Do women matter in video games?

Lara Croft, one of the more notable female characters in gaming this year. Image Credit: Tomb Raider Wiki

Lara Croft, one of the more notable female characters in gaming this year. Image Credit: Tomb Raider Wiki

As the year draws to a close, it seems practical to look back on it, specifically at video games and look at the question whether women matter in video games, as characters and as players.

Ever since the end of Metroid, which shockingly revealed player-character Samus Aran as a woman, the role of women in video games has been slowly changing. There have been plenty of female protagonists in video games since then and the number of women playing video games has increased considerably.

Video games are a growing medium and although they’re still in their infancy, enough people are playing them that good role models are required for both genders. There’s no shortage of well-written male characters in gaming, this past year has seen great male leads such as Booker DeWitt, Edward Kenway and Joel from The Last of Us.

Is it even plausible to suggest that women have been portrayed equally well this past year?

This year was surprisingly notable for female characters. There were no fewer than three major releases that featured female protagonists. Lara Croft, one of gaming’s most famous heroines, starred in a successful Tomb Raider reboot, the cyberpunk action game Remember Me hit shelves back in June and Beyond: Two Souls, featuring the full likeness and voice of Ellen Page, closed out the year in October.

This was also a good year for supporting characters, with Ellie from The Last of Us and Elizabeth in Bioshock: Infinite. Both of these women were well recieved by critics and even interacted with other notable female characters within their respective games. Even Call of Duty: Ghosts featured playable female characters in the online multiplayer mode for the first time in series history.

The most significant thing is that none of the examples listed above depicted women in an overtly sexual matter. However, it wouldn’t be entirely realistic to say that this has been a banner year for women as far as video games go.

Grand Theft Auto V for example, the best selling game of the year and the most expensive of all time, has received criticism for it’s poor portrayal of women as pointed out in this article by Kotaku; some critics have gone as far to call the game misogynistic. Grand Theft Auto V features few women outside of strippers and prostitutes; of the three playable characters, none of them are women.

While the portrayal of women in video games is slowly improving, the number of women playing video games is bigger than you may think. A 2013 study released by the Entertainment Software Association reported that 45 per cent of gamers are women.

One of many helpful female sidekicks this year in gaming. Image Credit: PC Gamer

One of many helpful female sidekicks this year in gaming. Image Credit: PC Gamer

The percentage of playable female characters in video games is a lot lower than the percentage of female gamers. In a story by Penny Arcade, out of 669 games in either the action, shooter and RPG genres, only 24 of the games only allowed women as playable characters.

If last year’s rape controversy in Tomb Raider was any indication, gamers and developers are clearly sensitive to how women are portrayed. The controversy arose when Ron Rosenberg, executive producer at Crystal Dynamics, said in an interview with Kotaku that Lara’s Croft attempted rape furthered her character development. This caused a significant backlash among women and gamers.

It’s clear that women matter in video games, both as characters and as consumers, but maybe not as much as they should. This doesn’t mean that there’s no chance of this happening. The last three years have seen great improvements in depicting women without overtly sexualizing them. The most notable female characters such as Chell from Portal 2 or Clementine from the Walking Dead, weren’t sexualized at all. Women may not matter as much as they should in video games, but it won’t be long before they do.


  • Avatar
    Reply December 9, 2013

    Ashley Ezart

    I think that this article was really interesting. Honestly, I’m normally bored by stories about gaming as I don’t game much. I agree with this article though. I really think that game manufacturers should really recognize the female audience playing their games and include them more. I watch my boyfriend play GTA V all the time, and the women are always portrayed in a bad way. This becomes humourous and GTA is known for this portrayal of women. Maybe in GTA VI they will include a woman main character.

  • Julia Vergara Carnero
    Reply December 9, 2013

    Julia Vergara Carnero

    I also don’t play video games, but it was very interesting to know that almost half players are women. I am not surprised that women are sexualized in video games. I agree that it has to stop. Lots of teenagers play those video games and it is really wrong for them to have this low image of women.

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