The gaming industry has for decades been dominated by men, from those developing and playing the games to the characters starring in them. So heavily is the industry under male control that women rising up through the ranks have met with fierce resistance in recent years. Professional female gamers have been driven from their homes by death threats simply because of their gender.
Many felt that 2015 marked a turning point for women in the video games industry, but analysis from Feminist Frequency has shown that, for the characters at least, women’s representation remains woefully low. In 2015, just 9% of video game protagonists were female, while 32% were male. Since then, the number of female protagonists has dipped even lower, sitting at just 8% in 2018, versus 50% of protagonists who were male.
Of course, even those games that do feature female protagonists don’t always deliver the kind of powerful feminist icons that they could. Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft is a prime example, though in more recent games she has at least been given more intelligence and a vastly improved wardrobe.
That’s not to say that the gaming industry hasn’t delivered some superb female leads over the years. Life in Strange’s Maxine is a relatively recent example and one who highlights some of the pressures that are still at play when it comes to promoting women’s place in the gaming industry. Developer Dontnod Entertainment reported resistance to the game initially when it was looking for a publisher, with a number of publishing companies requesting that the female lead be replaced by a male. Thankfully, they stuck to their guns and delivered the strong female lead that they had initially envisaged.
But characters like Maxine are still pitifully few and far between. No matter which area of the gaming industry we look at, women are most often there as supporting characters to allow men’s stories to unfold, to provide sex appeal or to provide a sense of mystery and intrigue.
The latter two are particularly relevant to the online casino gaming sector, although there too we can find some examples of strong, defiant women breaking through. For example, in the iGaming industry, when players choose the best online casino in UK gaming circles, they can now opt for characters such as Medusa and Cleopatra, or 2018’s Iron Girl. these welcomed characters offer a refreshing twist on an old mechanic, delivering a powerful, sassy alternative to those games focusing solely on male protagonist heroes.
What makes the slow pace of change in the gaming industry particularly surprising is the shifting demographics of those who are playing. 48% of gamers are now women, according to the Entertainment Software Association. There are more adult females playing than there are teenage boys. Most of those now playing have been gaming since they were children, so have witnessed firsthand the industry’s lack of progress in terms of gender equality.
However, what has changed of late is the attention given to the battles that women in the gaming industry are facing. While the sector may be late to the table in terms of gender equality, the stage has at least been set for change. Now it’s a question of doing all we can to pave the way for that change to occur as swiftly and as smoothly as possible.