Female Protagonists

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Female Protagonists

Post by Collector » Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:30 pm

On the AGDI forum was a thread about what people thought of the KQ4 story and the subject of the frequency of female protagonists in games came up. I argued that it is no where as rare as is commonly believed and came up with a list off of the top of my head:

Sierra Games:
I realize that this is a perception that many have, but it is not nearly that rare. KQIV and KQVII, Lost in Time, Phantasmagoria, Fascination, Pepper's Adventures in Time, The Colonel's Bequest and The Dagger of Amon Ra

Non Sierra games:
The longest Journey, Dreamfall and Dreamfall Chapters, Syberia I and II, Gray Matter, Paradise, Keepsake, Mysterious Island I and II, Still Life I and II, Cognition, J.U.L.I.A., all of the many Nancy Drew games, the Women's Murder Club games, all of the Tomb Raider games, American McGee's Alice I and II, Mata Hari, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Portal, Beyond Atlantis II, Culpa Innata, The Legend of Kyrandia: Hand of Fate.

This is not including the games that you get to choose your gender, like most RPGs or the games that let you play both like in LSL and GK or the genderless first person games. So really, how rare would you say that female protagonists are? Feel free to add to the list.
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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by BBP » Thu Mar 06, 2014 5:55 am

As a keen Blind Let's Play watcher of the series I'd say Fatal Frame: except for a few chapters in game 3, which you play with some guy who's much less powerful than the ladies you play, and the introduction of the first game, all the protagonists in the 4 main Fatal Frame games are female. Which adds to the suspense since they seem so powerless, facing tons of hostile ghosts with an old-fashioned camera as only weapon. And there's the Clock Tower series as well, where they opted for female lead for the same reason: little teenage Jennifer having to hide from, rather than fight, Bobby-with-the-oversized-scissors.
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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by adeyke » Thu Mar 06, 2014 8:08 am

As I said over there (I'm not sure where you'd prefer the conversation continue), the issue is one of ratios, not absolute numbers. There are such incredibly many video games in total that, even if only a tiny percentage of them have women as protagonists, you'd still be able to come up with a long list. By analogy, if I said "only a tiny percentage of people in the world are millionaires", I'd be right, and even if you gave me list of millions of millionaires, that wouldn't disprove my point.

What matters is the percentage of games with woman protagonists. If there weren't any bias, that percentage would match the percentage of women that exist in real life or the percentage of women among people who play video games, so around 40-50%. And in order to show that that's actually the case, you'd need to have actual statistics or a thorough categorization of a representative sample. And I don't think the statistics actually bear that out. A 2009 study, for example, puts the percentage at 10%.

Also, not all games are equal. If there are a lot of women in low-profile "casual" games but fewer in the big mainstream ones, that's still an imbalance. For example, if people are asked to think about classic Sierra adventure games, they probably won't jump to Pepper's Adventures in Time. Instead, they'd likely think of one of the big series: King's Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Quest for Glory, Leisure Suit Larry, or Gabriel Knight. These all have men as protagonists and women only as either a secondary protagonist or as a protagonist in a minority of the games. Laura Bow did star in her own series, but Laura's name isn't the primary title of those games, and the series consisted of only two games (fewer than all those others I mentioned).

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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by Collector » Thu Mar 06, 2014 12:30 pm

I just thought that this would make a good topic for discussion. I mostly excluded the casual games and other non-adventures as most here are adventure gamers. I'll grant you that other categories do not have the same levels. It is also not something that is consistent. The last decade probably had a larger percentage of female protagonists than previous periods. It could be that during the adventure game slump of the last decade that some developers were trying to cater female players as a marketing tactic.
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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by Tawmis » Thu Mar 06, 2014 5:48 pm

There's not enough female (lead) characters in the computer gaming world. Or at least not a lot of strong, female characters. Like KQ7 - we had Rosella and her mom - but the characters weren't really... strong, for lack of a better word. They just seemed to float through the adventure. Then you get Laura Bow, who is diving in, nose first into murders, and such - and it felt like, "Yeah, now THIS is a character I can get behind!" (And I don't mean that in a sexual way!) For me, Rosella in KQ4 seemed like a stronger character than her portrayal in KQ7. There are more characters that are female (Longest Journey and such), and I think that's great. It shows the market is expanding and realizing there's female gamers. I think initially people thought, these computer games were for men/boys - who might feel their masculinity was being threatened - if they were forced to play a female character through an adventure game.

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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by Collector » Thu Mar 06, 2014 6:24 pm

There was the survey that Sierra did before the development of KQ4 because of such concerns, but what that survey showed was that the gender of the protagonist was no where nearly as important as a good story and game.
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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by Tawmis » Thu Mar 06, 2014 11:40 pm

Collector wrote:There was the survey that Sierra did before the development of KQ4 because of such concerns, but what that survey showed was that the gender of the protagonist was no where nearly as important as a good story and game.
I think that might have been back then - but times have definitely changed. I do believe back when Sierra was making games, it was mostly male gamers who were playing. But the market has shifted - more and more women now play games as the times have changed. And I think more women, as they come into this whole spectrum of gaming - probably want to see their gender, or at least the option - to be represented. I think this is why games like Mass Effect are such a huge success. Not only is the option to select your own gender available; but for the most part, even your love interests. (So if you're a female and want a male lover; that option's there; or if you're female and want a female lover; that option's there; same for males). This to me, is mind blowing, that a game could cater to such a wide audience. I think they have set the bar that needs to be met.

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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by adeyke » Fri Mar 07, 2014 11:06 am

There are a lot of games, especially western RPGs, that let you customize your character. And in those case, the more diverse the options are, the more likely it is that a given player will be able to create a character that's to their liking. So that's good.

However, those customizable games aren't a substitute for games that with a woman protagonist created for them.

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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by Maiandra » Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:39 am

I think there are definitely more male protagonists than female, but there have been increasingly more mainstream games with female protagonists. Some that fall outside of the realm of adventures:
  • Portal series
  • Velvet Assassin
  • Mirror's Edge
  • Lara Croft series
Plus a number of co-op games have female characters that you can play:
  • Left for Dead series
  • Borderlands series
  • Resident Evil 5
  • Orct Must Die 2
  • Sanctum
There are a number of others as well and it seems to be a growing trend in co-op to have at least one female character available.
Tawmis wrote:
Collector wrote:There was the survey that Sierra did before the development of KQ4 because of such concerns, but what that survey showed was that the gender of the protagonist was no where nearly as important as a good story and game.
I think that might have been back then - but times have definitely changed. I do believe back when Sierra was making games, it was mostly male gamers who were playing. But the market has shifted - more and more women now play games as the times have changed. And I think more women, as they come into this whole spectrum of gaming - probably want to see their gender, or at least the option - to be represented.


Judging by people I've met on the Sierra boards over the years, I'd say there were a number of women at least playing adventure games at the time. Perhaps not as many as men, again, but maybe more than people thought.

I don't mind playing a male protagonist in some games. For example, in Deus Ex: Human Revolution it didn't bother me and that's one of my favourite games. I think it bothers me less in a game where it's a specific character who is only customised in terms of stats and not in appearance or name.

When DPX and I used to play TF2, it didn't really bother me either, because the characters are so ridiculous and no one really has any individuality there. That's pretty much the only online action game I've played, though. If I had played more, I'm not sure how I would have felt about the lack of female characters.

It would annoy me in a game where I can customise my character's name or appearance. I like RPGS, almost all of which allow for female characters (although I still complain about the outfits, which are usually either overly frumpy or overly trashy).

I always wonder if it's kind of a chicken-egg things with some genres. Like would there be more action female gamers if they had female characters to play? Or are many women not intersted in those games? I know I'm not very competitive, so I usually stay away from those (TF2 was kind of a weird phase for me). However, there are a number of women who like competitive sports (I don't) and that's a similiar mentality to action games.

For games with more story, normally I'm just happy if it actually has a good story (so many games claim they do, but really don't). However, if there weren't any female protagonists out there, I might be more frustrated by it.
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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by DeadPoolX » Mon Mar 10, 2014 10:18 am

Any way you slice it, there are fewer female game protagonists than male ones.

Because there are more female protagonists in the Adventure and RPG genres, that probably accounts (to some degree) for the larger percentage of female gamers. MMOs in particular have a huge number of female gamers, at least in relation to other genres.

That said, sometimes the setting some games take place in just aren't suitable for female protagonists. A game that takes place in World War II, where you're a soldier on the battlefield, for instance. It would be anachronistic to see a female soldier in any military of the time.

That doesn't mean it couldn't be done (so long as the developer didn't want to claim historical accuracy) or perhaps take a less direct route, like Velvet Assassin. In that game, you're a woman, but you're also a spy/assassin, so you aren't on the battlefield. That works and is a good way to insert a female protagonist into that time period.

I think the point about the "setting" of a game can't be overlooked. Adventure games tend to take place in time periods and locations that are more accepting of women. The same is true of RPGs.

AAA titles, many of them First-Person Shooters, are in time periods or locations that don't make sense to have women. Obviously this doesn't excuse FPS games that take place in the future or alternate worlds, but considering the sheer number of them that are set in past wars, it makes sense to only have male protagonists.
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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by adeyke » Mon Mar 10, 2014 2:34 pm

There can certainly be games with male protagonists. If you're making a game set in WW2 and you're placing a high priority on realism, it does make sense that there wouldn't be any women in the military. However, if you're already making breaks from realism in order to help the gameplay (which is always going to be the case; actual war is the opposite of fun), including women shouldn't be off the table. A story about a heroic soldier who kills hundreds of enemies and completely turns the tides of war is already entirely unrealistic; it also being a woman won't make it much more unrealistic. Also, if you have a multiplayer mode that entirely eschews story, and where players blatantly just control an avatar in a game (instead of representing some actual person), there's no need to stick to just men.

Besides, the realism argument often points the opposite direction. There are a lot of shooters in a modern military setting, where many countries include women in their armed forces. Many of them still don't have any female characters, even though this omission is unrealistic.

Finally, even if there are settings were it's just entirely impossible to have female protagonists, no one is forcing them to use those settings. It's not like there are developers who are eager to put female protagonists in the game but are unable to do so because they can only use such woman-less settings.

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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by Collector » Mon Mar 10, 2014 5:11 pm

DPX's point was not that there were no women in the military, but not that likely in combat. There were a large number of women in the military in WWII, just not in combat. In the US, the WAVEs and the WACs were both fairly large. The idea was to free up more men for combat, so they were used as nurses, instructors, administrators, etc., for all of the things that keep an army need to keep going. This does not mean that they were never in danger. There were a lot trapped on Corregidor, for example. As to combat, women were involved in the various undergrounds. Women fought in the Soviet army. Japan was set to have women and children fight on Japanese soil. Then let's not forget espionage.
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Re: Female Protagonists

Post by DeadPoolX » Mon Mar 10, 2014 9:58 pm

adeyke wrote:However, if you're already making breaks from realism in order to help the gameplay (which is always going to be the case; actual war is the opposite of fun), including women shouldn't be off the table.
You're right, you have to make certain decisions in favor of fun over realism. However, there needs to be a limit if the game set in the real world.

Unless the game takes place in an alternate timeline or includes obvious fantasy elements, having female troops in combat (during WWII, not modern day) would be weird. Would it detract from the game's actual playability? No, but it would pull the player out of the game's setting to some degree. Immersion is a big factor.
adeyke wrote:A story about a heroic soldier who kills hundreds of enemies and completely turns the tides of war is already entirely unrealistic; it also being a woman won't make it much more unrealistic.

True, although FPS titles set in WWII don't really place you like that. Often you're just "some soldier" who makes it through numerous battles. Sure, you end up killing a lot of Nazis, but you're not a one-man army who wins the war all by himself. If you don't work with your team, you'll die; likewise, if you try to be a hero, you'll also die.
adeyke wrote:Also, if you have a multiplayer mode that entirely eschews story, and where players blatantly just control an avatar in a game (instead of representing some actual person), there's no need to stick to just men.
I agree here. In multiplayer there's no reason to not allow customization.
adeyke wrote:Besides, the realism argument often points the opposite direction. There are a lot of shooters in a modern military setting, where many countries include women in their armed forces. Many of them still don't have any female characters, even though this omission is unrealistic.
Most games are either made by American developers or with an American audience in mind. Knowing this, you often play as an American soldier. Up until 2013, women weren't allowed in dedicated combat units.

Obviously, that excuse won't work now and I'm more than okay with seeing female soldiers in a modern-day environment.

BTW, I'm mostly talking about infantry or armor, not pilots. There are a lot of female pilots and in many simulators (assuming it's not set in a war before women were allowed to be combat pilots) there are women flying alongside the main character.
Collector wrote:DPX's point was not that there were no women in the military, but not that likely in combat. There were a large number of women in the military in WWII, just not in combat.
Yup. In WWII, it was exceedingly rare for women to see combat. When they did, usually it was not on purpose. The USSR might be an exception in some ways because they started running out of male pilots, so they had their female pilots fly into combat.
Collector wrote:As to combat, women were involved in the various undergrounds. [...] Then let's not forget espionage.

That's why I used Velvet Assassin as an example of how a female protagonist works in a WWII setting.
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