Nicole has watched all of this year's E3 press conferences and livetweeted commentary with me as news and information was announced. From Microsoft's Xbox One pricing to Electronic Arts boasting about advances in virtual ball bouncing to Ubisoft threatening the world with tainted cash, she saw it all. However, something specific about the tone of the conferences and the stars of the announced games aggravates her, so I turn the metaphorical microphone over to her now to explain.
This was my first E3 experience. Two years ago, I watched a bit of the press conferences, but it was nothing like I did this year. It was an interesting experience to watch unfold over the past few days. However, I did notice something amiss, and I wonder if you did, too.
Out of the countless video games unveiled this year, I saw only three games with female protagonists - Beyond: Two Souls, Bayonetta 2, and the new Mirror's Edge. Three games total. That's a pretty poor showing.
I'm not completely surprised, of course, as this has been happening for a very long time. However, we supposedly live in an enlightened age, and more women have become a part of the process, as far as design of games goes. So, how come all we have to show this year are: a militaristic game with a supernatural element (Beyond: Two Souls), a witch who has some impressive combat skills but wears extraordinarily revealing clothing - that appears to literally peel away bit by bit (Bayonetta 2), and a rebooted franchise that leaves our heroine a blank slate (Mirror's Edge)?
We've really never had many strong female characters in video games. Considering the pantheon of headliners over the decades we've been manipulating pixels on screens, it's rather shameful that I can only come up with three women:
Samus Aran from the Metroid franchise, at least in the Power Suit, is arguably first on the list. She wears heavy armor, is a bounty hunter, and takes care of herself. That's our kind of character! Then, of course, they put her in the skintight Zero Suit for Metroid: Other M and kind of ruined the idea, but still, a powerful character.
Lara Croft, from the Tomb Raider franchise, is another strong character, before they made her weak and sniveling. I never liked the fact that they put Lara in skimpy, unrealistic, and ill-fitting costumes, but she was an adventurer. She kicked ass, to put it bluntly, by herself, and didn't need anyone to bail her out. She got dirty, and wasn't afraid, and that can be a very empowering message. And it can be done without ginormous cleavage!!
Faith from Mirror's Edge is a third example. She's a runner helping to fight against the totalitarian regime that society has become. You don't really see her character as much, due to the first-person perspective of the gameplay. Much less to sexualize. Not only is she a female, she's also a minority - a nice one-two punch there.
And now, what do we have? Princess Peach, who still totters around in high heels, a dress, and tea-length gloves. I'm glad to see they gave her a different outfit in Mario Kart 8, because how the hell can you drive a motorbike in a gown? There was potential for her to not be a drippy bubblehead, but that's what she will always be - always waiting for a man to rescue her. Because that's what all women still secretly want, of course. The knight in shining armor - or the little Italian plumber with a red hat and overalls.
The thing that really disconcerts me, however, is the backlash anytime it is mentioned that there is a dearth of strong female leads. The "experts," I suppose, would have you believe that female characters are not profitable. I'd really like to see the numbers on that. The prevailing assumption is that women don't play video games, (despite the fact that 47% of females play video games - to 53% of males; not much disparity there) or they only play casualware on their smartphones. I've even seen comments such as "What do you want, a cooking and cleaning game?" Did we suddenly step onto the set of Mad Men? Such sexist remarks are, quite frankly, disgusting; I'm inclined to believe that the gender disparity is due to such attitudes, where "gamer girls" are considered unequal to their male counterparts.
This was shown to us most recently at the Microsoft press conference, with the supposedly unscripted commentary during Killer Instinct. The internet has blown up about this, some agreeing with me that it could be construed as a sexual assault "joke," and others claiming that women are too sensitive and need "thicker skin." NO. This is NOT okay. Indulging in a culture of blatant misogyny, even by just laughing or even ignoring a comment such as, "Just relax . . . it'll be over soon," helps to feed it.
So, we need strong female characters, not just for the young girls out there to have role models, but for everyone. Women are not weak, delicate flowers and should not be portrayed as such. We don't have a rescue complex. We can kick ass and fight and sweat just like men do. Just give us a chance to help fight the stereotypes.