possibly because, as vocal an audience as they may be online, they’re simply not a substantial one when it comes to actually being consumers.
But then this kind of outrage is usually the result of a vocal minority seeking to aggrandize themselves rather than apply any thought to a situation.
- Four Reasons Why Women Should Play Mass Effect @ The Cellular Scale
- Ubisoft Responds to Assassin’s Creed Female Character Controversy @ Kotaku (Australia)
- Video Games for Women? @ Quest