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E3 2014 - Year of the Female Playable Character

And just like that, E3 is over. It's the week after all the announcements are done and here we are in that awkward time between Christmas and New Years where all the surprise is gone, but you kinda have to get back to your life until having fun again.

Yeah, that metaphor sucks. Not fixing it.

Anyway, we got a taste of what the industry is going to be offering in the next 2 or 3 years and, I have to say, this may not have matched the pure hype of the press conferences of Microsoft and Sony determining the future of the console market, but the games on display were absolutely top notch. I'll be writing a big blog post soon wrapping up the big announcements and the games that I'm stoked to play. And by writing soon, I mean I was 70% of the way done and then my computer froze.

Never writing a blog post in the giant bomb editor ever again. siiiiiiiiiiggghhhh

But! I have another piece that I really wanted to make after I noticed a pattern throughout the event. Two years ago, Giant Bomb and other outlets around the internet proclaimed E3 to be the Year of the Bow after many high profile games had prominent use of the weapon. While 2013 didn't really have a clear pattern, I noticed one for 2014 pretty quickly: Female Protagonists.

Don't get me wrong: the press conferences were still neck deep in dudes. Most of the press conferences were filled to the brim with moustachioed man in The Order, hillbilly in Far Cry, Call of Duty man in Call of Duty, and, hell, even the trio of male leads from Grand Theft Auto V made another lengthy appearance. The industry has as many dudes in lead roles as ever.

But if you looked past the huge, showy productions and looked at just a big list of games on display, there was a surprising amount of female representation when it comes to playable characters. How many? 90 games, by my count.


90 good female characters? Maybe not, but it's a large step up from the usual sea of dudes we see in games.

A lot of this comes from indie games, games with large rosters of selectable characters, and established franchises that are known to have female playable characters, but there were some big games from big name companies that, if the game had been made 10 years ago, would have had a completely dude filled roster.

And that's kind of mind blowing to me. We can have a full spread of nearly every genre that someone could, theoretically, only play as female characters in video games for the next two or so years. And that's not even counting games like Everybody's Gone to the Rapture or even most racing games where the experience completely removes the need for a "character" or "avatar" to represent you in the world. That's absolutely fantastic and I think it deserves recognition.

I would like to point out that this list is about exactly that: pointing out that baby steps have been taken. Recognizing the games that raise a middle finger to the "conventional wisdom" in the industry that male protagonists sell more games. Recognizing the developers that said fuck you to Ubisoft's laughable defense around Assassin's Creed: Unity not having female playable characters in co-op by having more female playable characters at any E3 that I recall.

(Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that one.)

I'm not trying to say that having a male playable character is inherently bad nor am I saying that we can all dust off our hands, proclaim that there are enough female characters in video games, pat each other on the back, and never bring up the topic again. Adding more varied representation within media, beyond just women in video games, is something that people have to actively, constantly strive to accomplish with every project they work on and I feel like I should acknowledge those that have.

While I had the plans to make this list in the middle of last week, I would like to credit this article about female protagonists in the games at E3 for pointing out a few I missed and just giving me motivation to write it.


Before I jump into the list of those NINETY GAMES, I thought I would list off a few rules I followed while compiling this list. First off, there are three different categories that a game can fall into if it has a female playable character:

  • Female Protagonist - A game that has a defined female protagonist that is either the only character you play as throughout the game or a major playable character that the game seems to revolves around for a portion of it. May also have more than one female protagonist. Examples would be Metroid, Final Fantasy X-2, or Heavy Rain.
  • Choice of Female Protagonist - A game that you can choose to play as a female character. These are typically MOBA's or fighting games, like Street Fighter or DOTA, but can have a game that allows you to choose a female character at the outset (like most modern Pokemon games) or games with multiple campaigns, like Muramasa.
  • Character Creator - You can create your own character and have their gender be female. Can be either of the other two categories, but the character isn't set in stone. Can be a blank slate of a character like you'd see in an MMO like Guild Wars 2 or WoW or a character that has more depth, like in Mass Effect.

I did not include a game with a female character if she is a party member, even if she is technically "playable". Persona Q, for example, has 9.5 female party members (newcomers Rei & Zen function as one character) in the game and both support female characters are female, but you have to choose the Persona 4 protagonist or the male Persona 3 protagonist as the hero of the story. Another example: Tales of Hearts R you can play as any character in battle, but the story still revolves around the male protagonist Kor.

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