#1 Edited by SpaceInsomniac (3337 posts) -

There are two main questions I would like to ask with this topic:

1) What games can you name that have stared non-sexualized* female protagonists, AND were very successful when it came to sales?

2) Other than the Mass Effect 2 18% figure, does anyone have any other data on the amount of players who choose to play as a female character when both male and female options are available?

* Sexualized is a subjective term, but if you're looking for examples, see the "Why 18 percent..." section below.

These questions are meant to be a focused continuation of two of the discussion points raised in this thread: http://www.giantbomb.com/forums/general-discussion-30/about-female-protagonists-1427109/?page=1

Several of my full quotes from that thread can be found below, but here's a basic recap:

18 percent of Mass Effect 2 players chose to play as a woman, Mass Effect 2 seems to be a game that would likely interest female gamers, chances are more males decided to play as females than females decided to play males, this would put the percent of women who played Mass Effect 2 at under 18 percent.

This means that not enough men would rather play as female protagonists when given the choice, and not enough women play retail console games in general. Considering the strong likelihood that there isn't enough of a demand for female protagonists, ultimately game publishers are doing what is best for their companies and their shareholders, and the true blame for the lack of female protagonists should be placed on the consumer.

There's another interesting point of discussion that was mentioned. That's the idea that it's possible that many of the white male game developers are hesitant to write female or minority characters, because they're afraid of the criticism that frequently comes with it.

For more on that, see the article here: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RyanCreighton/20130101/184227/White_as_a_Sheet.php

As a full recap of my thought process behind the two main questions, here are some quotes from the initial thread.

What the 18 percent statistic tells us about the probable number of female gamers.

How about Mass Effect. Developers have revealed that only 18% of gamers who played ME2 used a female character. Some interesting facts to note about this:

Mass Effect features a heavy emphasis on characters, dialogue, relationships, and even a little romance.

ME encourages multiple playthroughs, and even has an achievement dedicated to finishing the game twice.

For those who have played as both, the voice performance by the female voice actress has been said by many to be superior to the male voice actor. As someone who switched to fem Shepard himself, I couldn't agree more.

Finally, let's think about this from a male / female perspective. How many male players do you think picked fem shepard? They could have done so because they they wanted to stare at her ass all game long, or perhaps they long for better female protagonists. Either way. Now, how many female players do you think picked male Shephard, even with the 1000s of other games staring male protagonists, and even with the relationship / romance aspect of the game?

And despite all this evidence to the contrary, Partrick still links to an article claiming that game developers don't know what they're doing, that the next Gears of War would sell just as much if it had a non-sexualized female protagonist, and he calls it "worth reading." Even worse, he promotes the article in the most sensationalist way possible, with...

"Perhaps the biggest failure of Aliens: Colonial Marines is the amazing lack of females."

All this, despite the fact that the campaign does include at least one main character who is female--not that you would get that impression from Patrick or the article--and several female skins for multiplayer.

Just the other day I saw someone make a highly belligerent post in reply to someone who DARED to suggest that that maybe the male / female breakdown of "hardcore gamers" is close to perhaps 75% / 25%. That poster was accused of pulling those number out of his ass. I would imagine that currently you can only WISH for 25%. I'm not even going to guess how low the actual numbers are, but I will join you all in wishing it was a lot higher.

Why 18 percent of people wanting female protagonists doesn't mean that 18 percent of protagonists should be female.

Hypothetically, let's say that 18 percent of gamers would rather play as a female lead character, and 82 percent of gamers would rather play as a male lead character. We'll forget about the actual percentage of female gamers for a moment, which I would guess would have be somewhere under 18 percent, if the ME2 stats are to be believed. Note that I'm only including "traditional" 60 dollar retail games here.

Now, knowing this about your potential audience, why would you go with a choice that is preferred by 18 percent of potential customers, over a choice that is preferred by 82 percent of potential customers? This is even more true when making a female character too sexualized could lead to accusations of sexism (Tomb Raider, Bayonetta), and not sexualizing a female protagonist enough could cost your game sales (Mirror's Edge, Beyond Good and Evil). Not to say that THE reason those games didn't sell more is because of their non-sexualized female protagonists, but come to think of it, I am struggling to come up with a game that featured both a non-sexualized female protagonist and was a fairly large success. Anyone happen to know of some?

Believe me, I'm not saying it's right, I'm saying it's a sad truth. Don't get me wrong, I love when games allow a choice between genders, and I would also personally like to see more female protagonists in games. With that said, I think it's a bit telling that I've recommended Mass Effect to a few male friends now, and despite my recommendation of going with fem Shepard, they've all played as men.

So not enough men want to play as women, and not enough women want to play video games. To borrow and reverse an old urban phrase, don't hate the game, hate the player.

So a lack of female protagonists might not be the fault of game publishers, and could accurately reflect the market demand?

It's hard to tell how many would skip a game just because of the protagonist's gender, but I doubt most publishers care to do anything that might risk them any sales. To them, if 82 percent of players would rather play as a male, and those players have to choose between their game with a female lead, and another game with a male lead, that might be the slight push that it would take to cause customers to purchase your competitor's product.

Of course this is all just guess work, but you can be darn sure that publishers spend a lot of money on market research, and it's kind of stupid to suggest that they don't know what they're talking about when they shy away from female protagonists.

I find it humorous that Patrick berates those who would dare question the amount of money it costs to add another character to a fighting game, and in the same article link to a story that basically says publishers don't know what they're talking about when they say that games featuring female protagonists don't sell. Seems kinda hypocritical.

As for sexualization, I would define that as anything that causes a character to be more sexuality attractive, either through physical appearance, attire, or personality.

It's very much a sliding scale, and it's not a one-sided issue. I've already given female examples, but it's not hard to see that the Ezio from Assassin's Creed and Drake from Uncharted are far more sexualized than Master Chief from Halo, or Marcus from Gears of War.

You can call the sexualization of female characters offensive to women if you want, but I think that's missing the point. How many romance novels have you ever seen with skinny looking nerds on the cover? Sex sells, and it's a two way street. When the vast majority of your market is men, it's foolish to ignore their buying habits or preferences.

#2 Posted by psylah (2153 posts) -

World of Warcraft alone will pretty much shoot your answer for #2 through the goddamn roof.

90% of the females in WoW must be men. And the odds of a male player using a male avatar but having an alt that is female is probably high as well.

I had about 8 female characters and 3 male.

#3 Posted by oraknabo (1427 posts) -

How are multiple playthroughs reflected in the Mass Effect 2 numbers? I played ME1 & 2 as both. I have a paragon male and renegade female. There might be something there about how male players are more inclined to replaying games. I don't think %18 actually tells you much of anything really. How many of the remaining %82 are female players playing male Shepard. The only way you will ever get significant stats from something like this is if the game asks users their sex and age and other personal info and there's some incentive tell the truth. I also never played these games online. How do they know that 18% of all players played females?

#4 Edited by gogosox82 (413 posts) -

I always roll female characters if given the choice so i don't know how accurate that 18% number is since it doesn't how many of the 18% were male and were female.

#5 Posted by SpaceInsomniac (3337 posts) -

@psylah said:

I had about 8 female characters and 3 male.

I always roll female characters if given the choice so i don't know how accurate that 18% number is since it doesn't how many of the 18% were male and were female.

Which would probably mean that LESS than the 18 percent were female, right? As I said before, why would women playing ME use a male character? I can see men doing it due to a lack of female protagonists, but why would women intentionally avoid an opportunity like that?

@oraknabo said:

How are multiple playthroughs reflected in the Mass Effect 2 numbers? I played ME1 & 2 as both. I have a paragon male and renegade female. There might be something there about how male players are more inclined to replaying games. I don't think %18 actually tells you much of anything really. How many of the remaining %82 are female players playing male Shepard. The only way you will ever get significant stats from something like this is if the game asks users their sex and age and other personal info and there's some incentive tell the truth. I also never played these games online. How do they know that 18% of all players played females?

I would imagine one male and one female playthrough would cancel each other out. And although I feel that it sounds extremely unlikely, if a significant portion of female players elected to play as a male Shepard, that would mean even less of a reason to create games with female protagonists, right? Lastly, I don't see why online or offline stats would matter, as long as there wasn't a strange imbalance of online males vs offline females, or vice versa.

The only area that I will agree could affect the stats is if males really were more inclined to replay games, but I don't see any logical reason why that would be the case either.

Assuming that most female gamers want more female protagonists, and assuming that they will take the opportunity to play as a female protagonist when it is given to them, then I don't see how the ME2 numbers are anything less than extremely useful when trying to determine the number of female Mass Effect 2 players, which I think would in turn be useful for trying to determine the overall number of female console gamers.

But as is the point of this thread, if anyone else has some stats to share, I'd love to hear them.

#6 Posted by mellotronrules (1170 posts) -

when you say "starred" female characters, do you mean "was the playable character?"

#7 Edited by SpaceInsomniac (3337 posts) -

@mellotronrules said:

when you say "starred" female characters, do you mean "was the playable character?"

Basically, yes. When I use the word protagonist, I mean the primary character, not in a group with other characters. Examples:

Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, playable character, protagonist.

Maya from Borderlands 2, playable character, one of several selectable characters.

The fact that Maya is an optional character means that the publisher doesn't risk anything with her inclusion, which means that I'm not interested in her for this discussion.

And so far I've thought of two answers for question one, but I'll keep quiet for now and see what others might come up with.

#8 Edited by JasonR86 (9384 posts) -

I'm assuming we're talking lead protagonist right?

Off the top of my head the games I can think of that had a lead female protagonist that was a sales success and wasn't sexualized would be;

Phantasy Star 1, Phantasy Star 4 had a female lead for the first third until she took a death blow for the new lead, Final Fantasy X-2, To the Moon (relatively speaking it was financially successful), Odin Sphere (not a huge success but not bad either), the Persona 3 variant on PSP, the No One Lives Forever games, the new Tomb Raider (if it is a financial success), Portal 1 and 2, Resident Evil 1 and 2 had either a male or female lead depending on the player's choice and Resident Evil 3's lead was a woman, Super Metroid and Metroid Prime were probably the best selling Metroid games, Kameo apparently was a relative financial success, I don't know if it was a financial success but Muramasa (like the Resident 1 and 2 games) had a selectable female lead, NyxQuest, the BloodRayne games, Dino Crisis, the Fatal Frame games, Heavenly Sword (which I think was financially successful), Mischief Makers, the Parasite Eve games, Perfect Dark, Okami (though it wasn't a huge success).

So that's 26 games (minus the NOLF and Fatal Frame sequels). Not bad off the top of this dumb brain of mine. Also I think a sexualized character is not necessarily a sexist character. I think Lara Croft has always been a strong female lead and Bayonetta is a hell of a female lead but both are sexualized. I just don't think their sexual nature makes them any less appropriate for a respectable standing then any of the 26 games I listed above.

#9 Edited by Canteu (2814 posts) -

When given the option, I play exclusively female. I am male.

so... there's 1? 1 what? I couldn't tell you.

#10 Posted by GERALTITUDE (2812 posts) -

Why do they have to be very successful games?

I feel like that ruins the data. There could be great games with great female characters that didn't suceed, sexy girls or no sexy girls. What's the relevance of only including successful games? Especially if their success likely has zero to do with the main character. Oni doesn't suck because a girl is the main character, it just sucks. Resident Evil 3 and Dino Crisis are great games who may as well star robots as they do women.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding. This seems like an interesting thread but the ground rules feel shakey to me.

Also, I'm sorry, but, this statement: "I can see men doing it due to a lack of female protagonists, but why would women intentionally avoid an opportunity like that?" is boooonnnkeeerrrsss. Women want to play as men. Men want to play as women. This is a two way road.

My girlfriend doesn't only ever want to play as a girl. The whole point of games is roleplaying right? That's what's great about Fem Shep or choosing to play a lady in Elder Scrolls.

#11 Posted by kitsikitsi (9 posts) -

Males tend to sympathise and tend to put themselves in the character's shoes.

This is why most males choose to play male characters in RPGs and why most protagonists in video games are males: since males are the dominant audience in video games.

I think this phenomenon is as healthy, natural and expected as it gets.

For example, in every commercial on tv about make-up products etc there are always female actors. I don't see how this is bad.

#12 Edited by haffy (673 posts) -

Males tend to sympathise and tend to put themselves in the character's shoes.

This is why most males choose to play male characters in RPGs and why most protagonists in video games are males: since males are the dominant audience in video games.

I think this phenomenon is as healthy, natural and expected as it gets.

For example, in every commercial on tv about make-up products etc there are always female actors. I don't see how this is bad.

I don't think it's like that for everyone. Personally I play something completely different than what I am in real life.

#13 Posted by SpaceInsomniac (3337 posts) -

Why do they have to be very successful games?

I feel like that ruins the data. There could be great games with great female characters that didn't suceed, sexy girls or no sexy girls. What's the relevance of only including successful games?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding. This seems like an interesting thread but the ground rules feel shakey to me.

The relevance of only including successful games is that this thread is an examination of the reasoning behind game publisher's reluctance to include female protagonists in their games, or to sexualize the ones that they do include. If you look at the number of female protagonists in successful games, most of them seem to be at least somewhat sexualized.

Also, I'm sorry, but, this statement: "I can see men doing it due to a lack of female protagonists, but why would women intentionally avoid an opportunity like that?" is boooonnnkeeerrrsss. Women want to play as men. Men want to play as women. This is a two way road.

My girlfriend doesn't only ever want to play as a girl. The whole point of games is roleplaying right? That's what's great about Fem Shep or choosing to play a lady in Elder Scrolls.

If this is true, it's just about the only thing that could completely throw off the idea that Mass Effect's 18 percent figure gives us a basic idea of the amount of female players. What it would not dispute is that fact that of ALL players who don't play both genders in equal measure, 82 percent would rather play as a man.

@jasonr86 said:

So that's 26 games (minus the NOLF and Fatal Frame sequels). Not bad off the top of this dumb brain of mine. Also I think a sexualized character is not necessarily a sexist character. I think Lara Croft has always been a strong female lead and Bayonetta is a hell of a female lead but both are sexualized. I just don't think their sexual nature makes them any less appropriate for a respectable standing then any of the 26 games I listed above.

I would disagree with many of those examples, as many of them are clearly sexualized. Some of the others are only selectable alternatives, which again goes against the association of publisher risk that is the point of this thread. You did have some good examples, though interestingly enough, mostly from non-western developers.

I'll also completely agree that being a sexualized character doesn't make for a sexist character. I wouldn't blame you for not reading the entire first post, so here are the parts where I talk about sexualization:

Now, knowing this about your potential audience, why would you go with a choice that is preferred by 18 percent of potential customers, over a choice that is preferred by 82 percent of potential customers? This is even more true when making a female character too sexualized could lead to accusations of sexism (Tomb Raider, Bayonetta), and not sexualizing a female protagonist enough could cost your game sales (Mirror's Edge, Beyond Good and Evil). Not to say that THE reason those games didn't sell more is because of their non-sexualized female protagonists, but come to think of it, I am struggling to come up with a game that featured both a non-sexualized female protagonist and was a fairly large success. Anyone happen to know of some?

(this point was the inspiration for this thread)

As for sexualization, I would define that as anything that causes a character to be more sexuality attractive, either through physical appearance, attire, or personality.

It's very much a sliding scale, and it's not a one-sided issue. I've already given female examples, but it's not hard to see that the Ezio from Assassin's Creed and Drake from Uncharted are far more sexualized than Master Chief from Halo, or Marcus from Gears of War.

You can call the sexualization of female characters offensive to women if you want, but I think that's missing the point. How many romance novels have you ever seen with skinny looking nerds on the cover? Sex sells, and it's a two way street. When the vast majority of your market is men, it's foolish to ignore their buying habits or preferences.

#14 Posted by Zekhariah (694 posts) -

MMO type games tend to have a lot of skew in gender rations - maybe look at world of warcraft if your curious about it on player choice. I think ascetics on how a game portrays male or female toons (not with attractiveness being the per say issue) can figure into it a lot as well. Kind of like how gender balance vs. racial choice plays out in a MMO.

It does seem a bit sad on the protagonist front, but realistically, the sale demographics are not some huge bloody mystery. It sometimes feels like there should be some amount of indignation toward the various game companies... but still.... if doing a certain thing will bankrupt than I end up having trouble assigning blame (maybe it is the fault of society at large?).

#15 Posted by Wrighteous86 (3642 posts) -

The inverse of this argument though, is that if there were more strong female protagonists, it would invite more female gamers to try those games. And while I don't mind playing as women like Lara Croft, I understand that it doesn't make as much sense from a business perspective. But if the industry is going to keep growing, they need to try and be welcoming to their "non-traditional" audiences. It's a short-term personal risk, that's a long-term industry gain.