Filling the Gap: Gender Representation in Video Games

Video Games. One of the world’s most popular forms of entertainment.

With their popularity comes a diverse range of people that will use them as their primary source of leisure, and with societal diversity comes an increased demand for diverse representation in them. Much of today’s TV shows, films and music provide us with a backdrop of varied demographic representation, from Ed Sheeran to Stormzy, Lord Sugar to a now female incarnation of The Doctor. Whilst many entertainment mediums are attempting to meet the demands for diversity, is the video game industry following suit and providing gender representation that is varied and approved by all gender demographics?

Gender representation in video games appears to be a divisive topic. On one side, you have women who want their gender to be represented in a way they find appropriate; on the other side you have people who consider these demands political correctness gone mad. In the middle, we have the neutral gamer, someone who doesn’t seem to care and just wants the game to be good and anything but Fortnite.

It is said that 42% of the video game demographic are women, so the industry would be mad to lose out on this market solely because they can’t provide an appealing depiction of a woman to the female market. Much of the women in video games are presented as damsels in distress (e.g: Princess Peach relying on Italian plumbers to save the day), whilst on the other hand many female characters are overtly sexualised (Lara Croft from the early Tomb Raider games instigates such claims amongst many critics). However, the two examples above are much older games, games that first came out when many of the student’s reading this didn’t even exist. Times have changed and with that the presentation of women in video games has changed somewhat as well. You only need to look at the latest Tomb Raider game to see that: swapping the revealing-short shorts which caused much hullabaloo with long, slightly ripped trousers. Whilst the clothing was modified, the character sees little change: remaining an adventurer who inspires many, in the same way her male counterpart, Indiana Jones does. By adapting her image to what the industry believes the female market wants, it could allow more women to be comfortable in looking at Lara Croft as a role model, rather than solely as a sex symbol who happens to go on adventures. While Croft may have always been a role model for some, providing an empowering figure since the early days, representation at times is a determinant of success, and there’s no point in providing an empowering female figure if they’re going to be presented in such a way that panders only to society’s sexual fantasies.

Despite iconic characters such as Croft, it is undeniable that when there’s an opportunity to present women in video games many genres of the industry shy away. This is most prevalent in sports games such as the FIFA game series (which took until 2015 to introduce female teams to the game, albeit national teams). There’s a scope for introducing female domestic leagues such as the FA Women’s National League to a new market, however this potential is lost by the limited extent of women’s teams in their games, meaning that many female football clubs are trapped in obscurity. Diversity could be a powerful tool in sports games, as it could allow gamers to learn about and control teams and players they never would have heard of before, some of them being women, as well as providing a more complete and accurate experience for gamers. Surely playing with the same players all the time would get tiring after a while, wouldn’t it?

Nowadays there is also the possibility of creating your own character – which many games have already introduced. The Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises, for example, allow the player to not only select their character’s gender, but also their ethnicity, their looks, outfits – you name it. Perhaps a lot of video games should follow suit- not bother needing to create one character for all to use, but give the gamer creative control for a character that suits their needs, their wants, and their personality.
However, games such as Spider-man, and the Arkham franchise, which require you play a set male character, have a valid reason for lacking diverse genders that one can play as in these games, as it just wouldn’t be logical to turn Spiderman and Batman into a woman. Developers could simply solve this through the creation of video games featuring set female characters such as Wonder-Woman, or even a Doctor Who video game, which would give the player the opportunity to play as not one, but two genders.

As the video game industry faces an increasingly congested and competitive market, perhaps it is time for developers to ensure that they are truly ensuring the representation of all demographics, not just gender, to truly stand out from the crowd, ensuring that they provide games for everyone to play. Once a developer finally creates a video game that meets and appeals to the demands of all the world’s demographics, then the world’s most successful game may well have been created. All it takes is one of them to finally step up and break the boundaries of gaming, so what’s stopping them?


By Alex Manley