Female gamers and industry professionals don't have it easy, but could the next generation mark an overdue change?
I'll spare you my lamentations regarding the loss of booth babes and direct your attention to recent examples that suggest, at the very least, this topic is on the minds of the top brass. Just this month we've seen Irrational Games founder and Bioshock creator Ken Levine tweet about a need to address the gender gap within the industry. Naughty Dog, developers of the vaunted Uncharted franchise took special measures to add female game testers to the process for the upcoming The Last of Us and also ignored advice from a marketing firm to remove Ellie from the back of their game box art.
These are hardly large strides toward bringing women all the way into the fold of the gaming world. But examples such as these, along with the ongoing debate over how women are portrayed in games and whether or not female protagonists are a sound business decision, suggest to me that the next generation of gaming is going to kick off a little bit wiser and a little bit more progressive. Essentially, there will likely be greater consideration given to the role of women in gaming. That is no mean task: A business world that is predominantly male with a product marketed to males, populated with male characters, and enjoyed by males has to figure out for itself how to keep doing what it does best while constructing a bigger tent.
Why? (Some will say.) Why can't things stay how they are? Many are fond of pointing out gaming is a business and developers and publishers are in business to make money. As things are, I think it is safe to say that a huge market is being largely ignored. Capitalism as a process simply will not let that happen for long. Where I attend university, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a female gamer, but when you talk to them about their experience they often feel marginalized. One response to Ken Levine's aforementioned tweet was by Jess Brohard of Curse Network saying “I'm literally BULLIED on a daily basis because of my gender.” Setting aside the unfortunate verbal abuse of females in comment forums and in online multiplayer games, if we simply recognize the likely rise of female interest in this popular form of entertainment and then go from there, a gradual change should overcome the uglier forms of resistance.
And mark my words, things will change. Just as we saw mainstream values drive the direction of games this generation, other factors will be involved as gaming moves now from mainstream to a completely normal part of life. Whether it's the well-accommodated indie scene on PS4 taking great risks by making games for girls and women, or the ever-present social aspect that will be integrated into our very consoles acting as a free advertising service, things will change. Then there's the general progression of capitalism at work, and I think the next generation will be seen as the first to give serious thought to the place of the female gamer, the female game developer, and the female protagonist.
For my part, I'm thrilled to see my nieces grow up playing Mario just as I did and I hope they don't find the grown-up gaming world a bridge too far to cross. Things have already changed for gamers and I think the industry is ready to give official recognition to that change.