The importance of promoting gender inclusivity in the gaming world

Sarina Shah, Contributing Writer

Imagine this: you’re playing one of your favorite video games, and while choosing an avatar, you realize none of the characters look like you, or even have similar characteristics. There is no variation in skin tone, all of the characters are male, and they all have perfectly muscled bodies. This leaves you feeling left out, thinking,“is this game only made for male players?” Unfortunately, this is the reality for most female gamers when they realize that their video game avatars lack diversity. 

It is vital that women be included in the gaming space. Currently, while 48% of video game players are female, only 9% of all game protagonists are women, a clear indication that female characters in games are severely underrepresented. You may ask, “why is diversity in video games important anyway?” Not only is it crucial to have an inclusive and welcoming gaming community, but increased representation also incentivizes more female players to join the hobby. A study at Drexel University found that when there is an increase in representation in an activity, a more diverse population becomes interested in it. 

Without protagonistic representation, female characters are fetishized and sexualized, because in game developers’ points of view, they are just eye candy for male gamers. Female characters in these games often, in turn, project unrealistic body standards onto women, causing  female gamers to see themselves in a negative light and making them feel forced to live up to these unachievable expectations of beauty. Despite the clear problems that can come with less female representation in video games, there is still push back. For instance, in 2014, the video game series Assassin’s Creed stated that female playable characters would not be available in their multiplayer game mode due to production cuts. This excuse was later proved false when Business Insider found that the real reason for the lack of female characters was a result of male players’ belief that a female character would “alienate them from the game,”’ as game director Alex Hutchinson said. His logic was that male protagonists would be more appropriate role models for young boys. 

That poses the question of whether female role models are only admirable to women or all of the world. Role models can exist in any form. I admire many diverse role models, from authors to musicians, and even advocates for social justice; their gender does not make a difference to me. Great role models are individuals that possess a finely-tuned moral compass; one’s physical appearance should not interfere with their ability to serve as a role model. Additionally, there are a multitude of video game protagonists that do not have a gender, such as robots, animals, and aliens. Most players don’t think twice about playing as these characters. I believe users should feel more comfortable playing as female characters because they are more realistic protagonists than mythical characters. Unfortunately, gaming companies prioritize creating unrealistic protagonists over women, cementing their belief that female characters are subhuman.  

The answer may seem simple: just add more female characters. However, games that try to incorporate female characters face immense backlash from their fanbases. A possible solution is increasing the advertising of games with female protagonists. Becky Chambers, a science fiction author, finds that games with female protagonists are less likely to sell than games with male protagonists. It is unprofitable to have female protagonists, because it leaves many male players dissuaded from playing the games. With more advertising, games that promote diversity in their characters would see an increase in their fanbase and revenue, pushing other gaming companies to do the same. Harvestella, a game series aiming to spread character diversity, has been widely recognized for such efforts. Players choose their own gender (male, female, non-binary), because game producer Daisuke Taka believes this format includes a more diverse profile of characters. This effort not only paves the way for female protagonists in gaming, but also for producers to include LGBTQ+ representation. 

Diverse video games ensure that everyone has the ability to engage positively in the activities they love. They foster positive mindsets among women, break down outdated stereotypes, and pave the way for greater inclusivity in gaming communities.