Name a recent game that featured a female lead. In the last year, there’s been Bayonnetta. And I think Wet was released in the last year too. Can’t come up with anything else? That’s because female leads are few and far between in games; and if large gaming companies have their way, it’s likely to stay that way. For instance, Activision hasn’t had a female lead character in a game that wasn’t licensed since 2005.
Gaming companies tend to look to focus groups and top selling games to make decisions about what they will support. Publishers put lots of money into developing a game, and they want to be sure to get their costs back. When all the top selling games feature a male lead, it seems to be a safer bet to go with a male lead. In focus groups, male leads tend to do better as well; but focus groups can be skewed, and the participants may have preconceived notions about video games. Relying heavily on focus groups can be a mistake when it gets in the way of creative game design.
Despite the focus groups, it seems that gamers tend to respond positively to female heroines. Just think of Lara Croft or Samus Aran. Both are strong female leads and both are wildly popular franchises. Gamers, male and female, don’t seem to have any trouble identifying with a female character. In an unofficial twitter poll of gamers, most said they don’t mind the main character’s gender, as long as it ‘fits the story’. Many gamers, male and female, even expressed a desire for more female leads, provided the character was a real woman and not a 7th-grader’s fantasy.
It would seem, then, that perhaps gaming companies are looking at an effect as a cause. The top video games being played right now feature male leads, this is true. However, would those games be any less appealing if they had female heroines? Would Assassin’s Creed be less appealing if the character was female? Almost all blockbuster games are created with male leads, and only smaller fringe titles tend to feature a female lead. Would Halo: Reach be any less anticipated if it featured a female Spartan?
The newest chapter of the Tomb Raider Franchise, as well as the Metroid both come out this month. I’m looking forward to both of those titles, and the fact that they feature female leads is actually refreshing. How do you feel about leading ladies in gaming? Let us know in the following poll: