Why is the video game industry sexist?
Is it too complicated to create female characters in video games, or is that the video game industry is still sexist? This could be a rhetorical question, but in fact has been one of the main arguments in the technology industry in recent days. The issue arose after the technical director of the video game company Ubisoft say in an interview on the occasion of E3 (most important in the game industry event, which concluded last week) that the last installment of the Assassin’s Creed is not any female character since this would have meant “double the work”.
The reaction was swift and negative, especially after a former developer of the company should ask how much work would be needed. “Industry’s message is that men go first,” said a Canadian player who created the hashtag # womenaretoohardtoanimate (women are too difficult to animate) on Twitter, and was being reproduced worldwide.
“Women are more difficult to animate when they put all their efforts to put them in situations that are broken clothes”, wrote @ emilyrwanner.
But what left confused many was the fact that Ubisoft had already included female characters in previous installments of the game and the company always emphasized diversity. So what is really going on? Is it better or not the role of women in video games?
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS
Studies have shown that since the 90s the percentage of female characters in video games has been in a steady 15%. “It’s amazing how little things have changed”, says the professor of the University of Pennsylvania Yasmin Kafai, coeditor of an important book on gender in the world of video games (Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat) in 2008.
Although there are exceptions, the most significant Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, the most recent data show that only 4% of the main characters of the 25 games best sellers in 2013 were women. Even when there are female characters, their representation is distorted. “Reports are quite clear on the fact that there are two types of female characters ‘damsel in distress’ and ‘ultimate warrior'” says Edward Downs, professor of communication at University of Minnesota, who notes that most of the ‘ultimate warrior’ have highly sexual characteristics.
SILVER ON THE TABLE
The belief has long been that since men were the largest consumers of video games gender balance was unfortunate but not surprising, as companies made games for their audience. But who play dynamics have changed in the last five years: women began to play and make and 48% of video game players in the United States.
Pioneering efforts as Anita Sarkeesian, in charge of the website Feminist Frequency, detailing gender dynamics in video games, have drawn attention to sexism in the industry. This has put pressure on companies like Ubisoft, Sony and Nintendo, among others, to improve the sex ratio to change the culture and events like E3, before villages only for “sexy women”.
Although Sarkeesian received threats of rape and death, it seems that “industry and culture is less sexist than it used to be”, says the Professor at the University of Southern California Dimitri Williams. This is partly because the industry realized that they were “losing a lot of money to leave women out”, he says. This contributed to some progress: new games like Borderlands, Civilization, Evolve or Dead Island 2 let you play as female characters or have a female protagonist. Although needless to say, there are several “buts”.
While the percentage of video game players has increased this has been mainly due to advances in mobile gaming, which often lack character. For example, 60% of game players for mobile Temple Run are women, although this does allow game play with a female character.
The proportion of players in the so called ‘tough game’, as the shooter game Halo, is favorable to men, says professor Williams, who also leads a research firm game, Ninjametrics. ‘s in these games where many experts are a decline in the industry and no progress. “I think in some kind of games we started to see an even bigger players in the type of gap”, says Professor Downs.
The need for constant renewal of franchises to improve sales also puts pressure on developers to get titles faster. The issue of time is a problem, says the professor of the University of New York and designer Katherine Isbister, because most programmers are men, and tend to “create things similar to others that have seen or you are playing , which helps to close the loop”.
TWO STEPS FORWARD
This causes a kind of problem “chicken or egg”, at least when talking about “hard” on consoles. Gaming “Women do not play this kind of games because we like them or because they feel alienated?” question Professor Williams.
Ubisoft claims to be committed to diversity, and in a statement to the BBC did not speak to whether the decision to exclude women in Assasin’s Creed was economic or was based on other statistics. Haniver playing Call of Duty, a shooter in first person, every day, as it has for years, despite being harassed when players discover that the other is a woman. But the game recently introduced the option of taking a female character.
Now Haniver states that “everyone I know will play a female character when given a choice,” including some men, who have argued for more female characters and a reduction in the sexual content of both female and male characters.
“The more the situation and present us as protagonists more women play video games normalizes”, Haniver concludes.