Playable vs Non-Playable Female Leads: One Writer’s Opinion

What’s this? Opinions? For shame!

I know I don’t normally throw my opinion around on the internet anymore, but I’ve decided to try and be a little more opinionated and true to myself on the internet in general, sooooo yeah! I have a pretty damn strong opinion about video games and female leads. So when PBS Game Show did a video on the greatest females in gaming history, I was a little surprised by the comments. (I know, I know, it’s Youtube but still.) Then I realized there’s a huge issue with playable vs non-playable female characters that people get conflated.

Some context

I’m a gamer and a woman that has never been well represented by any media, really; I’m large, broad, and have strong, almost mannish facial features. Women like me are always told we aren’t beautiful or good enough for whatever reason. We’re not skinny enough, we’re not typically beautiful. It’s no bueno. But that’s not the point.

The point is that female representation in video games is pretty terrible. If a woman is even in it, she’s often the damsel or a quest point. She isn’t the main character. I can’t step into her shoes. She isn’t playable.

Playable characters: it’s their story we’re experiencing

Why does that matter? Some of the coolest female leads in gaming have been non-playable! Zelda or her Shiek incarnation (not counting Super Smash Bros.), Cortana, a LOT of characters throughout the Final Fantasy series. You get your representation there! They’re badass!

Ignoring the fact that most of those women are overly sexualized anyway, a woman playing said video game won’t be in Zelda’s shoes. Zelda’s part of the story, namely Link’s. They’ll come to love Zelda, yes, but the game isn’t from her perspective. How Link deals with things isn’t how Zelda might (wouldn’t that be cool to see).  Cortana is Master Chief’s support in all things and she never wavers, but that is Master Chief’s story, not Cortana’s. And you know what? That’s fine. Seriously, I don’t want all games to be ALL ABOUT WOMEN FOREVAR.

But women need to have playable characters they can relate to — women of all types and sizes and attitudes and personalities. But mostly if we can’t get that then at least more female playable leads. The perspective of a woman as the main character is worthwhile, and while their gender really shouldn’t be a factor (rather the story itself), it is important because women are purposefully excluded as leads in games by designers.

Experiencing a story from a woman’s perspective is worthwhile

Women being represented in games matters  now more than ever — AKA there’s a lot of us that play games. Some of the NPCs will always be compelling, yes. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. We need damsels, fighters, mothers, sisters, all the female types under the sun.

But why not have more female leads? There’s seriously no legitimate reason at this point.

Women make up somewhere around 40% of the gaming populace these days. It’d be nice to be able to play as one for a change, and that’s important. Yes, there’s Tomb Raider (I hear the new one is pretty damn good too) and Mass Effect’s Femshep. Samus Aran is another go-to example I often get. There’s also a good number of other RPGs that allow for female leads.

All of that is great. I’m not discounting the female playable leads (or the NPCs) that do exist. But it’s not enough. Not nearly 40%. That may sound demanding, but I think the gaming industry is up to it, and should be given how many of their buyers are women.

Stay thy rage! This isn’t a feminist rant

It’s more a matter of I’d like to see more female playable characters so I can connect to more of the plots. Because there’s a lot of times I’m just not able. Not all women have this problem. A lot of women can play dudes no problem, but there are also those (like me) that can’t always do that. And the fact that we still have developers like Ubisoft claiming putting women in a game would double their workload is pretty bad. There won’t be a single female playable character in their new multiplayer game and that should say a lot, especially given the stink it caused for them (at least on social media; not sure how much it actually affected them, but they did become a funny meme).

In short: balance please

Having a solid variety of female playable and non-playable characters would be great, rather than the majority being non-playable. Since the amount of women playing games has increased to the size it is now, their representation in the games they play should be higher too. Simple!

Also, just because a game doesn’t have a female lead doesn’t mean it sucks or something. There are many types of games and stories in said games, and that’s awesome. Just needs more female playable characters! But that’s just my opinion. Feel free to comment about it.

2 thoughts on “Playable vs Non-Playable Female Leads: One Writer’s Opinion

  1. I have to confess: these days I simply haven’t the time to game (I have friends who urge me to re-succumb…but writing calls…). The gaming I did do, years back, was – well, the schtik can only be described as testosterone-soaked, and it is I suppose an indictment of the expected market demographic – certainly in early-2000s gaming – that the women portrayed along the way, like Lara Croft, were (shall we say) designed to meet the expectations of a male-only audience.

    Part of it, I suppose, was the limitation of tech back then. But that’s changed.To me the onus is on game designers to focus on story-telling with believable and dimensional characters (within the limits of the gaming system). If it’s done right, I’d hope that the characters will be rounded and essential to the story irrespective of their gender. But from what you say it’s not happening yet. And it’s time that it does!

    • Wow I’m terrible at this blogging thing. I apologize for never replying!

      Lara Croft is a pretty solid example of how boobs do not work haha. Ultimately I’d like the same thing from characters: well-rounded and dynamic, whose genders aren’t a factor. A lot of people think we’re slowly getting to that point. I’m skeptical but cautiously hoping it’s true.

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