Comment: Being a woman in a male video game world


My first ever memory of playing video-games was that of a SEGA Genesis (or Megadrive in Europe); it was given to us by a friend with classics such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Bomberman and Echo the Dolphin. From then on my youth has been defined by a passion for video gaming. My parents never discouraged this as such, yet they also never encouraged it, seemingly expecting my brother to spend his earnings on games and me on Polly Pockets. But that was simply the case then; my parents were one example among many others who had expectations of their children’s interests purely based upon gender. Times have changed dramatically, as now around 40% of active gamers are female.

However, despite this enormous shift in the gaming audience, it’s not just mainstream media and older generations who seem to still believe females aren’t interested in video gaming. In fact, it seems many titans of the very industry itself believe, or want to believe, that the majority of the gaming audience are white, western young males, when it simply isn’t true. Rather than moving with modern cultural and social shifts, many games companies and associated establishments still cater to a similar audience that they had in the 1980’s. Women are either grossly misrepresented in video games or not represented at all, as are many races and ages.

But the latter cases are topics to discuss within entirely separate articles, yet are just as relevant in video gaming as sexism. Yet recently, all these hidden issues have been dug up – the fact that I’m even writing this article shows that – and much of the gaming community has been discussing ideas surrounding the misrepresentation and abuse of women in this industry.

The game Dragon's crown has been controversial for it's depiction of the sorceress character

The game Dragon’s crown has been controversial for it’s depiction of the sorceress character

Perhaps the best point to begin from is the summer of 2011, when a journalist and entertainment analyst named Anita Sarkeesian decided to begin a Kickstarter for a collection of Youtube videos discussing the misrepresentation of women within video games (see below). Sarkeesian is a member of an internet website called Feminist Frequency: specialising in articles and videos studying the issues surrounding feminism and popular culture. Previously Sarkeesian created a number of videos concerning the

misrepresentation of feminism within television shows, films and even books, so she was no stranger to publicaly broadcasting her views. However, last summer when she proposed the Kickstarter for her Youtube project Tropes Vs. Women in Video-Games, a violent back-lash erupted seemingly out of nowhere. Sarkeesian then received a tirade of abuse; with the comments section littered with insults ranging from plain misogyny to actual rape threats, while her Wikipedia page was hacked into and spammed with pornography, people tried to hack into her accounts to find out where she lived and someone even created a game on the internet where players are invited to ‘Beat-up the Bitch’!

This is not to say that other women within the gaming industry haven’t been subjected to abuse before Anita was; others including cos-player and actor Felicia Day, who received insulting comments and other varying abuse. Yet the sheer levels of abuse mounted against Sarkeesian, and her precise decision to publicaly report this abuse, led to a light being shined upon both the misrepresentation of women in video games and the problems many women face in the industry and community today. Her $6000 kick-starter was fully funded within 24 hours and the total eventually reached a whopping $158,000.The first part was released in March this year and the second part around last month; both are very enlightening, broad and intelligent in their criticism and analysis of the various tropes placed upon women. The abuse Sarkeesian received appeared to have the opposite effect to what her abusers desired; rather than silencing the subject, it became the catalyst for the gaming community to discuss women in games and for many women who had suffered prejudice to describe their experiences.

Another interesting product of this discussion was the #1reasonwhy twitter feed that emerged last year, wherein several women who were members of the gaming industry tweeted about the various injustices they’d endured. As well as these employees revealing their various experiences, many women and girls who had been victims of abuse while playing online or commenting on gaming websites also spoke up.

Cover of The Last of Us

Cover of The Last of Us

As well as this, various news and gaming websites have taken it upon themselves to continuously discuss the topic, as well a large collection of both men and women finally holding their heads up high and questioning why? An article on the website Destructiod written by the journalist Jim Sterling was concerned with the news that had be recently leaked by Dontnoid entertainment: that they had to struggle with superiors to allow them to have a female protagonist within their recently released video game Remember Me. Another article detailed how company Naughty Dog had to fight to get one of their lead characters, a girl, on the front cover of their game The Last of Us.

What this means is that many games companies are still struggling with idea of catering to female gamers, with many still convinced that female protagonists don’t sell unless they are objectified for men. With an industry that seems to be obsessed with selling ridiculous numbers of their products, they attempt to market to an audience that is guaranteed to buy; and with every company wanting their own Call of Duty it seems it could be a long time until women are finally well represented. Yet, there is hope, with awesome games with great female protagonists enjoying success, such as EA’s Mirror’s Edge (which has now been awarded a sequel), games like the Mass Effect series which features options for both highly developed male and female protagonists, and games like the new Tomb Raider being written by women; women are achieving more and more.

As a female gamer, I have had my fair amount of shocked looks from people when I have mentioned that I avidly game, and I’ve had to play any number of games wherein the best I can expect from a female character is that she isn’t dressed in a chain-mail bikini with jiggling double F’s. Yet in the last several months, I’ve begun to grow extremely optimistic for what this industry and community can achieve, that there will come a time when that small lingering feeling of embarrassment for my hobby, will eventually be entirely dismissed.


About Author

Third-year English undergraduate, dabbles in records and video-games. Can be found trying to raise money for new games and consoles, worshiping David Bowie and reading young-adult fiction unashamedly.


  1. I agree with this article, having well written characters makes a great difference in games and historically speaking, female characters never really get developed beyond possibly being a romantic interest or eye candy. One of my favourite games of all time is beyond good and evil and that has a fully developed interesting character Jade that isn’t weakened by stereotypes or sexualisation. Another example is Alyx Vance who is loved not because she is sexy but a genuinely interesting character, both examples break the damsel in distress trend and I’m glad for it. Just need the gaming industry to look forward and not stick with the status quo.

    • I’m glad you feel as strongly as me about female protagonists within gaming. One of my favorite gaming series of all time is mass effect, and one of the major reasons for this is that it allowed me to play as a female protagonist that was so complex and awesome, for the first time. If this could happen throughout more games and within the new generation of gamers, it would be an amazing achievement.

  2. I’ll admit I like the hotties in video games as much as the next heterosexual male, but my favorite female characters aren’t loved for their appearance so much as their awesomeness. I use to be a huge fan of JRPGs, and I’ve always loved the old Final Fantasy heroines like Rydia, who saves the men at several points, and characters like Elly in Xenogears, who does wind up unfortunately needing a rescue, but was just an awesome character when she was playable.

    There’s definitely a long way to go before the representation of women in video games (and other media, for that matter) meets the standards necessary to really be called “equal,” but I look forward to it. I’m a fan of strong female protagonists.

    • I’d definitely second that. 2 of my favourite female characters in games were Celes and Yuna. Different but both very good characters who relied entirely on their personalities to make an impact on the player. And of course, they were both extremely powerful in their respective games.

  3. Too focused. On a grand scale of gaming industry the resolution of this aspect does not bring enough money. If sales expectations are not met then people start to analyze why – therefore to equally satisfy wider audience and your minority we have to develop huge number of storyline at once, and since many games have trends of developing few story lines for just male character this figure as number of work-hours will grow dramatically if we account for female protagonist. Large developer studios can afford that.

    But then again there are so many factors as with Dead Space franchise(which is not related to this topic but still) where they essentially had to re-transform the game from horror genre(so loved and cherished by minority) to action just to satisfy wider audience. I hope you can the analogy.

    • In response to your comment, firstly I have to question why an audience for female protagonists is considered a ‘minority’ if around half of the gaming audience are now considered female? As well as the many males who I’m sure would appreciate more female protagonists and well rounded female characters. Secondly, Why do we have to consider it more work to just ‘add’ on more female character story-lines? why can’t some of the male character and protagonists be sacrificed for some female ones instead? why do female characters have to be an afterthought? Thirdly, I don’t believe that your dead space analogy is a very effective one to be used in this particular discussion, despite there also being an issue with the fact that EA decided that appealing to a larger and more vague audience was more important than appealing to a devoted target following, this doesn’t work in this argument. That was a decision designed to boost sales by throwing a larger, greedier and incomprehensible net and it didn’t live up to it’s expectations. Introducing more story-lines with developed female characters and protagonists is not trying to grab more members from an already catered to audience, like so many companies are trying to emulate call of duty in order to attract that crowd, as this audience aren’t yet really being catered for. This is an entirely new audience. But furthermore, the game industry is seriously crying out for some diversity in it’s material, that rather than all fighting over the same audience groups, they should have a developed selection of both male and female protagonists and characters. To make well-rounded female characters an accepted norm rather than a minority.

  4. If you don’t like it don’t play it.

    Geez, why turbo feminists complain about every shit? I don’t see any man complaining about muscular dumb space marines everywhere.

  5. Next we can stop making every black character a thug, athlete, or giant brute. Seriously, name 5 strong, un-sexualized lead female characters. I bet you can! Now name 5 lead black characters that don’t fall in one of the three categories above.

    If it weren’t for fighting games where you can pick from a slew of characters, this would be impossible.

  6. There’s definitely a problem with the portrayal of women in gaming but I think we need to be careful not to make it a bigger issue than it really is. There’s also a lack of good black characters, nearly every russian or arab is almost certainly an enemy…..and come to think of it, there are hardly any realistic white males either! I’ve travelled the world a fair bit, there really aren’t that many muscular space marines out there!
    I think the problem with creating a movement around something, while it can certainly make changes happen for the better, it’s also a brilliant way of becoming dogmatic and just feeding your own biases. If you were to list all of main female characters in gaming, would the problem really be as skewed as you make out (you fail to point out that there’s also a ridiculously muscular man in Dragon’s Crown). It seems to me that there probably more Alex Vances nowdays than Princess Peaches.

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