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Pixelated ceiling? Only 6 percent of video games feature a female protagonist

Do video games tend to allow the existence of heroes, while true heroines rarely emerge?

Video games could help popularise non-fungible tokens (NFT). — © AFP
Video games could help popularise non-fungible tokens (NFT). — © AFP

The lack of female role models in computer games is quite shocking. This deprives young women of a character that represents them also it also helps to foster an unrealistic model of the world for young men. Moreover, the few women that appear in games are often stereotypes, conveying incorrect perceptions of women. Indeed a common concern is with the objectification of females within video games.

In addition, some video games use wrong, disrespectful and sometimes even violent representations of both genders.

A review by the website Solitaired undertook a review of 150 popular video games that were released between 1985 and 2022, across different gaming platforms. The study looked at the campaign or story mode for each of the games in question, and at the gender of each of the game’s main protagonists.

It found that across these titles, only 6 percent of games featured a female character as a standalone protagonist. Of these nine games, two of the titles were sequels in the Portal and Tomb Raider franchises. Therefore, new ground was not exactly being broken. One academic study concluded that such games simply serve to fulfil “men’s sadistic desires through their glamorous physique and masochist desires”.

The games featuring a single female protagonist were: Portal (2007), Portal 2 (2011), Beyond Two Souls (2013), Tomb Raider (2013), Life Is Strange (2015), Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015), The Walking Dead: Season Two (2013), Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) and Star Wars Battlefront II (2017). These are all action games, set in violent hyperrealities.

The review also found that 69.3 percent of titles (104 out of 150) featured a lone male protagonist in the game’s campaign, with some titles including multiple male, but no female, protagonists. Action and war-based games were the most likely to feature this, titles such as Call of Duty 2 (2005), as an example. This title features three male protagonists that the player assumes control of during the game’s three different campaigns.

Grand Theft Auto V was another game featuring three male protagonists, yet no option for a female lead in the story mode of the game – a theme that is consistent throughout the video game franchise. Rockstar recently announced that Grand Theft Auto VI will buck this trend by featuring a female protagonist for the first time ever, who will be one of the lead characters in the franchise’s latest instalment.

Furthermore, 13.3 percent of titles (20 out of 150) featured at least one male and one female protagonist, however games with multiple protagonists were still typically weighted towards a higher number of male lead characters.

For example, some games opted for a 3:1 ratio of male to female characters including: Left 4 Dead (2008) and its sequel, Heavy Rain (2010). These titles feature four main protagonists, only one of whom is female.

Neal Taparia, founder of Solitaired tells Digital Journal: “For many years, gaming was considered a pastime typically reserved for males, but this is obviously an outdated stereotype. Female representation in video games is extremely important for creating positive role models for woman, who in reality account for a large proportion of the gaming community.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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