Guess How Many Video Games Feature Female Protagonists?
Last week, Anita Sarkeesian at Feminist Frequency tweeted: "Thanks #XboxOne #E3 press conference for revealing exactly zero games featuring a female protagonist for the next generation." In response, she received a flood of vicious responses on Twitter, some of which she collected in this blog post. The post is painful to read. By publishing it, Anita revealed that gaming culture's problem with women goes deeper than a simple lack of representation. The low number of female protagonists in video games is tied to the widespread misogyny and condescension directed to women in the gaming community.
Anita's tweet wasn't surprising to anyone who keeps track of gender in media: there really are very few female protagonists in video games. EEDAR, a video game research firm, found that of 669 games that had protagonists with recognizable genders, 24 had only female protagonists. That would be 3%. Players had the option of being female in less than half of the games. That doesn't mesh with the reality of video game consumers: despite the stereotypes, more and more women are buying video games. Given that split, it may not be surprising that the gaming community contains some pretty intense sexism. Anita Sarkeesian's post is only the tip of the iceberg.
Let me tell you a story. I don't consider myself a gamer by any means, but when I was home on breaks from school, I used to play Halo every night with my dad and brother and remotely with some family friends. I had my own Xbox Live username, which reflected the fact that I am female, and a headset. So when I talked to our friends, the other players could hear me. Inevitably, one of them would exclaim, "Wait … are you a girl?" I never responded. "Hey, the other team has a girl! She sucks," they'd yell gleefully. (Unfortunately, I actually was really bad at Halo.) Sometimes they joke about boobs, sometimes about how bad girls are at games. I've also gotten sexually explicit private messages from multiple users.
But that's just my personal experience. Take this blog post from a man who feels ashamed to call himself a gamer because of the sexism surrounding him. Or the fact that this Kickstarter to make a documentary about sexism in gaming received far more than its requested amount of funding. Or this Buzzfeed article which articulates the problems women have when they try to assert a gamer identity. Or check out this thread on r/GirlGamers, where a male feminist says he became "emotionally exhausted" after being mistaken for a woman on a separate gamer thread. Or if you don't feel like reading a longer article, search "girl gamers" on Twitter, where you'll come up with results like:
"girl gamers either are pretty enough so they get attention or they have to dick ride to receive the attention" - @SirGlendale
"You think girl gamers are all fun and games until they are on your team playing COD and their negative K/D costs you the match"-@thedingojohnson
"SOME GIRL GAMERS ARE HOT AND SOME LOOK LIKE COWS" - @GreenGoblinHD
They speak for themselves.
I'm not saying that all of the men in the gaming community are misogynist assholes. I know a lot of gamers who are respectful, thoughtful men. The same Twitter search for "gamer girls" that uncovered such depressing results also yielded supportive and even feminist statements about the role of women in gaming. Open frustration about and condemnation of sexism in gaming is growing. For every asshole who sends me voice messages of himself moaning, there's another guy who finds such messages repulsive.
Clearly, though, we're not yet at a point where all women can feel comfortable in the gaming community. Anita Sarkeesian's blog post is clear proof. We have to fix the problem of female representation in games, and we have to fix the problem of misogyny against women in the gaming community. And we cannot change one thing without changing the other. The two problems are intertwined, and until we attack sexism in gaming on both levels, women will have to keep playing as male characters and, worse, be harassed and demeaned by men who don't think they belong.