Developers Share Why Women Characters Matter Beyond Diversity

Video games have long neglected the potential of female heroes, instead putting women in princess or other subservient roles. We may be headed in a better direction, as 2013 has been a record year for memorable, well-developed female leads. Lara Croft made her comeback through a personal journey in Tomb Raider, Elizabeth proved herself a worthy ally in BioShock Infinite, and Ellie did young girls proud in The Last of Us.

GamesBeat talked to some of the developers of these games and more, asking what makes women characters important? Diversity is something we should strive for, but are we missing more compelling reasons for including them? Do Lara and Ellie only matter to fill the gender gap — to appeal to a wider demographic and counter narrow marketing assumptions?

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Lifeequals421939d ago

I'm convinced that the way forward for gaming is more gender-neutral characters -- not androgyny, but parts that could be played by either sex ... like Chell.

Sadie21001939d ago

Good point from Greg Kasavin about the lack of females in the Riddick game.

wita1939d ago

Kasavin's answers were amazing in general. Really glad to have his input.

-Gespenst-1939d ago

There's a lot of this sentiment: "Developers need to put more thought into creating the “right characters” for their worlds, he said. “The more that happens, the more interesting characters I think we’ll see, many of whom will be women purely from narrative necessity.”

The problem with this is that taking such an approach is prone to falling into really conventional ideas. If you create a world into which your female character comfortably fits, there's a big chance that you're just perpetuating conventional and customary understandings of women. Devs should find ways to insert women into games in unconventional ways in order to reconfigure cultural complacencies. Story should be important of course, but when you're dealing with female characters, you've got to be more conscientious. Working off of what "feels right" in this case is asking for a laying bare of your own prejudices and preconceptions. It's close to the attitude of trying to make your work exist in a bubble- as only a narrative free from the encroachments of politics and culture. A narrative is never free from these things. You are the one who is writing it, it is your thoughts which create it, and those thoughts emanate from your wider social, cultural and political context. Every narrative ultimately, regardless of it's fantastical logic, obeys underpinning social and cultural laws that YOU have carried to them, someties unwittingly. The point is to pay closer attention to those ambient aspects in your construction of a narrative.

By and large though, I agree with most of the sentiments expressed by these devs. There absolutely should come a time where there's literally nothing jarring about a female character being the protagonist and a strong one at that. However, they talk like we've already reached that point, as if there's no work to be done. There definitely still needs to be conscious work done to shatter certain paradigms, we're far from being out of the woods yet.

That said, one effective way to culturally integrate women in this way is probably to treat gender as not determininistic- as an identity or self-defition that isn't incarcerating and deeply limiting. To avoid treating gender as a little box that limits a person's subjectivity, and how they ought to be and ought to behave. In a way, treating gender really indifferently in your games is a good way to achieve this. However, like Druckman says, I think you need to insert little subversions here and there. It's not enough to just pretend gender isn't an issue when in this day and age it clearly is. You really need to strike a balance between subverting conventional understandings, and conveying an indifference with regards to the actual substance of gender.