E3 2014 and Representation – Only four female-lead titles for the second year in a row

Last year I published a post titled At E3 2013, you’re more likely to play as a car than as a woman, in which I examined every game featured in the E3 conferences from EA, Ubisoft, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to determine the ratio of male to female protagonists. My conclusion was that there were over 12 times more male than female protagonists in games advertised in last year’s conferences, but the most revealing statistics were, as the title of the post suggests, that there were more games in which you play as a vehicle at E3 2013 than games in which you play as a woman.

I watched this year’s group of E3 conferences in the hope that the situation had improved, but my conclusions are mixed.

The good news is that this year there were more games with female protagonists than games with cars, and the ratio of female to male-lead games has become more equal. Hooray!

The bad news is that this isn’t because the amount of female-lead games being showcased has increased, but because there were fewer games shown at this year’s E3, resulting in 2 racing games this year to last year’s 6, and 25 games with exclusively male protagonists to last year’s 49. (NOTE: The difference in numbers may also be partially because this year, due to time constraints, I chose not to identify every indie title from the conferences’ “indie montage” sections)

This means that for the second year in a row there have only been four titles shown at E3 2014 which feature solely female protagonists. 2013 promised us Mirror’s Edge 2, Beyond: Two Souls, Bayonetta 2, and Transistor, while 2014 offered us more Mirror’s Edge 2 and more Bayonetta 2, as well as announcing Rise of the Tomb Raider and Infamous: First Light.

If you compare the list of male and female protagonists and take out any games that were revealed at E3 2013 or that are re-releases of older games, the ratio of protagonists is 2:19, a statistic which suggests that in the past year games with male protagonists were made at nearly 10 times the rate of games with female protagonists.

It’s not just these statistics that show that the games industry still suffers from a diversity problem. In a similar vein to my blog post last year, Polygon senior reviewer Danielle Riendeau published There were more severed heads than women presenters at E3 2014, and is now being subjected to a tirade of misogynistic online harassment for her observations. She’s completely right, of course. It took 40 minutes before Microsoft even showed us a playable female character in a demo at their conference (during Fable Legends), and a further 20 minutes before a woman spoke on stage (about Halo).

Ubisoft, despite utilising the talented Aisha Tyler as their conference presenter for the third year in a row, and despite her thankfully seeming to have dropped the uncomfortable “girlwood” jokes of the previous two years, presented a largely white male line-up of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4, and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege to the E3 2014 crowd. This morning, Ubisoft attempted to explain why there would be no playable women in Assassin’s Creed: Unity by saying that it would have “doubled the work” for the team, which is an excuse so contemptible that the only reason I can think of for why they haven’t yet been beheaded by a group of angry lady gamers is that it would further skew the female-speakers-to-dismemberments ratio that Danielle Riendeau pointed out yesterday afternoon. Some may remember that a Disney animator made similar sexist whiny baby complaints last year on the cusp of releasing Frozen, which went on to become the fifth biggest film in box-office history, so hey Ubisoft, maybe you should take that and sit in the corner and think more about what could have been.

Nintendo seemed to receive a lot of praise on Twitter for their attempts at inclusivity following their digital event yesterday. There were no women in their video and they only showcased one female-lead game – Bayonetta 2 – but Super Smash Bros has several playable female characters, the new Amiibo toys they revealed included Zelda, Peach, and Samus in the line-up, Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby let you customise your trainer, Hyrule Warriors was revealed to have Impa, Zelda, and Midna as playable characters, and the newly-announced Splatoon is a competitive shooter game which features what appear to be several part-badass-girl, part-squid (yeah, you heard me) characters in each team. Even Zelda Wii U, revealed for the first time yesterday, caused a stir online, with many wondering whether the character we saw in the trailer was, in fact, Zelda and not Link, or whether they were a female version of Link. Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma seems to be actively avoiding providing too many details on the matter, though I can safely say right now that if Nintendo reveals a Zelda game with Zelda as the protagonist, the Wii U will rocket to the top of my Christmas list this year.

The dire situation of gender equality at E3 2014 means it is easy to commend Nintendo, whose conference was last, on their apparent inclusivity, but it was only a few months ago that Nintendo was spluttering an apology for actively excluding gay relationships from Tomodachi Life; failing to realise that not including the option because they “never intended to make any form of social commentary” was, in fact, social commentary.

There are a lot of cool and exciting looking games on show at E3 this year, and just because a game features, yet again, a straight, white, male, cis protagonist, doesn’t mean it can’t be good. What it does mean, though, is that a large group of people are left without representation, role-models, and stories in which people like them are the heroes. What is worse, is that when people point out the disparities, they get bullied by entitled jerks who want the games industry to cater to them, and no-one else. Ubisoft, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, EA, you are given a platform at E3 to showcase the future of games. You have the power to influence and change what we play, how we play, and who we play as. You can actually make the games industry more inclusive and change it for the better. Don’t tell me you don’t have the money, or the social desire to do so.


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