Treatment of Female Video Game Characters and Female Members of the Gaming World


Video games – at least from the point of view of “purpose” – have always been gender neutral. Of course, the first video games were always targeted towards male gamers, and a majority of the themes and marketing of games are developed with the idea that male gamers are the main demographic to reach. However, despite those tendencies, the fact is that the ratio of female gamers to male gamers in the world is fairly equal. In fact, recently, in places like the United Kingdom for example, the number of female gamers is even speculated to be considerably higher than male gamers.

In short, it seems that the general population doesn’t care for the theme or marketing gimmicks of video games overmuch. If the game is good enough to catch a gamer’s interest and attention – whether that person is a man or woman, girl or boy – then it will be played.

Therefore, it is a little bit of a surprise (and a disappointment) that female video game characters are still little more than eye candy, background characters (and even background props!), and are most often thoroughly abused within a video game. Even powerful female video game characters, like “Lara Croft” from the ‘Tomb Raider’ franchise of video games, are stuck as subjects of debate: That is, the argument of whether the character is an empowering representation of women in a video game, or whether she is merely designed to be disguised that way as she fulfils the role of “eye candy” for male gamers as she fights her way through the game.

As stated before though, gamers usually don’t care much for such debates if the game is good enough to catch their concentration and is intriguing enough (and fun enough) to play. But the sheer girth of examples about how female characters are abused in a multitude of video games is so alarming, that this topic is never really far behind in the gaming community is one form or the other.

The sad part is that, in this male dominated industry, even female game developers who prefer to deviate from general video game norms find themselves at the receiving end of insults, threats, and general male chauvinism. (Although, that is considered not too much of a surprise either.)

Take the example of what happened to game developer Quinn (known for her game ‘Depression Quest’) earlier this year. She was anyway known for her innovative kind of video game ‘Depression Quest’. But she was really put on the radar (and not the good kind of radar) when her ex-boyfriend accused her online of cheating on him in order to get good reviews for ‘Depression Quest’. Not only did that spark a debate and controversy about the corruption prevalent in video game journalism, but she also became the target of sexist comments, death threats and rape threats. It even got bad enough that she had to move from her home as her personal information (like her address) was hacked into and leaked all over the internet. Never mind that there was never any proof of such allegations being true (and that, either way, it still does not justify tormenting someone this way).

Yet another specific case of gender bias scarring the gaming world is when Anita Sarkeesian, a blogger known for her criticism of how women are portrayed in video games, had to cancel a speech she was giving at Utah State University (again, earlier this year) due to death threats that promised a shooting at the school if she were to attend as scheduled. The school confirming that firearms could be brought into the school under a legal permit, and the lack of additional security measures following this threat, is what (she stated) made her cancel the speech.

So what does this say about the gaming community then? When it has already been established that the skill and enjoyment connected to the gaming word in any capacity is hardly based on anything to do with gender, why then is “gender” still such a motivating factor for the majority of controversies of the gaming world? Why are powerful female characters in video games a minority? Why is there such a short count of video games with a woman as the main protagonist? Why is sexism and violence against women a general (and sometimes major) part of most action-oriented video games? And under what possible justification are female members of the gaming world being harassed and threatened so extensively just because they express such opinions and act to deviate from such sexist attitudes?