Feminism as a political cause is on such wobbly knees that it must rely on charges of rampant sexism that have no basis in reality. The current Exhibit A is “Think Progress” blogger Alyssa Rosenberg, who surely scrunched up her face in disgust as she wrote the headline “Women Are Half Of Video Gamers, So Where Are The Female Video Game Characters?”
Serious long-term video game fans should laugh at Rosenberg’s ignorance and laziness. This headline had all the style and finesse of a belly flop into an empty swimming pool.
To document the first half of the headline, she referred to a new report on demographics from the Entertainment Software Association, which found that women 18 and older make up 31 percent of the video game-playing population. Another study released by Magid Advisors found that 70 percent of women between the ages of 12 and 24 play video games. The study also found 61 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 64 also play games, compared to 57 percent of men in that age group.
The video-game culture has evolved, and there are many more female “gamers” now. But surveys counting more female “gamers” are very broad, reflecting that anyone who occasionally plays “Angry Birds” on their smart phone gets counted as a “gamer.”
At least there’s more evidence on the audience than on the silly second half, the question “Where are the Female Video Game Characters?”
Rosenberg turned to feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, who reported that the makers of the new Xbox One console were harassed at the recent E3 electronic-enterainment expo for failing to promote games with female characters (which in itself isn’t evidence of a lack of female characters). But for Rosenberg, this apparently underscored “why it’s so hard to convince the branches of the entertainment industry that they ought to try harder to offer up female characters and characters of color.”
What’s hard is to get Rosenberg to try a simple Google search. Type in “female characters in video games” and you’re sent to a Wikipedia page where it reports on 110 entries on female characters, and that’s only a fraction of them. Just how wrong is Rosenberg? Even her ally Sarkeesian admits in one of her YouTube video lectures that “we have seen a moderate increase in the number of playable female characters.”
In many “role player” games, characters can be customized by their gamers; and in many games there is the option for a female character. Take the popular action game series “Mass Effect,” where the Commander Shepard character can be either male or female. The game’s manufacturer, BioWare, boasted in 2007 how its female fighter was “very strong, in a way you'd expect from a real-life military officer. She's not a caricature of the idea of role-playing as a female, but instead she's very impressive as a strong female character that's sensitive yet extremely confident and assertive.”
BioWare even labored to appease the loony “Think Progress” crowd by offering “same-sex romance options” for Commander Shepard regardless of gender in “Mass Effect 3.”
Many role-player game series these days offer female protagonists, including “Dragon Age,” “Dragon’s Dogma,” “Elder Scrolls, “Fable,” “Fallout,” and “Saints Row,” as well as “Halo 4.” Most if not all Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games (including the popular “World of Warcraft” and “Star Wars: The Old Republic”) also have female-character options.
Fighting female protagonists aren’t remotely new:
– Even non-gamers remember “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” which debuted in 1996. Lara Croft was played by Angelina Jolie in a 2001 movie. The game series is still popular.
– The TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” inspired an Xbox video game version in 2002. Before that, there was a “Buffy” game for Nintendo Game Boy Color in 2000.
– Joanna Dark is the protagonist of the “Perfect Dark” series, which debuted in 2000. She’s nicknamed “Perfect” in honor of her “flawless performance in training tests.”
– Jill Valentine appeared as a playable protagonist in the U.S. police force in the first version of “Resident Evil” in 1996, and many versions (including movies) thereafter.
– Samus Aran was the first popular female action star in the game “Metroid,” which was first issued in 1986, and remains a popular character over a quarter-century later. The creators were inspired by Sigourney Weaver’s character in the movie “Alien.”
Angry feminists can certainly criticize how many female characters are scantily clad and designed for sex appeal. They could argue that too many female characters not listed above are merely damsels in distress. They could argue that violent video games normalize or trivialize violence against women.
But that’s not what Rosenberg argued. She suggested female characters were nearly nonexistent. That, like so much of feminist boilerplate, is fraudulent.