We frequently share our opinions on gender equality in video games here at Gamer Equality, but recently we ran a survey to find out what the general gaming public’s attitude to woman and video games really is. Here are the results…
Open to both genders, a whopping 63% of survey participants were female. This may seem strange given that more men play games (we were certainly expecting a male majority) but it goes to show just how passionate women are about the subject and judging by the answers both sexes are for change.
The majority of respondents were aged 22-30 reflecting the much-documented evidence that gaming is now no longer a pastime almost exclusively engaged in by young males. Contrary to the stereotype of the juvenile gamer, the majority who venture to virtual realms are now mature, professional people that have grown up alongside the medium. Interestingly, the lowest category was actually the under 16, what would have been the overwhelming majority just a generation ago.
Most participants responded that they engage with games every day or almost every day, given the female majority taking the survey it’s hard to support the assumption that women don’t participate in gaming as often as men do.
When asked about the types of games that they play Adventure and RPGs had the clear majority with over three-quarters of participants claiming to engage with those genres. Action followed close behind with 62.63% of the vote. Puzzle and Casual games were next with over 50%. This reflects the already established data that women traditionally tend to enjoy more casual mobile experiences, but the popularity of other genres indicates that that’s far from all that they enjoy.
6% of those surveyed said they frequently witnessed or personally experienced, harassment based on gender during online sessions. 13% noted this behaviour occasionally. Encouragingly 23% said they never witness or receive this kind of abuse online and a quarter of the people survey said it only happened rarely. Of course in reality, statistics are likely to be higher given that 32% of people asked said that they don’t play online.
There’s a clear call for more female players, with 74% saying they’d like to see more women taking up gaming as a hobby and it turns out female developers are even more in demand. 79% admitted that they think more women should be employed in the industry. Female game characters are also wanted, with 61% saying they’d like more games to starring the fairer sex. And that’s not surprising given that 58% of those surveyed tend to play as a female when given the choice. There’s a clear demand for revolution regarding the portrayal of those female characters however, with 74% of respondents claiming that they think females are over-sexualised or portrayed inappropriately. Only 10% prefer female characters to be sexy and scantily clad rather than strong and serious, meaning both men and women alike want to see more playable Aloy and Lara types rather than secondary eye-candy characters.
A worrying 43% avoid disclosing their gender during online matches out of fear of receiving abuse. 6% admitted to exhibiting negative behaviour towards female players in the past, while only 2% agreed that they dislike playing with female players. 3% of those surveyed said that they didn’t think that women were as competent as men at games while a much larger 20% said that they feel many women fake their interest in games just to get attention.
A big thank you to all who participated in the survey, it’s reassuring to see the high demand for participation that it received showing that it’s an area that gamers are interested in. The mostly positive responses show that although there are issues of intolerance, the majority of gamers are an accepting and friendly bunch who want gaming to be inclusive for everyone. Through raising awareness and changing the out-dated attitudes in both women’s treatment and portrayal we can achieve just that.
Games industry veteran Brenda Romero was presented with the Special Award at this year’s British Academy Games Awards. The BAFTA Special Award recognises individuals for their creative contribution to the games industry. For her endless talent and tireless passion and dedication to the medium Brenda is a more than worthy recipient and it’s heartening to see her work in the games industry celebrated in such a way. With that, let’s take a look back at her career and celebrate one of gaming’s most prominent and gifted females.
Formally known as Brenda Brathwaite, before her marriage to Doom creator John Romero in 2012, her lofty career in video games spans back to 1981. She has been credited as the longest-serving female game developer in the business and in that time has contributed her talents to an impressive 49 game titles. Brenda started out as a tester and manual writer for the Wizardry series before going on to become a fully-fledged games writer, penning Jagged Alliance 2 and Wizardry 8. She then progressed to designer roles, acting as lead designer on Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes and more recently was the director and lead designer on Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Commander. It’s an impressive resume, we think you’ll agree.
Brenda is also widely recognised for her non-digital series of games collectively known as The Mechanic is the Message. This series attempts to express difficult emotions through game mechanics. Just how difficult these emotions are is no more apparent than in the game Train. A deliberately obscure game where players blindly follow instructions and try to complete their objective, only to discover their goal is to deliver the train’s passengers to Auschwitz. This alone shows not only Brenda’s acute creativity but her bravery in tackling such sensitive and controversial issues.
Her work as lead designer on Playboy: The Mansion inspired Brenda to explore the topic of adult content in video games and she has penned a book on the subject entitled Sex in Video Games. Today she is an advocate for gender equality and frequently openly criticises sexist and misogynistic content in video games. She has since regretted her contribution to the game and has admitted it is not something she would make now. Speaking to Kotaku she said:
“I understand that posing the human body to capture its beauty can be beautiful. But that’s quite different to reducing an entire gender into an ornament for pleasure.”
Her current focus is on educating and inspiring a new generation of games developers. She currently resides in Limerick, Ireland, where she is the Program Director of the Master of Science program in Game Design and Development at the University of Limerick.
The BAFTA Special Award is, of course, far from the first time Brenda Romero has been recognised for her significant contribution to the industry. Among her previous accolades is the Ambassador Award, presented to her at the 2015 Game Developer’s conference in 2015. She was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the GDC Women in Gaming Awards in 2013. Next Generation named her on of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in the Game Industry, while in 2008 Gamasutra included her in its list of the Top 20 Women in Games.
Peer behind the bright visuals and impressive tech of video games, a pastime designed to entertain and delight its audience and you’ll see an industry crippled with misogyny and sexism. For being the most advanced entertainment art form on the planet, the industry’s opinion on how women should be treated is planted firmly in the Stone Age. One of the main reasons the industry alienates females is due to the sheer lack of women working in it. Instead, it is a male dominated industry making products targeted almost exclusively at men, reinforcing the idea that women shouldn’t play them and women shouldn’t make them.
Fortunately, organisations like Liverpool Girl Geeks are spreading the message that being in possession of lady parts doesn’t mean that you can’t also pursue a career in video games or the wider technology industry. LGG head up technology-focused courses, workshops, and events for females of all ages to educate and inspire. They run academies spanning 8 weeks that teach specific skills, like coding for girls aged 14-17, tech-based bootcamps and a free club for 11-17 year old that offer young ladies the opportunity to try out tech and as well as offering field trips to places like the engineering lads of Liverpool University and local digital companies.
Jo Morfee, director at Liverpool Girl Geeks, said:
“We believe that our teen programmes are an essential part of the longer term strategy to tackle the current gender imbalance and skills gap in the technology sector. The digital and tech sector is continuously evolving and as a result, there are so many fantastic job opportunities out there. These girls are the future of tech and it is so rewarding to be able to work with them closely to inspire and support them into the industry. ”
For women interested, or already involved, in the technology industry, there are also free monthly meetups and low-cost courses.
It’s not only Liverpool Girl Geeks that feel the tech sector would benefit from a woman’s touch, this year PlayStation have shown their support for the endeavour by sponsoring the organisations second Bootcamp. Launched on February 28 and running for six weeks the course teaches skills like website building and coding and gives girls the chance to meet other girls keen to get their geek on.
Speaking about the sponsorship, Michelle Tilley, Senior Release Manager at PlayStation, said:
“There is a gender imbalance within our technology sector and we need to take action now to ensure a more balanced and inclusive industry for the future. The Games Industry is an amazing place to work so we should actively encourage young women to join it by inspiring, championing and empowering them to achieve their dreams. I believe by supporting Liverpool Girl Geeks we are working towards this culture change.”
The endeavour is indeed a commendable one, but the lack of places means that only a small number of applicants actually get to participate in the Bootcamps. Last year, of the 90 applicants the programme only had the means to offer a place to 15 girls, traveling from as far as Llandudno to participate. This kind of programme could see wide benefits from expansion to the rest of the United Kingdom and hopefully, we’ll see more organisations like this one spring up to really make an impact on a number of females joining the tech sector and particularly the games industry, where their treatment has been particularly hostile.
More women working in the games industry would likely entice more women into playing games. It doesn’t mean that every well-known franchise would suddenly turn into a dress-up game, dating sim or restaurant management title, despite popular opinion there are actually a significant number of females who enjoy traditional gaming experiences like witnessing the cranium of a zombie explode with a well-placed headshot or taking on a mighty fire-breathing dragon. What we would likely see is a better representation of women in games with more realistic female characters playing significant roles and a decrease in tropes that alienate female players.
The treatment that women receive through being the minority and the stereotype that tech is a man’s world is enough to put most females off even entertaining the idea of a career in the tech sector. However, the reality is that the more women that do pursue a career in the industry the more the situation will improve and it’s through associations like Liverpool Girl Geeks that equality can become a reality. A larger percentage of women in the games industry would send the message to young girls that it’s perfectly acceptable to be interested in and pursue a career in this traditionally male pursuit. Who knows? Among the Girl Geek recruits could be the next Jade Raymond or Kim Swift.
Horizon Zero Dawn is not only a fantastic game, it also tells the story of Aloy, one of the most intriguing and capable female protagonists to grace games this generation. With global game sales for Horizon in excess of 2.6 million for its first two weeks on sale and widespread acclaim from critics and players, this feisty new heroine has undoubtedly proved herself worthy of a place in the PlayStation hall of fame.
In order to help you get to grips with Aloy’s adventure, I’ve compiled a guide containing all you need to know when first stepping foot in this sprawling prehistoric-style land, as well as tips for taking on its fearsome mechanical inhabitants with ease.
Use a variety of weapons
Not all robotic dinosaur beings are made equal and so you’re going to have to utilise a variety of weapons and tactics in order to bring them down. While a well-placed arrow to the face of a Watcher may do the trick, better firepower and a carefully thought-out strategy are needed for the bigger, tougher enemies that soon show up. Luckily merchants are stocked with a diverse supply of death-dealing instruments suitable for every kind of encounter. The Rattler, for example, is fast firing but lacks power, rendering it largely ineffective against machines, but perfect for human targets. The Ropecaster pins small yet quick enemies like Scrapper’s in place, leaving them open to powerful melee strikes. Heavy firepower, like the Tripcaster loaded with blast darts, is ideal for inflicting massive damage on more hardened adversaries such as the mighty Sawtooth.
Complete weapon tutorials for extra XP
When you obtain a new weapon, check the tutorial section of your quest list to find an optional objective pertaining to that weapon. Usually requiring you to take down a certain number of enemies, these quests not only provide a means of learning how to use the device, they also grant a generous amount of experience upon completion, helping you level up faster in the game’s early stages. A means of levelling up quickly is essential to keeping Aloy alive as it grants her a health boost as well as valuable skill points used to gain access to new and useful skills. In order to complete a weapon quest you must have it set as your active quest, otherwise kills made with that weapon won’t count towards the quest’s completion.
Don’t forget about your Focus
Scattered throughout the landscape are collectibles that grant an insight into the ancient technology-obsessed world. These can be found and activated using Aloy’s Focus. This strange mechanical earpiece not only gives information but can also be used effectively in combat. Using the Focus allows Aloy to target enemies and tag them, pinpointing their location even if they’re no longer in sight. This helps with tracking enemies, especially if you want to edge in for a stealthy takedown. If all out action is more your approach, the Focus can be used to briefly highlight weak points on enemies which can be targeted for maximum damage.
Continually scavenge for resources
Downed enemies offer a bounty of useful items for crafting ammo and items as well as storage upgrades. They also regularly drop modifications to helpfully enhance weapons and armour. It’s not only mechanical creatures that can be scavenged, the environment also yields a wealth of useful resources. With no regenerating health system, you’ll have to rely on healing herbs scattered throughout the land for survival. Collecting branches ensures that you have a healthy supply of arrows and the meat from small creatures allows you to craft fast travel kits for instant navigation, helpful for when you’re tired of wandering the wilds and would rather speed up the action.
Choose skills wisely
As mentioned, Aloy acquires skill points as she levels up, giving her access to new skills that improve her performance in a variety of ways. Some of these skills are more useful than others and choosing the right skills rather than wasting points on unnecessary ones makes for an easier and altogether more enjoyable experience. The machines in Horizon are worthy adversaries and Aloy can’t withstand any more than a couple of hits from these ferocious robotic beasts. It’s therefore highly advisable that you spend points that allow Aloy to carry more herbs which she can scoff if the battle goes ill. Boosting the Concentration skill is essential as it lengthens the duration of slow motion while aiming, allowing for easier and more effective targeting with the bow. Critical Hit also proves invaluable as it allows for high impact hits on downed enemies. Skills, like dropping silently from a height and shooting from a tightrope, aren’t all that useful and should only be considered when you’ve bought up the more beneficial ones.
Take the time to explore
Not only are the side quests in Horizon Zero Dawn an effective was of obtaining XP, supplies, and special items, they’re also worth doing for what they add to the narrative. Venturing off the beaten path leads to encounters involving interesting characters in all manner of dire straits. Side quests and areas of interest don’t instantaneously pop up on your map so you’ll have to do some exploring if you want to discover these optional objectives. Make sure to always venture to areas outside of the path required for the main story and keep an eye out for green exclamation marks that pop up when you near the location of a side quest. Scaling the world’s mighty Tallnecks allows you to uncover more of the world map and for those keen to discover everything, treasure maps that handily pinpoint the location of secrets and collectibles can be purchased from traders.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a huge adventure with lots more to discover on your journey from outcast to seasoned adventurer. These tips should prove helpful during your first few hours in the wilds. Happy hunting!
2016 was viewed as a bad year for a number of reasons, but thankfully not for its lack of notable female characters. Lara celebrated her 20th birthday in style with the long-awaited launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4, a grown-up Emily Kaldwin more than proved she can hold her own in Dishonored 2 and Faith returned for more awe inducing parkour in the unnaturally pristine world of Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, to name but a few.
2017 brings with it another strong line-up of leading ladies ready to blast their way onto the gaming scene. It’s also worth mentioning that most of the characters on this list are making their gaming debut, a promising sign that developers are keen on creating intriguing new female characters to help balance the usual influx of testosterone-heavy titles.
Gravity Rush 2
Developer: SIE Japan Studio and Project Siren
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 18 January (US) 20 January (UK)
Kat is back to turn your world upside down with the direct sequel to PS Vita’s Gravity Rush. While the original received positive reviews the decision to release it on a Sony’s handheld platform meant simplifying the graphics and AI and a rather hefty audience reduction. Thankfully, Gravity Rush 2 is getting the full console treatment with the vastly superior processing capabilities of the PS4 bringing the beautifully vibrant anime world to life.
In stark defiance of Newton and his laws, Kat manipulates gravity to traverse the world and rid it of the evil Nevi. Gravity Rush 2 won’t have one heroine, but two, as Kat joins forces with former rival Raven – who appears as an AI controlled ally in combat. Boasting a map two and a half times the size of the original offering 3 times the content as well as enhanced mechanics and new powers, it’s a no-brainer for those that enjoy an action adventure with a twist (pun fully intended). Not only does Gravity Rush get female representation right, its approach to DLC is also something that many developers could learn from. Releasing in March, the 5-hour long episode will star sidekick Raven and cost you the grand total of nothing – forget defying gravity, that’s true madness!
Tales of Berseria
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 24 January (US) 27 January (UK)
Considering how much games nowadays struggle to get even one follow up title the Tales series should be commended for reaching an impressive sixteenth entry with Berseria. Despite enjoying regular releases since the mid-nineties, this latest entry marks the first time the franchise will feature a solo lead female. According to the game’s producer, this is due to a rise in demand for female protagonists, particularly in Western countries. This new direction for the series is also thanks to the popularity of Tales of Xillia’s female protagonist Milla Maxwell, who shared the spotlight with male hero Jude Mathis.
The lady leading the usual mix of offbeat characters is Velvet Crowe. Far from the colourful airy fairy type, some might expect, Velvet displays a distinctly icy demeanour. Imbued with the powers of a Deamon, she fights using a fierce werewolf claw. Her shredded attire – that makes it look like she’s just had a battle with said werewolf – leaves little to the imagination and has come under some scrutiny. Berseria’s producer Yasuhiro Fukaya explained that “players will see why she wears that costume during the course of the game”. Let’s just hope it’s a better excuse than she has to breathe through her skin à la Metal Gear V’s Quiet, sigh…
Horizon Zero Dawn
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 28 February (US) 3 March (UK)
Horizon is an unexpected yet highly welcome change of pace for Guerrilla Games, a developer who’ve cut their gaming chops on FPS series Killzone. Although Killzone has always remained somewhat in the shadow of other shooters, Guerrilla has a real chance to shine here as it’s developed something that truly stands on its own. The team’s first foray into the action RPG genre, Horizon provides the perfect blend of past and present with a prehistoric world that’s teeming with deadly robotic enemies known as “Machines”.Like a female Tarzan, Aloy fearlessly sweeps into battle; bow in hand, ready to deal some serious damage to the mechanized invaders.
The likes of Far Cry and Tomb Raider have already proven the bow to be an extremely enjoyable and satisfying weapon to wield, but Horizon looks set to improve on this with an altogether smarter, more tactical and considered approach to combat. That brainless method of tapping a single button to unleash a fury of combos and bring an enemy to the ground with ease, that modern games love so much, just won’t work here. Aloy has a multitude of ways to get one over on her foes including electric arrows to stun and rope arrows to render them immobile, giving her the opportunity to destroy them and loot their frazzled remains for those all-important crafting resources.
Developer: Platinum Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 7 March (US) 10 March (UK)
Scalebound, Platinum’s DMC-like Dragon title may be dead in the water, but never fear as Nier: Automata promises to cure that itch for stupidly stylish, fast-paced action. Set after the events of 2010’s Nier, the surprising sequel puts you in the wickedly destructive boots of female protagonist YoRHa No. 2 Model B or, rather mercifully, ‘2B’ for short. Automata shares the grim atmosphere and branching narrative structure of its predecessor, but doesn’t directly expand upon any of its story elements.
2B is an android tasked with ridding Earth of killer robots – a rather unwelcome gift courtesy of some anti-human extra-terrestrial beings. Luckily 2B can more than hold her own and makes quick work of legions of mechs using all manner of slick sword combos and gunplay. Developers nowadays have a tendency to want to develop characters, particularly female ones, that players can relate to, making 2B’s lack of emotional hang-ups, inhuman finesse and all-round badassery delightfully refreshing. While action is the order of the day Platinum hasn’t forsaken the series’ RPG roots as Nier: Automata promises to fuse the developer’s unique action style with the familiar progression elements of the original.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Developer: Ninja Theory
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 2017
Ninja Theory not only develop great games, they develop great games with highly adept female characters. From the combat abilities of Heavenly Sword’s Nariko to the tech skills of Enslaved’s Trip and mystical abilities of DmC’s Kat, each female created by Ninja Theory has serious skills. These women don’t exist to be rescued by a male, nor are they created for titillation – they are interesting characters that happen to be female, not interesting because they are female. Thankfully Ninja Theory looks set to continue this admirable trend with protagonist Senua in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
Bridging the gap between indie and AAA, Ninja Theory has described their approach to creating Hellblade as independent AAA. This allows them to retain creative freedom without sacrificing the spectacle that comes with high budget titles. This freedom has led the team to explore something more hellish than all the shuffling zombies and sharp clawed creatures of other games – mental illness. A victim of psychosis, the demons that Celtic Warrior Senua faces are manifestations of her own troubled mind. It’s experimental development model and serious subject matter marks Hellblade as one of the most important and progressive prospects to grace gaming in years.
This is in no way a complete list of all the female game characters we will see this year, nor does include titles such as Mass Effect Andromeda and Prey – which allow you choose the gender of your character. Rather, it’s a snapshot of the best taken from the most high profile releases that 2017 has to offer. If your favourite upcoming gaming heroine has been missed off the list feel free to add them in the comments below.