E3 2019 has come and gone, and although there was plenty to be excited about, one glaring statistic also surfaced that the gaming industry as a whole should be concerned about.
In a study conducted by Feminist Frequency - a not-for-profit organization that analyzes the media’s relationship to societal issues such as gender, race, and sexuality - results found that a mere 5% of video games shown at this year’s E3 contained a female protagonist.
To put this into perspective a little bit more, of the 126 games that were presented, only six titles were exclusively centered around female protagonists. These numbers reflect the games shown at the E3 presentations of Microsoft, Nintendo, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Square Enix, and EA, as well as the PC Gaming Show.
The study’s authors, Anita Sarkeesian and Carolyn Petit, note that this year’s E3 was a little different than past studies, which began at E3 2015 (when the Gamergate controversy was at its peak), such as Sony’s absence from the event, as well as the games that allow players to play as either gender via randomly generated avatars.
“It's true that the number of games in which you either control characters of different genders or get to choose the gender of your hero character significantly outstrip those with established male or female protagonists. And of course, as a general trend, the freedom to choose or create your own character is a welcome one. However, it's fundamentally different from being asked by a game to take on the role and experiences of a specific character.”
The study also notes that there is much to be said about the quality of female protagonists themselves.
“The mere fact that Youngblood's protagonists are women is no guarantee whatsoever that those representations will be good ones. Games can and often do center women while also reinforcing harmful stereotypes or turning those women into sexual fantasies for the benefit of straight male players.”
Female representation in video games continues to be a hot topic, but that probably depends on who you’re asking and the questions being asked. Plenty of great female characters exist, but those numbers are barely a drop in the bucket compared to the number of player-controlled male characters. And let’s not forget the games that actually exist which represent females in unfathomably terrible ways.
Though there is still massive amounts of work to still be done, Feminist Frequency remains steadfast in the belief that games as a medium are as strong as ever, as are the people fighting for a more diverse and inclusive industry. Hopefully, the rest of the gaming industry will catch on sooner, rather than later.