How Not To Argue for More Female Characters in Games …

Okay, so I’ve heard through the grapevine that there’s a bit of controversy over a new video game that’s in development called “Deep Down”. It’s by Capcom, and it’s not going to feature any female characters. Or female playable characters. Or something like that, since it seems that no one’s really clear on what’s in it, although it’s pretty clear that at least the last one will be true, and you won’t be able to play as a female in the game. And Brenna Hillier is really, really mad about that, and wrote a long article ranting about how bad that would be, to the extent that a game that she’s saying that she might not play “Deep Down” because of it, even though it is a game, overall, that she might find interesting. And I think this rant is a good example of how not to push for more female playable characters or protagonists in games.

Why? Well, let’s look at how she objects to it:

Why on earth would a game creator deliberately omit the entire female gender from its game? Because of the plot, apparently.

Don’t let this answer satisfy you. Capcom wrote the plot. There’s no reason why it had to write a plot that excluded female characters.

Now, she seems to accept that there may well be plots that work better if you exclude female characters. If she accepts that, then what she’s doing here is saying to Capcom — or, more accurately, the studio that’s making the game — that they shouldn’t have done the plot they wanted to do, but instead should have done a plot that allowed them to include female characters. Why? Because it’s somehow bad to have a game without any female characters. The idea, then, seems to be that just having a game that doesn’t have female characters is bad, and that this is, in fact, an indication of ingrained sexism. Except it isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with having some specific games that have no female characters, some specific games that have no male characters, and some specific games that have a mix. What indicates ingrained sexism in the games industry would be almost all games have no female characters, there being a small percentage of games with a mix of characters, and almost no games that have only female characters. But you can’t point at one game that doesn’t have female characters and say that it indicates ingrained sexism.

Now, you might be able to make a claim that Capcom is particularly bad and we should point that out. Except that she herself contradicts that:

It’s not hard to put women in games. Capcom’s done it itself, with the really rather excellent Dragon’s Dogma.

So … Capcom has, in fact, put in female playable characters, and in fact does it quite often (all of their fighting games do it, although that’s now standard for fighting games). For this specific game, they’re claiming that for plot purposes they aren’t including a female playable character. A company that isn’t particularly bad at, at least, including female characters says that for this specific game they aren’t going to do it. This is worth ranting over? It’s only worth ranting over if you argue that any game that doesn’t include female characters is a sexist game, and since that’s patently false …

Also, she writes out a lengthly conversation between a designer, a producer, and a female (her word, not mine), that she admits is a strawman, but mostly because it isn’t about individual people but instead about an ingrained social system. But if we accept that, then we have to accept that in most cases game designers and producers aren’t intentionally excluding female characters from their games, but are instead following genre conventions, going with the flow, or just not thinking about whether a female character would fit here because male characters always did. But if that’s the case, getting mad and ranting when a game doesn’t contain female characters isn’t the right way to go. It only makes them feel attacked for making the sort of game that they want to make.

So, then, how should one go about arguing for more female characters in games? Let’s look at how I think they should have reacted to this specific case:

1) Question, don’t demand. A game isn’t going to have female characters. As this isn’t in and of itself something bad, don’t demand that they add one or else they’re sexist poopyheads. But definitely ask “Why not?”. Definitely stand up in the gaming media and ask why there aren’t any. If the developers just didn’t think of it, this might get them thinking about it … if not for this game, then maybe for the next. Do remind them that a lot of people might appreciate having a female playable character and so it might help their sales. Again, just to get them thinking about it.

2) They reply with “Because of the plot”. Don’t rant. Don’t rave. Don’t talk about them writing in a different plot that would allow them to include female characters. Instead, wait for the game to come out, play it, and review the plot of it in a manner like, say, how Chuck at SFDebris tends to review the things he doesn’t like: by outlining the plot and showing how it could have easily incorporated female playable characters. Being willing, of course, to stand up at the end of it and say “They were right: this plot doesn’t really work for female playable characters”. Again, if you show how it could have been done better, more developers will try to do it that way, if only to make their games stand out and maybe make more money.

Ultimately, the main thing to remember here is that this isn’t supposed to be adversarial. The gaming companies probably aren’t an actual enemy. Think about things from their perspective and work to help them make better games that also give you what you want, and everyone should be happy.

One Response to “How Not To Argue for More Female Characters in Games …”

  1. Héctor Muñoz Says:

    It’s unrealistic to expect an entertainment company to write plots that satisfy an audience which they don’t target.

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