How Females Appear in Video Games and Why that is Important


Anita Sarkeesian is well known for her criticism and observations of how female characters are portrayed in video games. And she has also called many game developers up to task for the same. Now, although there is a long range of backlash that she has received for her views (which has only gotten decidedly worse ever since the #GamerGate controversy), anyone who has played video games – especially those games where she has taken her examples of video clips and image cuts from – can see that she’s right about the “how”.

Women characters are usually mere background characters in most video games – either part of the crowd or part of the background. If not this, then female characters are usually in a video game in the capacity of “damsel in distress”, “goal to be achieved”, or “prize to be won” (like in Mario, for example).

Additionally, in many video games – mostly action-oriented video games (like Assassin’s Creed, for instance) – female characters are often violently abused and frequently killed in a most obscene and disturbing way. Even worse is that many video games even award points to the players for killing as many female characters as possible!

Now of course, comes the “why” of the matter. After all, it’s fine to point out these facts. But video games are just that – games. So why should such gender bias matter? These are fantasy characters. Pure fiction. The games don’t hurt or apply to real life. So why on earth should any of this be a big deal in the first place? Why should game developers try to create better female player characters and improve the portrayal of women? They’re an entertainment industry. And their job is to mindlessly cater to the male population of gamers who are their major audience, right?

Well, there are many reasons why. For one, it isn’t true anymore that males outnumber females as gamers. One would find that girls and boys are quite evenly matched in number and skill should one try to gather recruits for testing this theory. Of course there will be cases where men are the majority of the gamer population. However, there are still plenty of cases where girls outnumber their male counterparts as part of the gaming population. Hence, by not catering to them, game developers and studios stand to lose a pretty major portion of their potential sales and players.

As for being just for entertainment, one should keep in mind that books and movies and music are a strong part of entertainment too. And just like those mediums of entertainment, video games have to cater to all kinds of demographics in order to be taken seriously. As for “mindless” however, nobody likes mindless games (or a mindless anything) anymore. If they did, video games with open worlds and multi-player modes and decision-based gameplay would never have been necessary to develop. Gamers would still be happy with little more than building blocks and wish for nothing more.

As for the main reason of “why”, here it is: Female players would find it incredibly demeaning; it would reinforce the subconscious fact that females are the “weaker” sect of society – which is not good under any circumstance; and it would disallow the female players to feel connected to the characters, reduce their enjoyment, and restrict their pleasure in playing the game. And for male players, other than reinforcing the subconscious fact of females being “weak” (again!) and being thought of as useless, it will also subtly reinforce the idea that violence against women is acceptable.

This article is not saying that video game violence is sure to be replicated in real life. However, considering that even game developers seem to overlook the significant number of female gamers out there, is it so hard to consider that such a trend would only exacerbate this ignorance regarding women in the gaming community? And in more ways than one?